Simple Cooking Terms

Pasta done al dente is never soft or overcooked. See more international tomato dishes pictures.
Pasta done al dente is never soft or overcooked. See more international tomato dishes pictures.
©Artville

Advertisement

Q. Sometimes when I read a recipe's directions, the cooking terms confuse me. Can you explain what they mean?

Q. Sometimes when I read a recipe's directions, the cooking terms confuse me. Can you explain what they mean?

A. Fortunately, many cooking terms that sound complicated actually refer to a simple task or process. Here's a list of some cooking terms, and an explanation of what they mean. You'll find that there's really no mystery, once you learn the lingo.

Advertisement

Al dente: Often found in pasta recipes. It means to cook the pasta just until it's done, not soft or overcooked.

Au gratin: Refers to a baked dish, such as a casserole, topped with cheese or bread crumbs, then browned on top, either in the oven or under a broiler.

Baste: Spooning or brushing food with a liquid -- such as butter, broth, or the cooking liquid -- to help the food stay moist during cooking.

Blanch: Placing food briefly in boiling water and then plunging into cold water to halt cooking. Blanching loosens the skins of fruits and vegetables to help peel them more easily.

Braise: Slowly cooking browned foods in a small amount of liquid in a tightly covered pot.

Butterfly: Splitting meat, poultry, or fish in half horizontally without cutting all the way through. When spread open, the flat piece looks like a butterfly.

Caramelize: Melting and cooking sugar over low heat until it browns. "Caramelization" also refers to the browning that occurs during cooking.

Chiffonade: Thinly sliced strips or shreds of vegetables or herbs.

Cream: Rapidly mixing one or more ingredients with a spoon or mixer until smooth and creamy. When you cream butter or other fats, the mixture also becomes fluffy because air is incorporated during the rapid mixing process.

Curdle: Separation of a mixture into a liquid with solid particles. For example, soured milk curdles.

Deglaze: Adding a liquid to a pan in which food has been browned, and heating it to loosen the cooked food particles. This liquid is usually thickened to make a flavorful sauce.

Dredge: Coating a food lightly with flour, bread crumbs, or cornmeal.

French: Cutting a meat or vegetable lengthwise into very thin strips.

Julienne: To cut a fruit or vegetable into matchstick strips about 2 inches long.

Mince: Cutting food into very fine pieces.

Reduce: Boiling a liquid in an uncovered pot or pan to evaporate some of the liquid. This reduces the volume, concentrates the flavor, and thickens the mixture.

Sauté: Cooking and stirring a food in a small amount of fat over direct heat.

Score: To make shallow cuts in the surface of a food just before cooking or baking.

Sear: Using high heat to quickly brown the surface of a food to seal in the juices. Foods can be seared in a very hot pan or under the broiler.

Simmer: Slowly cooking food in a liquid just below the boiling point. Tiny bubbles may break the surface.

Steep: Soaking dry ingredients in a hot liquid to infuse it with flavor and color, as with tea or coffee.

Sweat: Cooking food over low heat in a small amount of fat in a covered pot or pan so it cooks in its own juices until soft but not browned.

Zest: The peel or colored part of citrus fruit skin, which contains flavorful oils. (The white pith is not part of the zest, and has a bitter taste.)

Advertisement

For more tips on cooking and cooking techniques, see:

Featured

Advertisement

Loading...