To poach, simmer and boil all means to cook food in water or a seasoned liquid like stock or even milk. The temperature of the liquid determines the method.
1. To boil means to cook in a liquid that is bubbling rapidly and is greatly agitated. Water boils at 212°F (100°C) at sea level. No matter how high the burner is turned, the temperature of the liquid will go no higher. Boiling is generally reserved for vegetables and certain starch products. The high temperature would cause protein foods to toughen (meats and fish) and the rapid bubbling would break up delicate products.
2. To simmer means to cook in a liquid that is bubbling very gently. Temperatures are generally 185 – 205°F (85 – 96°C). Most foods cooked in a liquid are simmered. The high temperatures and agitation are detrimental to most foods.
3. To poach means to cook in a liquid, usually a small amount that is hot, but not actually bubbling. Temperature is about 160 – 180°C (71 – 82°). Poaching is used to cook delicate foods such as fish and eggs. It is also used to partially cook variety meats to get rid of odors and undesirable flavors which can be eliminated by poaching and which will firm up the product before the actual cooking.
4. To blanch means to cook an item very briefly, usually in hot water, but sometimes, as in the case of French fries, in hot fat.
There are two ways of blanching in water: 
a. Put the item in cold water and simmer for a few seconds and then plunge into cold water.
b. Place the item in rapidly boiling water, bring the water back to a boil, remove the item and cool rapidly.
A rule of thumb, for when food has to be simmered or poached, the liquid should first be brought to a boil to compensate for the loss in temperature when the food is introduced. The heat is then adjusted to maintain a steady temperature.
To steam means to cook foods by exposing them directly to steam.
1. In quantity cooking, this is usually done in special steam cookers. These are designed to accept special pans. Steaming can also be done on a rack above boiling water. This method is more cumbersome.
2. Steaming also refers to cooking an item tightly wrapped or in a covered pan, so that it cooks in the steam formed by its own moisture. This method is usually referred to as en papillote, where the food is wrapped in parchment or foil. `Baked’ potatoes wrapped in foil are actually steamed.
3. Steam at normal pressure is 212°F (100°C), the same as boiling water. However, it carries much more heat than boiling water and cooks very rapidly. Cooking times must be carefully controlled to avoid overcooking.
4. A pressure steamer is a pressure cooker that holds steam under pressure. The temperature of the steam then goes higher than 212°F (100°C)
Steaming is widely used for vegetables. It cooks them rapidly without agitation and minimizes the nutrient, color and flavor loss normally associated with boiling.
To braise means to cook covered in a small amount of liquid, usually after preliminary browning. Then cooking could be done on a bed of vegetables and most often, the liquid used for the cooking is served with the foodstuff as a sauce.
1. Braised meats are normally browned first using a dry heat method such as pan-frying or searing. This gives a desirable appearance and color and flavor to the product and to the sauce.
2. Braising also refers to cooking some vegetables such as cabbage and leeks, without the preliminary browning.
3. Food being braised is not completely covered with liquid during the cooking process. The top of the product is normally cooked by steaming.
4. Braising is done on the range top or could even be done in the oven.
5. Oven braising has two advantages:
a. Uniform cooking, as the heat penetrates the food from all sides and not just the bottom.
b. Less attention is required.
In the oven, the foods will cook slowly and gently without having to be checked frequently.
6. In the braising of meats, usually large joints or whole birds (like chicken, duck) are cooked in this method.
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