Have you ever started making a recipe and suddenly there was a cooking term you weren’t quite sure what it meant. We’ve compiled a glossary of cooking terms that you likely to come across on this site and in our cookbooks. Perhaps you might want to print this out, fold it, and slip it into a cookbook that you frequently use (hopefully, one of ours).
Acidulated water: water to which you’ve added a mild acid, usually lemon juice or vinegar, to prevent fruits such as apples or pears from discoloring. To make acidulated water, mix 3 tablespoons (45 ml) lemon juice to 2 cups (480 ml) water.
Al dente: an Italian phrase meaning “to the tooth” that describes pasta or other food that is cooked only until it offers a slight resistance when bitten into.
Baste: to moisten food during cooking by spooning the cooking liquids of the food so that the surface doesn’t dry out and additional flavor is added to the food.
Blanch: placing food in cold water, bringing it to a boil for the time specified in the recipe, then draining well and refreshing in cold water to stop the cooking process. This technique is often used to loosen the skin of tomatoes for easier peeling or partially cooking fresh green beans or asparagus for use in a recipe.
Blend: to mix two or more ingredients together with a spoon, beater, or electric mixer until well combined.
Boil: heating a liquid until bubbles break the surface (212°F or 100°C) at sea level and considerably temperatures at high altitudes. A “full rolling boil” is one that can’t be dissipated by stirring.
Bouquet Garni: usually bundled in a double layer of cheesecloth and tied with a piece of kitchen string, this is a combination of herbs to give flavor to stews, soups, or broths-traditionally parsley, thyme, and bay leaf. It is removed before serving.
Braising: a cooking method where the food (usually meat) is browned first, then slowly cooked in a liquid such as broth, water, or wine.
Caramelize: to heat sugar (the new one-to-one sugar substitutes can be caramelized) over low heat until it melts and develops a flavorful, golden-brown color. If you’re doing this with the sugar substitutes, you will notice a chemical odor during the process, but the final product and flavor will be fine.
Chiffonade: long thin ribbons of fresh greens or herbs made by rolling up the leaves and cutting crosswise to produce the thin ribbons.
Crudités: raw vegetables, usually served with a dip or sauce.
Coulis: a thin puree of fruit, sometimes sweetened with sugar or sugar substitute.
Deglaze: to add a liquid such as wine, broth, or water to the pan in which a food has been cooked to dissolve the cooking drippings so that they may be used to make a sauce.
Dredge: to dust or cover a food with a dry ingredient such as flour, cornmeal, or bread crumbs before cooking.
Grill: to cook food on a heavy metal grate that is set over hot coals or other source of heat.
Julienne: to cut vegetables, meat, or poultry into thin, matchstick-size strips.
Macerate: to soak a food (usually fruit) in a liquid in order to infuse the food with that liquid’s flavor. This also softens the food while releasing its juices to blend with the macerating liquid.
Marinate: to soak food (such as fish, meat, poultry, or vegetables) in a seasoned liquid to absorb flavor and, in some cases, to become more tender. Since most marinades contain an acid such as citrus juice, vinegar, or wine, the marinating should be done in a glass, ceramic, or stainless steel container, never in aluminum.
Poach: to cook a food such as chicken, fish, or eggs in simmering liquid.
Puree: (noun) a smooth, thick mixture made in a food processor or blender, or by pressing the ingredients through a sieve.
Puree: (verb) to grind or mash food until it forms a smooth, thick mixture.
Reconstitute: to return a dried form of food to its natural state, usually by adding water.
Reduce: through evaporation, to decrease the volume of liquid by boiling it rapidly in an uncovered pan to increase its flavor and thicken the consistency.
Sauté: to quickly cook in a small amount of oil (or spritz of cooking spray) over direct heat.
Scald: to heat a liquid (such as milk) to just below the boiling point.
Score: to cut shallow slits in the surface of a food before cooking to increase tenderness, to vent steam, or to serve as a decoration.
Sear: to brown the surface of a food quickly with high heat.
Shred: to cut food (such as cheese, carrots, or cabbage) into slivers or narrow strips, either by hand or using a hand-held grater, or a food processor fitted with a shredding disk. Cooked meat, fish, or poultry can be shredded by pulling it apart using two forks.
Shuck: to remove the husks and silks of an ear of corn or to remove the shell from shellfish such as oysters or clams.
Simmer: to cook food gently in liquid at a temperature that is low enough so that tiny bubbles just begin to break the surface.
Steam: a method of cooking where a food is placed on a rack or special steamer basket over boiling or simmering water in a covered skillet or saucepan.
Steep: to let food soak in hot liquid to extract color and flavor.
Stir-fry: (noun) any dish which has been cooked by a stir-fry method.
Stir-fry: (verb) to quickly cook small pieces of food over very high heat while constantly and briskly stirring the food until the food is crisply tender. A wok or large skillet is usually used with this Asian cooking technique.
Timbale: a small molded mixture of food that is crustless.
Vinaigrette: referred to as one of the “five mother sauces,” a basic version is made from oil and vinegar and used to dress salad greens and any number of cold foods such as meats, poultry, fish, or vegetables. A more elaborate vinaigrette would include any number of herbs, spices, garlic, shallots, onions, mustard, and so forth.
Whip: to beat ingredients such as egg whites to incorporate air into them, thereby increasing their volume until they are the consistency described in the recipe.
Whisk: to beat or whip ingredients with a kitchen utensil that consists of a series of looped wires that form a three-dimensional teardrop shape.
Zest: the colorful rind of citrus fruit (most commonly lemon, lime, or orange), containing aromatic oils that adds flavor to a food. When zesting, be careful to not include any of the white pith, as that adds a bitter taste.