Culinary Techniques and Cooking Methods

CASA Culinary School Student learning cooking techniques

Utilitarian Skills

Food Handling: (food safety and food preparation techniques)—Handling, preparing and storing food to prevent food-borne illnesses from occurring.  Proper food handling is based on four principles: clean, separate, chill and cook. A level 2 Food Safety and Hygiene certificate is a legal requirement for anyone who regularly handles food.

Knife Sharpening and Honing—sharpening is what makes a dull knife sharp.  Honing is what keeps a sharp knife sharp.

Butchery/Fabrication—preparing standard cuts of meat and poultry from carcasses or sides of animal for use in a restaurant.

Filet—fabricating a boneless cut or slice of meat or fish.

Shuck—removing outer covering from corn or shellfish.

Mise en Place (stocks, sauces, soups)—Everything in its place.  All ingredients are measured, cut, peeled, sliced, etc. and placed in one area before the cooking process begins.

Blanching/shocking—Used to cook or prepare vegetables and fruits.  Blanching refers to boiling, shocking refers to submerging food in an ice bath to quickly stop the cooking process.

Flavoring Techniques

Breading—coating fish or meat with bread crumbs or batter before cooking to seal in the foods natural moisture and provide a crunchy, delicious crust.

Dry rubs—a mixture of coarsely ground herbs and spices used to add flavor and texture to meats. Dry rubs create a flavorful crust.

Wet rubs—using juices, broths, herbs and vegetables used to add flavor to meats.

Marinades—liquids made of herbs, spices and an acid (usually citric, vinegar or alcohol) to add flavor and tenderize meat.  The marinade is usually used before (meat is soaked in the marinade) and during the cooking process (meat is basted with the marinade).

Seasoning—Ground herbs and spices sprinkled on meats prior to cooking.

Smoke—Cold smoking (68 to 86 F) adds flavor to already cured and cooked meat.

Cooking Techniques

Dry-Heat Cooking

Broiling, roasting, grilling, baking, searing, sautéing, pan-frying, stir frying and deep-fat frying.  Dry heat cooking methods use air or fat that brings out rich flavors due to caramelization and browning of the food.

Sautéing uses very high heat with very little oil.  As soon as the oil in the sauté pan starts to smoke the ingredients are added.   The high heat helps retain moisture.

Pan frying uses medium-high heat with a good amount of oil to help prevent moisture from escaping.

Roasting/Baking uses the air to transfer heat to an ingredient. A home oven uses this cooking method which allows you to set very accurate temperatures and cook evenly over long periods of time.  Browning occurs as part of this process and enhances the flavors of most foods. If you are in a bakery this cooking method is called baking. If you are cooking other items (meats for instance) then you are roasting.

Grilling is noted for the flavors that is released from this rapid convection cooking. Grilling works best on smaller cuts of meat.  Cast iron grills are preferred over stainless steel for the grill marks they leave on the food.

Broiling uses radiant dry heat from above the food being cooked.

Deep-fat frying or Deep Frying is not considered a moist-heat method but rather a dry heat method because fat is used instead of water. The fat or oil allows for much higher temperatures than water because of their higher boiling temperature.

Moist-heat Cooking

Poaching, boiling, steaming, simmering, pot roasting, and en papillote.  Moist heat cooking methods use water or steam in the cooking process to emphasize the natural flavors in the food.

Poaching is the lowest temperature method (160°F – 180°F). The water should show slight movement and no bubbles making it perfect for delicate foods like eggs.

Simmering is the middle temperature range (185°F – 205°F).  The water should have small bubbles breaking through the surface.   It is great for releasing flavors in stews, meats and soups.

Boiling is the highest temperature for submersion (212°F).   The water should have many large and vigorous bubbles.

Steaming allows for higher temperature cooking with water (> 212°F).  Steaming is used for its fast cooking times and moist-heat cooking nature.

Combination Dry/Moist Cooking—braising, stewing, sous vide and wet (hot) smoking.  Combination cooking combines both dry and moist cooking.

Braising starts with dry-heat cooking (pan frying or sautéing) the meat to ensure proper caramelization. Once the meat is seared and slightly caramelized, liquid, such as a stock, is added until it reaches the bottom third of the product.   The cooking process is continued—either in the oven or on the stove top—with frequent turning until the meat is soft and tender. Braising is especially useful for tougher pieces of meat.

Stewing is just like braising, except you cover the meat entirely instead of just the bottom third of it.  This is the preferred method for creating stews.

Sous vide vacuum seals food into leak-proof plastic bags which are simmered in water.  It provides an even cooking method at an exact temperature. Because the temperature never exceeds that of the water, it prevents over-cooking.

Wet (Hot) Smoking (160°F to 240°F) gives meat moisture and flavor through indirect heat.  Wet smoking meat involves placing a pan of water with the coals to create a steamy, smoky atmosphere which helps to keep the meat moist.

Other Culinary Techniques


The science of fermentation, zymology or zymurgy, studies the process of converting carbohydrates to alcohol or organic acids using microorganisms (yeast or bacteria) in an oxygen free setting.

Lactic Acid Fermentation is caused by bacteria and some fungi—yeast in particular which convert starches or sugars into lactic acid.  The most important of these is Lactobacillus.  Lactic acid fermentation is used world-wide to produce specialty foods including:

  • yogurt
  • kefir
  • sourdough breads
  • sauerkraut
  • cheese
  • kimchi
  • nham

Ethyl Alcohol Fermentation occurs when the pyruvate molecules in starches or sugars are broken down by yeast into alcohol and carbon dioxide molecules to produce wine and beer.  Most yeast strains can tolerate an alcohol concentration of 10 to 15 percent before being killed off. Some yeast strains can tolerate as little as 5 per cent alcohol with other tolerating up to 21 percent before they die.  To achieve higher concentrations of alcohol, the fermented products must be distilled.

Acetic Acid Fermentation converts the sugars and starches of grains and fruits into sour-tasting vinegars including white, wine, cider, rice, malt, flavored and balsamic.

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