Of all the basic cooking methods, baking - cooking uncovered food in an enclosed oven - is the most recent.
We often talk about ‘roasting’ fish or meat (or vegetables such as potatoes), when we really mean ‘baking’. ‘Roasting’ originally meant to cook in front of an open fire, usually on a spit. This much older method of cooking was popular in medieval times when enclosed ovens were less common. In 19th century Europe only wealthy people had an oven at home, with most baking being done in a communal wood-fired oven in the village square or the local bakery. The advent of gas and electric ovens in the 20th century brought the means of baking into almost every home, with kitchen fireplaces and roasting becoming less common. Other earlier improvised forms of ‘baking’ included putting wrapped food in the ashes or embers of a fire or enclosing it in a camp oven, or Dutch oven, with hot coals packed around it.
Baking is a versatile cooking method with many popular variations, including Indian tandoori, New England clambakes, French en papillote (wrapped in paper parcels), fish and poultry cooked under a salt crust or in salt dough. It’s a great way to prepare whole fish, as oven trays are usually larger than most pots or pans; to gently heat shellfish, such as scallops and oysters, without overcooking them; and of course, for seafood pies and open tarts.
It’s also sometimes combined with other cooking methods:
Tips for Successful Baking
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