March 7, 2017

The Must Know Indian Cooking Methods For Authentic Taste

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Traditional cooking methods in India is not very different from those commonly used in other cuisines. It is only the applied cooking technique which differs and the one you need to be aware of. 

The Indian Cooking Techniques To Make Authentic Indian Food

You may already be using different types of cooking methods such as frying, boiling, stir-frying, sauteing when it comes to cooking a dish.

So is there something special about Indian cooking then?

Well, this may be a valid question as each cuisine adopt a certain cooking method when it comes to preparing or making an authentic dish.

For example, the Tagine cooking in Moroccon cuisine, Argentinian and Brazilian BBQ’s, cooking a Spanish Paella, all use a common cooking method but what makes each dish unique is the way a certain technique is applied to get the authentic taste.

The cooking methods used in India are very similar to those you may have already been using.

All that differs to make the cooking method traditional is knowing the right technique to apply when it comes to cooking Indian food.

Why is Indian Cooking Method Different?

Cooking anywhere in the world use a universal method, which is the use of some form of heat to bring raw food to an edible consistency.

There are different types of cooking methods used to cook food.

Frying, boiling, sauteing, grilling are some of the most popular methods used to cook food.

Indian cuisine uses all the above methods and more. The difference lies in how the techniques are applied during the cooking process.

For example, The sauteing cooking method is used in almost every cuisine including cooking Indian food. The difference is that sauteing in Indian cooking involves cooking on a low flame with the addition of a dash of water from time to time to prevent the spices or the base sauce from burning.

If we compare it to other cuisines that use sauteing method for cooking,  like Chinese or just sauteeing vegetables, it will mostly require you to stir continuously on medium heat without any additional water.

You can see that there are subtle changes in techniques that one needs to become familiar with to bring out the quintessential Indian flavours.

Many Indian dishes often use a combination of 3 – 6 kinds of cooking methods.

Usually beginning with tempering or frying whole spices, followed by sauteing or shallow frying aromatics like onions, ginger, garlic. The next step is to add some form of protein or veg and continuing the sauteing process and finally cooking it further either by simmering or boiling.

The entire process of cooking Indian food to give it the authentic Indian touch is explained in my blog post ‘How to cook Indian food’.

Don’t be intimidated by the cooking methods jargon. You have been doing it already every day when you cook something.

If you think that it all sounds complicated then just imagine how it would be when you make soup.

You chop vegetables and then saute them in oil before adding the stock and leaving it to simmer or boil over low heat until to finally blend it.

So the process of making a simple soup involved 3 types of cooking methods:

  1. Sauteing
  2. Simmering/Boiling
  3. Blending

Cooking Indian food is not too different or complicated as some seem to believe.

The way to make any dish can be as complicated or as simple as you choose to make.

You can opt for either one or a mix of various kinds of Indian cooking method and techniques

Types of Cooking Methods

There are namely 16  types of Cooking methods that we use at some point or the other.

You may be aware of some of them already, they are:

  1. Grill
  2. Pan fry
  3. Deep fry
  4. Sauté
  5. Boil
  6. Simmer
  7. Blanch
  8. Steam
  9. Roast
  10. Bake
  11. Sear
  12. Poach
  13. Broil
  14. Braising
  15. Stewing
  16. Tempering

These different cooking techniques can be broadly divided into 2 categories, Dry Heat Cooking Method and Moist Heat Cooking Method.

For our purpose, I will explain the popular cooking techniques used specifically to cook Indian food.

Dry Heat Cooking Method

This is where heat or flame is used directly to cook food without the use of water or its compounds like steam.

Grilling, broiling, baking and tempering (dry roasting) are few direct heat methods.

Indirect heat uses the aide of some kind of fat like deep frying, basting etc. Dishes cooked using the dry method is richer in flavour (and fat) due to caramelisation and browning of food.

Let us look at some of the Dry Heat Cooking Methods from the Indian cooking prospect:

1. Sautéing (Bhuna)

Sauteing cooking method to cook Indian food. Indian cooking Method

The Indian version of sautéing is called bhuna.

‘Bhuna’ means to sauté vegetables or meat, fresh aromatics and spices together that form the base of a dish. The method combines both, dry and wet cooking method.

How to Apply Technique :

Thinly cut, chopped or grated aromates such as tomato. onions, ginger, garlic and even vegetables or meat is lightly fried in a thin layer of oil in a pan with spices.

The technique is to cook food until just tender and while ensuring not to overcook it.

It involves cooking food in oil with a little sprinkle of water from time to time to prevent the spices from burning.

Popular Dishes :

Lamb curry, Bhindi Masala, Alu Gobhi

2. Deep Fry

Deep Frying Cooking Method to make Indian food. Indian cooking Method

This method is used to make crispy food like fries where food items are completely dipped in hot oil.

How to Apply Technique :

Add 2 – 3 cups of oil in a deep bottomed pan and fry food in hot oil till the outside turns golden brown in colour while the inside is cooked.

Popular Dishes:

Samosas, Bhajias and Papads are made by deep-frying

3. Shallow Fry

Shallow fry cooking method to cook Indian food. Indian cooking method

Cooking flat food items in a small quantity of oil ideally in a flat bottomed pan.

How to Apply Technique :

Contrary to deep frying, this method uses 8 -10 tablespoons or just enough oil to cover about half an inch of the side of the pan. Food is flipped over once or twice until both sides are cooked.

Popular Dishes:

Cutlets, kebabs, toast

4. Tempering

Temper spices - the tempering cooking method to cook Indian food. Indian cooking Method

A popular cooking method especially used for cooking Indian food normally as a first step for adding flavour to oil, blend spices, or as the last cooking step to add extra taste to dishes as a finishing touch.

How to Apply Technique :

This method involves dry roasting spices or aromatics on a dry pan, sometimes with a dash of oil or without oil.

Popular Dishes:

Rogan Josh, Bhuna Masala, Daal Fry, sambar and many more

5. Grilling or Tandoor

Cooking food in a Tandoori Indian Cooking method in a tandoor grill. Indian cooking method

The most traditional and popular grilling method is using tandoor, the Indian version of a clay oven or grill. Modern homes these days use the oven grill or the BBQ grill to cook food and replicate the tandoori style of cooking.

How to Apply Technique:

Food is placed directly on hot charcoal or a heated rack and cooked until done. Depending on the type of food or the size of your food item you may or may not be required to turn it once in a while.

Popular Dishes:

Many Tandoori starter dishes like tandoori chicken, tandoori nan and malai kebabs.

Moist Heat Cooking Method

Here heat is used indirectly through the medium of water to cook food.

This method is used to retain the natural flavours of food as much as possible.

It needs to be said that most Indian dishes use a combination of both the dry and moist methods of cooking.

Let us look at the popular moist cooking method used in Indian kitchens:

1. Boiling

Boiling cooking method . indian cooking methods

Not the most recommended or used method for cooking Indian food as it tends to reduce the flavour of ingredients especially spices and losses nutrients.

How to Apply Technique :

Double quantity of water is added to food and heated to its highest boiling point,i.e.100° C.

Food can either be added before water comes to a boil or after. The idea is to add enough water or sometimes more to cook food. The remaining water is either discarded or used as gravy.

Popular Dishes:

Pulao Rice, Rasam, daal (lentils), sambar

2. Simmering

Simmering cooking method to cook Indian food. Indian cooking method

Similar to boiling, simmering uses half the quantity of water.

You can call it the Indian slow cooking technique.

A popular method for most Indian dishes to make thick sauce or gravy and enhance the flavour of spices and other ingredients used.

How to Apply Technique :

This cooking method is normally followed after the sauteing method.

Water or any form of liquid is added to ingredients and covered and cooked until small bubbles start to appear which cooks the food. The quantity of water should be just enough to cover the veg or meat.

Popular Dishes:

Most Indian curry-based dishes like Fish Korma, Vindaloo, Palak Paneer, Chickpeas masala

3.Steaming

Steaming Cooking Method, Dum Indian cooking method. Indian cooking method

The Indian name of this method of cooking is called ‘Dum’.

‘Dum’ means to cook when sealed.

This method involves cooking food in steam emitted from boiling water at high temperature.

This is an excellent way of cooking which keeps the flavours and nutrients intact.

How to Apply Technique :

The food to be cooked is placed in a melt-proof, tight lid, waterproof container. Water is added to a deep flat bottomed utensil. The container with the food inside is placed over the water or on a stand or a steamer.

The container must have a lid so that the steam created by boiling water cooks the food inside it. There is no contact between the food and water.

Popular Dishes:

Biriyani, Idli, Dhokla, Bengali Bhapa Ilish, Patra

A Convenient One Look Cooking Methods Chart

To make it easier for you to understand and perhaps remember, I have explained the different types of cooking method popularly used in Indian cooking in the cooking methods chart below.

You can refer to this chart at any time for a quick reference.

Essential Indian cooking Methods Chart with recommended cookware for cooking Indian food.

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Basic Indian Cooking Techniques

Now that you know of some of the different types of cooking methods used for making Indian food, it may raise a question on ‘Do you need to apply or use all the methods?’

NO you do not.

All you need to know and use are 3 types of cooking methods for making an Indian dish.

These cooking methods are:

  1. Tempering
  2. Sauteing or  ‘bhunoing’ the English/Hindi cooking term used in Hindi 🙂
  3. Simmering

Most Indian dishes and recipes will involve these three cooking methods.

And for all you know, you already have been applying these basic cooking techniques when you cook.  So it may not be that new after all !

Recommended Cookware for Easy Cooking

What makes cooking faster and hassle-free is the right type of cookware.

It also makes the it easier to apply the right type of cooking method.

Image frying an egg in an aluminium pan? Or making a pancake in an anodised cookware?

For all you know it may get stuck to the pan and make you frustrated.

The best or the use of an appropriate type of cookware affect the way you cook your food and how it tastes.

Below are a few recommended cookware that is specifically designed and made to use keeping in mind a particular cooking method.

You can use a grill plate for grilling, a stir fry wok for sauteing and frying, a pressure cooker for boiling hard food items in less time etc.

Below are some of my recommended products that come handy in the kitchen and make cooking and cleaning much swifter.

Oven top grills

Whirlpool Gourmet Griddle – A fantastic cast iron non-stick grill suitable for electric or gas cooktops.

Lodge Reversible Grill/Griddle – Pre-seasoned with oil for ease of use. Can be used on electric, gas or even over campfire

Steamers

7-in-1 Multifunctional Electric Pressure Cooker by Yedi Houseware – A one pot cooking miracle. Use it for pressure cooking, as a slow cooker, Rice Cooker, Saute/Searing/Browning, Yogurt Maker, Steamer. With warmer & delayed cooking functions.

Presto 8-Quart Stainless Steel Pressure Cooker – A simple yet efficient cooker to effectively tenderise and cook meat, vegetables, lentils and rice. Pressure regulator maintains proper cooking pressure automatically.

To Conclude

The basic Indian cooking techniques and procedures are no different from normal cooking methods.

You may slightly need to alter the way you apply the technique to make it more traditional, but the theory of cooking is the same; that is bring food to an edible consistency.

Most cooking will involve the use of both dry and moist cooking methods.

Depending on your recipe you will use the correct cooking technique.

What makes regional or ethnic foods taste authentic is the use of native ingredients (if possible), the application of correct cooking technique and using the right cookware.

Over to you

Which method of cooking to you find yourself using the most? Is it frying, simmering or a combination of different methods. ( which I think most of us do)

Let me know if there is any particular cooking method that you want to try and need a bit more understanding of.

Will help me better my skills too!