Bain-marie is a cooking and serving equipment, mostly used by professional cooks, catering services, hospitals and canteens. However, household bain-marie is also available for cooking at home. The equipment helps to provide heat in a slow and gradual manner without coming in direct contact with the food product. It is more popularly known by lay people as the double boiler. It is also known as hot water bath. The word bain-marie is a French term.
Bain-marie has a large cylindrical outer container which is filled with water or other liquid to be boiled. Into this large container a small container fits in half way through the boiling liquid. This container should fit well so as to not let out any steam into this container. At this level the food which needs to be heated or cooked without burning needs to be kept. There is an outer handle to the body and a lid to cover as and when required. The heat is applied at the base of the cylindrical container to make the liquid boil. Today these are available in various shapes and sizes, made with various metals.
Bain-marie originated for use in alchemy in when a need to slowly and gradually heat a number of various chemical substances was felt. The equipment was invented as early as the 1st or the 2nd century A.D. by an alchemist from Alexandria known as Maria Prophetissa or Mary the Jewess or Maria the Jewess. Gradually the equipment came to be used not only in alchemy but also in other industries as well as cooking.
Various Types of Bain-marie
Hot Bain-marie – This type of bain-marie is used to keep the food hot or to transfer heat to any food item for slowing cooking, melting etc. It is most commonly seen in canteens, offices, catering businesses, restaurants and hospitals where keeping the food warm is essential.
Cold Bain-marie – This type of bain-marie is used to keep the food cold or frozen rather than hot. Such types of bain-marie are best used for ice creams and cold desserts or chopped fresh fruits and vegetables for salads in catering businesses, restaurants, hotels and so on. Only the procedure is reversed. Instead of providing slow heat, the equipment acts as a cooling device for required food items.
Wet Bain-marie – This is the basic type of bain-marie which works on wet heat. The wet heat may be provided by filling the bottom can with boiling water, oil, salt solution or any other liquid. The boiling point of water is 100 degree C so that becomes the maximum temperature for the bain-marie. Similarly if oil or salt solution is used then their boiling point is the highest temperature that can be achieved in the bain-marie.
Dry Bain-marie – This type of bain-marie works on dry heat. It is best explained as those run on electricity, or dry heat being provided in some other manner. A good example is the Electrical Bain-marie.