Cooking and ordering at restaurants can be tricky, and it is important to be familiar with different forms of cooking to make the right choices. Here are the most common forms of cooking and tips on how to keep the dishes lean:
Creamy: Avoid cream-based foods as much as possible (unless you have reached your weight and fitness goals and are rewarding yourself with a nice “cheat day” once a week or so).
Sauteed: This form of cooking isn’t as bad as long as you make sure that the chef uses a bit of olive oil as the fat base rather than butter. It is important that you make this request, because plenty of restaurants have sautéed veggies on their menus, and you want to get the most out of them without the bad fat! Veggies lose more of their vitamins and nutrients when cooked at a higher temperature, so I’d recommend having a raw salad and keeping cooked veggies as a smaller side dish.
Braised: Though braised meats taste rich, there aren’t as many added fats during the cooking process because the proper timing and heat breaks down tougher cuts naturally. Make sure that the sauces aren’t heavy, though!
Grilled: As many of you know, grilling is rather simple and quick because of the direct, radiant heat. Make sure that excess grease isn’t used and any marinades are kept light.
Steamed: This is by far the healthiest form of cooking, and it is easy to avoid over-cooking or burning foods. The traditional way of steaming is with a little water to boil, and some cooking oils are used as well. Avoid canola oil and any signs of grease, olive or coconut oil is always the best choice as a “healthy fat” for the body.
Baked: Baking uses dry heat without radiation, and is usually done in an oven or hot stones. Smaller portions require less roasting, and larger ones are usually done at a higher temperature with shorter cooking times. The most important thing to remember when eating a baked dish is what is added to it during the cooking process, because no fats are required for oven cooking, but many tend to add extra fat by browning those evil white carbs, which carmelizes the sugars. As far as meat and fish goes, some moisture is often added with water or broth to give it a more braised texture. Margarine, butter and other sauces are sometimes used to add more flavor to baking dishes as well, so choose wisely!
Stir-fried: In stir-frying, foods are quickly fried in a hot wok or heavy-based frying pan with a small amount of oil. Eating stir-fried food is fine as long as it isn’t cooked it in a fatty oil or sauce and there isn’t too much salt. Lean meats and fish such as shrimp or chicken and colorful veggies are the best choices for stir-fried foods.
Dry-fried: Dry-frying is a healthier alternative to basic sautéing since additional fat or oil is not needed for cooking.
Deep-fried: Deep-frying is done when food is submerged in hot oil or fat. A deep-fryer, chip pan or pressure fryer is usually used for this cooking method. The food is not excessively greasy since the moisture repels the oils, and it is steamed from the inside out, but batter or breading is often used prior to frying. Avoid deep-fried fried foods at all costs!
Blanched: Blanching means “to whiten”, though it is not always the purpose when cooking. Fruits and vegetables are commonly used in this cooking method, and are plunged into boiling water briefly, then iced or running cold water to halt the cooking process. This form of cooking is used to soften a dish rather than letting it cook through. This removes stronger tastes and hardened skins that would otherwise be unpleasant to eat.
Minced: Mincing is done when ingredients are divided to create a mixture with a softer and pasty texture, and is most common with fresh herbs, garlic, and other spices. With meat, bruising of the tissue releases the natural juices and oils to create sauces. Boiling mince removes a lot of the fats, but the flavors and minerals can go as well, so a very light and flavorful dressing should be added.
Simmered: Simmering is done when foods are cooked in water just below boiling, but above poaching. Water is brought to a boil, then the heat is reduced so that steam is reduced. This method of cooking is done rapidly to prevent food from toughening or breaking. Foods that are simmered in milk or cream are referred to as “creamed”, so make sure to avoid those!
The most important thing to remember with all food preparation is avoiding butter, cream and other fats. Healthy fats such as coconut or olive oil are the best choice, and chefs can usually accommodate to your needs. Now it’ll be easier for you to keep your dishes delicious and nutritious!