The secret of cooking
The secret of cooking
The humble lid once covered the terracotta pots of the Neolithic period. Both the most intuitive and the most essential of all cooking accessories, this handy disc has adapted over the ages to cookware of all shapes (as long as they’re round), sizes and materials. Cauldrons, pots and pans, they all have a lid.
Its French name “couvercle” comes from the Latin “cooperire”, which means “to cover on all sides”. In order to achieve closure, its diameter must match that of the container below. Some lids simply sit on top of the pot, others slot inside. All have a handle or knob that makes them easy to lift. A lid can be used as a tool to adjust cooking time, whether you require a fast boil or a slow simmer.
Its role is to facilitate a rise in temperature. It traps heat and steam inside the pot. As a result, the interior pressure increases and the cooking becomes both faster and more dynamic. Secondly, it preserves moisture and stops liquids from evaporating too quickly, and therefore food from sticking. From terracotta to cast iron, metal and glass, its design has never stopped evolving.
A ecological gesture
Using a lid reduces cooking time and energy consumption: 30% less for steamed foods and up to 70% for liquids. Without a lid, it takes 500 watts of power to maintain 1 litre of water at 100°C. This simple act reduces energy consumption to 150 watts for the same result.
The lid plays an integral role in cooking many recipes. It’s essential for bringing water to the boil for pasta, for heating soup and, of course, for stewing. But set it aside if you want to reduce a sauce, sear a stir-fry, brown meats and vegetables or fry anything to a golden hue. Why? Because the steam will stop the juices from caramelising.
With or without?
Certain recipes require strategic use of the lid to regulate the cooking of ingredients. Some stages require it, others not. For example, you often begin by sweating vegetables or searing meat uncovered, before covering them so they can simmer gently in their own juices. The lid can also be used to keep food warm without drying it out – provided the cooking is over and the temperature’s not too high.
In a stew
Real stewing demands a tightly closed lid.
The other condition is that the very small amount of liquid required should not be allowed to evaporate. Plus the water in the ingredients produces steam for slow cooking, at low temperature, without the need for fat. The stew pot, in terracotta or cast iron, then becomes an archaic version of the steam oven. Designed to fit tightly on the pot, the lid can also be hollow, to contain cold water or even ice. In that way, increased and continuous condensation is provoked inside the pot. Some cast iron lids are even equipped with raised nubs that accentuate the effect of moisture raining down, for a result that’s as tender as it is tasty.
A handy tip
An oven mitt may not protect you from scalding yourself: instead lift the lid slightly and let the steam escape on the side facing away from you, before removing it.
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