Water bathing, boiling, steaming    Play Audio

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General information
Water bathing

Food elaboration techniques, traditional cooking, water bathing, boiling, steaming, nutrient conservation, healthy cooking, fat free





Water bathing, boiling, steaming

To apply this technique, we must introduce the food in a first recipient. We will put this recipient inside a bigger one which will be filled with a liquid, usually water. By putting the large recipient on the cooker, the water’s heat is transferred to the small recipient, and we get to heat food evenly, without sudden changes of temperature. We can begin by putting the big recipient over high heat and when the water is boiling, introduce the small recipient and reduce to simmer.

Therefore, to apply water bathing technique, it is very important to have two heat resistant recipients (pot, casserole). For the small recipient which contains the food to receive the heat homogeneously, we must prevent it from entering into contact with the base of the large recipient, otherwise this would receive direct heat and just in a specific part of the recipient. In order to do so, we can use a recipient with handles or one with the upper part wider than the base, as to get it stuck in the bigger recipient without touching its base. We should also control the water level so it does not decrease too much, and, in case we need to add some more water, it should be previously heated to avoid sudden changes in temperature.


This technique consists in immersing the food in boiling water or broth to cook it. We heat the liquid (covered with a lid) and when it reaches 100° C and starts boiling, we remove the lid and introduce the food in the recipient without covering it until it is finally cooked. Introducing the food with the water already boiling prevent it from being in contact with water for too long and from losing its nutrients. But, if what we want is for the water to gain flavour and nutrients to use it as broth, for example, then we will introduce the food with the cold water.
The food usually cooked with this technique is very varied, from meat, fish, eggs or vegetables, to legumes, pastas, rice, seafood and fruits.


This technique implies exposing the food to a high heat temperature. Cooking is achieved without introducing the food into the water, but putting it into a rack, steamer or any perforated container, and placing this on top of the recipient with boiling water and covering it. The steam coming from the boiling water allows a slow and light cooking. The water can be flavoured with wine or spices and we can also use fish, vegetables o meat broth instead of water. This will depend on what we are going to cook or the result we want to achieve.
The steaming time will depend on the type of food we are going to cook, for example, fish will require no more than 10-15 minutes to have the adequate cooking. Vegetables however, if cut in small slices, will be perfect with 4-7 minutes maximum, although potatoes for example, may need from 10-20 minutes, depending on the type and size. Meet will need between 20-25 minutes to be perfectly cooked.

An easy way to check that the food has reached the cooking temperature is to pierce it with the tip of a sharp knife, if it is easy to do it and tender, the food is ready. Be careful not to overcook food because it will lose its nutrients and its bright colour (in the case of vegetables).

Dificulty/time required   Cheap / affordable / expensive  
With this technique, food can be cooked homogeneously, and as it does not receive direct heat, the risk of burning the food is avoided. This technique also allows the conservation of food nutrients. It can be applied in any cooker, be it gas, induction, glass ceramic stove, or in the oven. It is a fantastic method to prepare desserts of preserved food.

This technique allows vegetables to be cooked in a healthy way, although almost any food is suitable to be boiled. Greases are not required for its elaboration, what allows a slow digestion. Although during the process the foods will lose some vitamins and minerals, these will be kept in the water, so we can leverage the liquid to make broths, sauces or creams.

This is an easy, healthy and economical technique. By not entering in direct contact with the liquid, foods preserve their nutrients better. This is the best method to cook fish, seafood and vegetables.
Representative Products
Vegetables (i.e., steamed Romanesco), legumes (i.e., vegetable soup with spinach), eggs (i.e., devilled eggs), fish (i.e., steamed sea bass, sea bream, salmon) seafood (i.e., steamed mussels), meat (i.e., tripe), flan (i.e., vanilla flan, Catalan cream), dessert, preserved food (i.e., canned vegetables).
One of the risks we must avoid is food contamination, which can be of three types: biologic, chemical or physical. We must also avoid cross-contamination. This occurs when raw food (not washed) is in contact with cooked one, when the cook’s hands or the cookware are not clean or when the small recipient in water bathing is not well sealed and the water enters in it for example. Other risks we must bear in mind are water overflowing when boiling or to avoid food fermentation by overcooking it. (For more information see Module 3, Advance level, Unit 5)

To be able to consume food healthily, we must preserve it in the appropriate place and at a good temperature, we can freeze it (only those suitable for the freezer), wash it very well before cooking it, and keep a continuous hand-wash and cleaning of the cookware that we use for cooking.
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