Simmering is a skill that flies under the cooking radar, but once you know what it is and how to do it, it’s an incredibly useful tool for your daily cooking arsenal. In short, simmering is the very beginning stages of a boil in a pot of water or another liquid.
Stages of Simmering
- Low Simmer. A low simmer happens over low heat, and it will look like very little is happening in the pot. It’s mostly used for stocks and braises or dishes that cook for a long time
- Simmer. A simmer happens over medium-low heat, and you’ll see a few gentle bubbles in the liquid. It’s used to braise or to cook soup or chili. It’s also great way to parcook slow-cooking ingredients in the same pan with quicker-cooking ingredients.
- Rapid Simmer. A rapid simmer happens over medium to high heat and the liquid will have small, rapid bubbles. It’s a step below a full boil and is great for reducing pan sauces.
Simmer Vs. Boil
A simmer happens over medium-low heat, and you’ll see a few gentle bubbles in the liquid. It’s used to braise or to cook soup or chili. It’s also great way to parcook slow-cooking ingredients in the same pan with quicker-cooking ingredients.
When to Simmer
- Slow cooking stocks or broths
- Cooking soup, chili, or sauce like ragu
- Poaching fish, chicken, or eggs
- Cooking hearty vegetables like potatoes or beets
When to Boil
- Cooking tender vegetables like pea pods or carrots
- Cooking pasta
- Cooking grains
Simmering is the key to cooking food like pasta or soup in a large amount of water. It’s also a good way to gently cook an ingredient until it softens and helps flavors come together. As a dish simmers slowly, the flavors from herbs, spices, and meat diffuse into the liquid. And as the liquid slowly evaporates, those flavors are infused into ingredients like vegetables. Simmered foods have a more concentrated flavor, resulting in a better finished dish.
How to Simmer
- Prepare your stovetop. Whether it’s a pot of water or a pan sauce in a skillet, bring the pot or pan to medium-high heat.
- If you’re simmering a hearty vegetable that’s part of a larger dish, slice the ingredient that needs a longer cooking time and add it to the liquid, along with any spices or herbs.
- Bring the liquid to a boil.
- Immediately reduce the heat to medium or medium-low, depending on the level of simmer the dish requires. Stir the vegetables or liquid.
- Adjust. Every stovetop is different, so move the heat up or down as needed.
- Once the liquid is holding its temperature, set a timer and let the heat and liquid work their magic.
- Let the recipe simmer as directed by your recipe, and then proceed with the instructions.
Our Potato & Squash Gratin is a great way to practice your new simmering skills. Check out the video to see how it’s made.
Ready to add on? How to simmer, saute, and sweat in the kitchen.
Here’s a video from our In the Kitchen YouTube series. In this video, Tim Hagedorn will show you how to build flavor using basic cooking techniques like simmering, sauteing, and sweating. By using these three easy, essential cooking skills together, you can turn basic ingredients into a bright, balanced meal that you’d easily pay $35 for at a restaurant. Check out Tim’s take on one of our favorite one-pot weeknight meals: Pasta Romano.