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I was watching an educational documentary on cooking vegetables and the chef (Sean Kahlenberg) categorized vegetables into two large groups: water-soluble (do well when cooked in oil, poorly when cooked in water) and oil-soluble (vice-versa). There were even examples for each category: carrots, asparagus and zucchinis as water-solubles; green beans, broccoli and cabbage as oil-solubles. The video is from 2019 and I cannot find a comprehensive list for either.

Is this approach still used?

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What the chef refers to as 'solubility' and their ideal cook methods is better explained by each vegetable's density, ideal cooking temperatures, and heat transfer abilities of oil vs. water-based methods.

As far as I know, 'solubility' referring to those concepts has never been used for any professional culinary manuals, let alone research articles.

Cooking in a water system, i.e. steaming, poaching, boiling, etc. would have submerged ingredients limited to a maximum temperature of 100C. This would be ideal for avoiding caramelisation and Maillard reactions ("browning reactions") where you want to showcase the food's characteristics, say for delicate flavours or novelty.

In contrast, 'cooking with oils' would generally be high heat applications where the maximum temperature is determined by the heat source and heat transfer by the smoke point of the oil as a transfer medium, above 100C. Think grilling, frying, sauté. Surface water typically evaporates too quickly to limit the surface temperature, unless the technique is poor or heat source insufficient.

Foods benefit from that type of high-heat cooking where added flavour complexity from browning reactions is desired, like for steaks, or where low-temperature prolonged cooking generates unwanted flavours - Brassica family vegetables (cabbages, Brussels sprouts) release sulphur compounds.

This isn't to say that mixing methods doesn't yield good or even better results. Grilled asparagus and zucchini, and boiled cabbage with corned beef come to mind.


Re: actual water solubility - most compounds in both vegetables and meats can be easily solubilised with water in normal cooking. In a live state plants and animals have natural barriers to prevent nutrient leaching, like wax coatings, dry protein skins, etc. Cells rely on nutrients being soluble in water-based systems (blood plasma, cytoplasm) to get from A to B in organisms.

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