What is the difference between boil and simmer?

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If you have a cooking question, our expert, Marge Perry, can answer it. Marge teaches home cooks in her classes at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City. She is an award-winning food writer, longtime contributor for Cooking Light and a number of other leading food magazines, author of the blog A Sweet and Savory Life, columnist for Newsday, and has contributed to over 20 cookbooks.

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Water boils at 212F (at sea level). When water (or any liquid) is at a proper boil, the surface bubbles and the liquid beneath it churns vigorously.

Simmering is gentler. Water simmers at 180-190F, at which point a bubble make break the surface now and then (most likely at the edges of the pan) and the surface will shimmer, as though it is about to move.

Boiling is generally used to cook pasta and other grains, or to reduce and intensify a sauce. Maintaining a simmer can require close attention, because as heat builds in a pot, that simmer easily can turn to a boil. Simmering is often used for cooking proteins, which would toughen if subjected to the rigors of boiling.

Marge Perry
Jun, 2011
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