What Does “Bring to a Simmer” Mean?

by Charlie
Simmering pot of water

Cooking instructions can be confusing, and if you have ever come across the term “bring to a simmer,” you might be wondering what on earth it means and why we say it. If you don’t follow the instruction correctly, you may ruin whatever you’re cooking, so let’s learn what bring to a simmer means and how to do it.

What does “bring to a simmer” mean? A simmering pan of water is one that is very gently bubbling, but not boiling. You will see a few bubbles and the surface of the water will be moving around, but the water will not be boiling hard. Simmering is the state just before boiling, and can be achieved by turning boiling water down, or still water up.

How Do You Bring Water to a Simmer?

You need to know whether you are trying to increase or decrease the temperature in order to achieve a gentle simmer. You can bring water up to a simmer by adjusting the heat of your cooker or adding a lid to your pan to trap the heat and encourage the water to boil. You can take it down to a simmer by dropping the temperature or removing the lid.

If you are cooking with water, it’s very easy to bring it up to a simmer. You simply need to add cold water to a pan on the stove and increase the temperature, and then wait. You can add a lid to speed it along, or you can just wait. 

As the water heats, you should start to see bubbles forming on the bottom. When there are quite a few bubbles and they have begun to rise and disturb the surface in a constant pattern, the water is simmering. You will then need to decrease the heat in order to keep the water simmering, rather than moving into a boil.

To bring water down from a boil to a simmer, you can remove the lid and decrease the heat. The bubbles should slowly decrease, and when there are just a few disturbing the surface, you have brought the water to a simmer.

This method can be applied to any kind of food, but it is easiest to see with water. Some foods don’t simmer easily; thick foods such as blended soups often don’t really simmer.

It should be noted that there are many different explanations for what simmering means, such as a specific temperature (around 195° F) or a “soft boil.” The answer you get depends a little on who you ask, but it is essentially the state between boiling and not boiling.

At what exact moment a simmer becomes a boil is difficult to determine, but you will soon learn how to identify the difference between the two, and with practice, a simmer will become easy to recognize.

What Foods Commonly Need to be Brought to a Simmer?

If you’re wondering what foods “bring to a simmer” is a common instruction for, soups are often made using this method. Many high-starch foodstuffs, such as potatoes, grains, pastas, and beans also benefit from this sort of gentle but thorough cooking. Hard boiling can ruin these foods and make them mushy or dry.

You can simmer many foods, but dried grains in particular benefit from this slow cooking method as it allows them to absorb plenty of moisture, revitalizing the food.

Poaches eggs also require simmering water. If your water is not simmering, the egg will stick to the bottom of the pan. If it is boiling, the egg will often break up in the turbulent water and be ruined. A gentle simmer is perfect for supporting the egg without destroying it.

Why is Simmering Useful When Cooking?

Simmering allows you to cook foods for a long period of time without ruining their texture as a hard boil would. Soups and stews that depend on all the flavors having time to soak in together benefit greatly from simmering, because it lets you keep heating them without destroying them.

Food that is boiled for hours on end will rarely taste good. Most of the liquid will evaporate from it, so it may end up dry. It is also likely to burn on the bottom, where the heat is fiercest.

A simmer, however, allows gentle heat to permeate through the whole dish for a long time, encouraging different flavors to cook into each other and ingredients to soften and absorb juices that aren’t being evaporated (as much) by the heat.

Simmering is therefore useful for making rich sauces and stews. It’s great for retaining moisture while ensuring that everything is nicely cooked together.

What Other Terms Are There for Simmering?

Confusingly, you may also have encountered the slow simmer and the rapid simmer. As you may guess from the names, a slow simmer is when the pot is hardly bubbling, and just a few air bubbles cause surface disruption. A rapid simmer is closer to boiling, but not quite at the boil.

This might seem confusing, especially given that simmer is such an inexact term to begin with. However, both are useful terms to recognize and you may find that you use them occasionally, especially if you branch into more complex recipes with delicate ingredients.

You can often maintain a slow simmer for a short while by removing a simmering pan from the heat but adding the lid. This will trap the heat in and ensure the temperature stays high enough to produce bubbles.

You can create a rapid simmer by increasing the heat of a simmering pan slightly, but you’ll need to keep an eye on it or you’ll find that the water begins to boil.

Final Thoughts

The phrase “bring to a simmer” is not an exact art, but it’s a useful culinary skill that you will need in many different situations. The point between boiling and still water is ideal for cooking, especially if you wish to cook food slowly and maintain its texture.

If you need to practice simmering something, use water before you attempt it with other foods such as soup. It is much easier to tell when water is simmering vs boiling, and practicing with it will give you a good eye for detecting a simmer.

You may also like