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Cooking Class: Boil versus Simmer

By Cook's Illustrated Published May 2017

Whether we call for boiling or simmering in a recipe depends on the situation.

Whether we call for boiling or simmering in a recipe depends on the situation. We boil foods less often, but it can be beneficial in some situations, such as flash-cooking (or blanching) vegetables so that they lose their raw edge while retaining their flavor and bright color; speeding up the cooking of grains such as brown rice or wheat berries, since surrounding the grains with boiling water transfers heat more quickly than the absorption method; and cooking pasta, where the agitation helps keep the pieces from sticking to each other. More often, we turn to simmering. Less agitation means delicate foods won’t break apart and fats and soluble proteins in stock won’t coagulate and turn the liquid cloudy. Because lower burner temperatures allow time for heat to transfer evenly from the bottom of a pan to the top, there’s also less risk of scorching.

BOIL: Liquid reaches 212 degrees; large bubbles vigorously rise from bottom of pot and continually break surface.

SIMMER: Liquid reaches 180 to 190 degrees; small bubbles rise from bottom of pot and occasionally break surface.