Cooking often involves water, which is frequently present in other liquids, both added in order to immerse the substances being cooked (typically water, stock or wine), and released from the foods themselves. Liquids are so important to cooking that the name of the cooking method used is often based on how the liquid is combined with the food, as in steaming, simmering, boiling, braising, and blanching. Heating liquid in an open container results in rapidly increased evaporation, which concentrates the remaining flavor and ingredients Ц this is a critical component of both stewing and sauce making. Steaming is a method of cooking using steam. Steaming is considered a healthy cooking technique and capable of cooking almost all kinds of food. Steaming works by boiling water continuously, causing it to vaporize into steam; the steam then carries heat to the nearby food, thus cooking the food. The food is kept separate from the boiling water but has direct contact with the steam, resulting in a moist texture to the food. This differs from double boiling, in which contact with steam is undesired. Such cooking is most often done by placing the food into a steamer, which is typically a circular container made of metal or bamboo. The steamer usually has a lid that is placed on the top of the container during cooking to allow the steam to cook the food. When a steamer is unavailable, a wok filled less than half with water is a replacement by placing a metal frame made of stainless steel in the middle of the wok. Some modern home microwave ovens include the structure to cook food by steam vapor produced in a separate water container, providing a similar result to being cooked by fire. Braising (from the French УbraiserФ) is a combination cooking method using both moist and dry heat; typically the food is f

rst seared at a high temperature and then finished in a covered pot with a variable amount of liquid, resulting in a particular flavor. Braising of meat is often referred to as pot roasting, though some authors make a distinction between the two methods based on whether additional liquid is added. Braising relies on heat, time, and moisture to break down the tough connective tissue collagen in meat, making it an ideal way to cook tougher cuts. Many classic braised dishes such as coq au vin are highly evolved methods of cooking tough and otherwise unpalatable foods. Pressure cooking and slow cooking (e.g., crockpots) are forms of braising. Most braises follow the same basic steps. The food to be braised (meat, poultry, but also vegetables or mushrooms) is first seared to brown its surface and enhance its flavor (through a process known as the Maillard reaction). If the food will not produce enough liquid of its own, a small amount of cooking liquid that often includes an acidic element, such as tomatoes, beer, or wine, is added to the pot, often with stock. Classically a braise is done with a relatively whole cut of meat, and the braising liquid will cover 2/3 of the product. The dish is cooked covered at a very low simmer until the meat is fork tender. Often the cooking liquid is finished to create a sauce or gravy. Sometimes foods with high water content (particularly vegetables) can be cooked in their own juices and no extra liquid is required. A successful braise intermingles the flavors of the foods being cooked and the cooking liquid. This cooking method dissolves collagen from the meat into gelatin, to enrich and add body to the liquid. Braising is economical, as it allows the use of tough and inexpensive cuts, and efficient, as it often employs a single pot to cook an entire meal.