You will want to refer to Part One on our Website if you have not read it (Click HERE to return to it). Part One covered the basics of High Altitude Cooking. Almost all of this information is being quoted from "The New High Altitude Cookbook" by Beverly M. Anderson and Donna M. Hamilton. This is the best book of its kind I have been able to find. I highly recommend adding it to your library if you ever plan to do any High Altitude Cooking. (Links to our archived newsletters and a link to our Recommended Books page, where you can purchase the following book, can be found at the end of this article.)
Food is often underdone because the moisture in the food itself and the water in which it is being cooked boils at a lower temperature. Because of the rapid rate of evaporation, food can easily cook dry. Unless special adjustments are made in the temperature of cooking oil, deep-fat-fried foods will be over-browned on the outside, undercooked on the inside. Because of the lack of moisture in the air, sugar syrups used in making candies, frostings and jellies concentrate much more rapidly than at lower elevations. Canned fruits, tomatoes and pickled vegetables do not become thoroughly processed because of the lowered boiling point of water, and low-acid foods (vegetables, meat and poultry) can nurture heat-resistant bacteria unless processed longer and at higher poundage in a steam-pressure canner.
In summary, altitude has a great effect on food and food processes. It affects the flavor and taste of food, influencing three of our four basic tastes: sweet, sour and bitter. It affects processing time and moisture content. But there are solutions to the problems. You will find these solutions in each and every chapter of this book mentioned above by reading the introductory material, using the guidelines in the charts, and carefully following the directions in the recipes.
(Within the webpage link entitled "High Altitude Charts" at the end of this article, you can find a chart explaining the boiling temperatures of water in both metric and US scales. The other chart, which is on the same webpage, lists "Oven Temperature Ranges at High Altitudes".)
Because slow cookers use a very low temperature, it is important that the food inside gets hot enough to become properly done. At high altitude, a minimum safe temperature is 200'F. You must take special care to get more heat into the slow cooker, since you are already cooking with a 10 or more degree drop in the boiling point.
Since temperature control units on slow cookers vary with each manufacturer's model, you should be careful to select a setting comparable to at least 200'F. Low settings should not be used for cooking at all. Also, allow for considerably more cooking and baking time at higher elevations.
Aluminum foil on top of the foods being cooked or between the rim of the cooker and the cover reflects the heat downward into the food and is especially helpful at higher elevations.
Successful use of the electric skillet and wok at high altitudes depends on increasing the cooking temperature by about 25'F.
You should always allow for more cooking time than is called for in accompanying instruction manuals and in sea-level recipes.
You can maintain or increase "cooking power" in ways other than by just turning up the temperature control dial. First, keep the vents tightly closed during cooking to keep all the steam possible inside the skillet or wok. Second, when braising foods that require long cooking times, secure aluminum foil over the skillet's rim, then place the cover on tightly. This optimizes the use of all available heat, reduces heat loss, and helps retain the proper moisture content.
*The information in this section has been adapted from materials compiled by Joan Gehle, Home economist, Denver Public Schools*
High altitude affects most foods cooked in the microwave oven with the exception of vegetables.
Temperature of foods decreases as altitude increases, yet due to more rapid evaporation of liquids in high altitude areas, microwave cooking takes less time than at sea level.
The exceptions are meats and dense, low-moisture foods such as pasta and rice, which require the maximum cooking time recommended in manufacturers' instruction manuals and nationally published microwave cookbooks. It is advisable to judge the doneness of the meat by the muscle, not the fat, since fat cooks more quickly than muscle.
Cake batters should stand fifteen minutes before baking to permit some of the leavening gas to escape. Fill baking dish only half full because cakes rise higher and more rapidly in the microwave oven. High altitude directions on package mixes should be followed.
Every high altitude cook should own a pressure cooker. When you live at 5,000 feet above sea level, for example, the atmospheric pressure is 18 percent, or 2.1 pounds less than at sea level, and every increase in elevation decreases it further. By enabling you to increase the pressure inside the cooker to nearer that of sea level, the pressure cooker raises the temperature at which water boils and makes food cook more quickly and thoroughly.
Wherever it is used, the pressure cooker has gained recognition for quick cooking and vitamin-and-energy-saving features, but at high altitudes it provides the additional benefit of accomplishing the otherwise impossible.
Using the Pressure Cooker at High Altitudes:
In addition to altitude, the types of meat and the maturity and size of vegetables must be taken into consideration when determining cooking times under pressure. A one-to-two minute increase in cooking times is usually sufficient for most vegetables, except for such bulky roots as potatoes, beets and the like. At an altitude of 5,000 feet, these require an additional 5 minutes of cooking time.
High altitude recipes for biscuits, muffins, coffee cakes, and fruit and nut breads require less leavening and more liquid than do sea-level recipes. To offset the dryness in the air and to produce a uniformly textured, moist product, they often include buttermilk, sour cream and yogurt among the ingredients.
Popovers will not pop to their puffiest unless extra-large eggs are used and shortening is omitted or reduced. The lower boiling point of liquids, which affects the baking temperature of popover batter, requires strict baking.
Making doughnuts and fritters at high altitudes requires substantial changes, primarily in cooking techniques. The inside of doughnuts and fritters cannot cook as quickly as the outside. Therefore, the temperature of the cooking oil must be lowered to prevent the outside from cracking or burning before the inside is done. The temperature decrease varies according to the type of food being deep-fried, but the rule of thumb is to lower the temperature about 3 degrees for each 1,000 feet of elevation.
High altitude has the greatest effect on cake making and baking. An ingredient-balanced, altitude-adjusted, time and family-tested recipe is the best way to bake a perfect cake at elevation over 2,500 feet. Many elements in a recipe can be adjusted to produce a moist and fine-textured cake at high altitudes, but not all the adjustments possible need to be made in any individual recipe. (I could go on for pages on this subject, but the book mentioned above covers it all very well.)
Please visit the links below on our website for the high altitude charts mentioned and/or to purchase a copy of the book I have been getting my information from.
Submitted by Diane Boone, Retired Camp Chef
Go HERE to view High Altitude Charts mentioned above.
Go HERE to enter the Recommended Books page (including the book "The New High Altitude Cookbook").