Terminology in the kitchen it’s own language—and to novice cooks, can sometimes seem like a foreign language! In this section, you’ll find the clarification of many terms frequently used in recipes (mine, and those of other cookbook authors). You may wish to read this section before delving into the recipes to increase your understanding of the methods and techniques that you’ll commonly encounter in recipe instructions.
Below is a list of all the words currently defined. The definitions are below the list, given in alphabetical order.
- Hot-water bath
- Al dente
- Cut in
Acidulated: Water to which an acidic ingredient has been added (such as citrus juice or vinegar) to prevent certain fruits or vegetables (such as peaches, apples, pears and artichokes) from discoloring after being peeled or trimmed. Often, citrus juice alone can be used to treat these fruits. Peeled bananas should not be submerged in acidulated water; they should only be tossed with small amount of strained lemon juice.
Al dente: Literally “to the tooth” in Italian, this term describes properly cooked pasta. This is also used to describe the texture of certain types of rice and vegetables.
Baguette: A long, thin loaf of French bread, also sometimes used to describe a long loaf of Italian bread.
Baste: To brush with liquid (usually melted fat or drippings) during roasting to keep foods from becoming dry.
Bind: To hold together a mixture, or to thicken it with various substances such as flour or bread crumbs.
Blanch: To partially cook fruits or vegetables by boiling or steaming. Blanched nuts are briefly boiled or steamed just long enough to release and remove their outer skins, as are tomatoes and other fruits.
Boil: When a liquid reaches 212° F, bubbles vigorously appear at the surface. As these bubbles burst, a constant stream of new bubbles appears. When the bubbles won’t cease (even while stirring), that’s a “rolling boil.”
Braise: To cook foods slowly (securely covered) in a small to moderate amount of liquid. A stew is the perfect example of a braised dish that needs long, slow exposure to moist heat in order to break down and dissolve the tough, connective tissue within certain cuts of meat. For best results, always use a well-made, heavy-bottomed Dutch oven or casserole to promote even heat distribution and prevent scorching on the bottom. A similar technique is used with whole or chopped vegetables (see Sweat).
Bruise: To hit a whole firm or semi-firm ingredient so that the flesh releases the food’s flavor but remains intact. This technique frequently is used with peeled cloves of fresh garlic before browning them in hot fat to infuse the fat with garlic flavor.
Caramelize: To cook a sugar syrup until it reaches a deep amber color. This begins at around 295° F and is completed at 300° F to 310° F.
Chiffonade: Ribbon-like strands of fresh leafy greens or herbs. They first are trimmed, stacked and rolled width-wise into a thin tube which is then thinly sliced; when each slice is unraveled, the strands resemble ribbons. Commonly, this is done to fresh basil, spinach and lettuce, either to give dimension to the overall look and texture of a finished dish or to act as a bed for other ingredients.
Chop: To reduce a whole food into small (but not tiny) irregular pieces.
Clarify: To remove cloudy sediment from a liquid.
Coddle: To briefly cook a food (such as an egg) in liquid that’s just below the simmering point.
Condensation: Water droplets that form from the rising steam that emanates from a hot mixture within a closed environment, such as a covered pan.
Core: To remove the central core of seeds from fruit.
Coulis: : a sweet or savory puree.
Cream: To beat softened butter until smooth and light. In baking, this process is frequently done in combination with sugar and eggs to achieve a light texture in baked goods.
Crudités: Uniformly cut-up raw vegetables (and sometimes fruit), usually served as “finger food” with a savory dip or sweet sauce.
Curdle: A usually undesirable chemical reaction that occurs when dairy products (milk, cream, sour cream or eggs) are combined with an acid ingredient (wine, vinegar, tomatoes or citrus juice), or when dairy products are overheated or heated too quickly. The smooth substance breaks and forms small granular (coagulated) pieces of protein within the product.
Cut in: To incorporate a solid fat (butter, shortening or margarine) into a combination of dry ingredients until the mixture resembles coarse “mealy” flakes.
Deglaze: A process used after browning meat or poultry. The fat is poured out and stock, wine, vinegar or juice is added and briskly simmered to release any caramelized bits of meat or poultry from the bottom of the pan. This liquid is usually reduced further to concentrate its flavor and added directly to a stew or strained through a fine sieve to create a smooth sauce.
Desiccated: Dried and untreated.
Dice: To cut a whole food into small uniform cubes.
Dissolve: When an ingredient (solid or granular) becomes totally incorporated within a liquid. Generally, hot liquids will melt down or liquefy another ingredient better than cold but this is not always the case. For example, cornstarch must first be dissolved in a cold liquid before it’s used to thicken a hot mixture.
Dock: To prick small holes in several types of pastry or a certain yeast dough to prevent the mixture from rising (bubbling) in the oven. When any dough enters a hot oven, the heat reacts with the liquid in the mixture to create steam within the dough. Since steam naturally rises, it would carry the surrounding dough upward if not docked.
Dollop: A generous spoonful of a creamy or thickened substance such as whipped cream, sour cream or preserves used to garnish or to enrich a mixture.
Drawn: Another term for “clarified” when referring to melted butter that’s been skimmed of its milk solids. This term also refers to a whole fish that’s been gutted.
Dredge: To coat foods with a substance (commonly flour, bread crumbs or cornmeal) before pan-frying or deep-frying.
Dust: To impart a light fine coating of a powdered substance (like flour) over the surface of a food before browning, or over a baking pan after greasing.
Emulsion, to emulsify: When two incompatible liquids (such as oil and water) are mixed together, they will separate from each other as soon as you stop mixing. In order to blend these substances and “emulsify” or thicken them, you’ll need to add an “emulsifier,” an ingredient that is compatible with each of the other substances. When you add a natural emulsifier (such as eggs or an acid like dry or prepared mustard, vinegar, lemon or wine), the ingredients become linked together in a suspended state that remains stable for a varied length of time. Egg yolks create the most stable emulsions and can last for many days (as with mayonnaise). A blender is a good choice when trying to blend a mixture that has no natural emulsifiers since a food processor tends to leave these types of mixtures thinner and more watery.
Fold: To combine gently two mixtures using a large rubber spatula. Usually one mixture is thick and highly flavored and the other is light and either plain or sweetened. The folding motion is a delicate one, used to create an ultimately lighter texture in your flavored base.
Ganache: Chocolate (usually semisweet or bittersweet) blended with heated heavy cream until smooth and then strained through a triple-mesh wire sieve. This mixture is frequently poured over cakes and rich tortes to give them an intensely shiny–almost glassy–finish.
Grate: To rub a whole food through sharp, raised holes to reduce it into small pieces or thin shreds. See also Shred.
Grease: To coat a pan with butter, shortening or oil. This also refers to the fatty, oily substance that rises to the top of a hot mixture and solidifies once chilled.
Grind: To reduce a hard or semi-hard substance to a fine powder. Also, to chop meat, poultry or fish to varying degrees of fineness.
Hot-water bath: A large pan of almost boiling water (also called a bain-marie) in which another pan of a delicate mixture is partially submerged so that the food cooks gently. The water cushions the mixture from direct and aggressive exposure to heat. Also used to reheat cooked foods such as rice or pasta that require gentle handling to preserve texture.
Infuse: To impart to a liquid a flavor and aroma, usually of herbs or spices through steeping or simmering. See also Steep and Simmer.
Julienne: To cut vegetables into thin sticks of equal proportion; synonymous with “matchstick.”
Knead: To use your hands to work a mixture until it’s smooth. When making a yeast dough, vigorous and repetitive kneading creates a glutinous network within the dough that will entrap living yeast cells.
Leaven: To use a substance such as baking powder, baking soda or yeast to create the formation of gases within a mixture so that it rises up, resulting in a lighter texture and increased volume when cooked.
Liaison: The addition of one substance to another (usually heated) for the purpose of thickening and enriching the texture. Some examples of mixtures used to thicken are butter and flour kneaded together until smooth (called beurre manié), the combination of eggs and heavy cream, or cornstarch dissolved in a cold liquid. Another form of liaison is straining a soup or sauce, puréeing the solids (vegetables) and returning them to the liquid to thicken it. When working with a delicate egg-based liaison, it’s important to add the eggs to the hot cream slowly or they can easily curdle.
Macerate: A process similar to marinating that involves steeping fruits in a liquid that usually contains alcohol, such as brandy or wine. Maceration has less to do with tenderizing and more to do with flavor absorption.
Marinate: To tenderize or impart flavor to foods by coating them in a seasoned mixture (a paste of herbs and spices or a dry spice blend) or soaking them in a wet mixture that is usually acidic. When a marinade contains an acidic ingredient (vinegar, wine or citrus juice) and is applied to a tough (fibrous) type of meat for several hours or longer, the acid breaks down some of the connective tissue and renders the cooked meat more tender and flavorful. (When doing this, always use a non-reactive container or place the marinated foods into a sealed plastic bag.) Marinades are also applied to blanched vegetables, poultry and delicate types of fish, but care should be taken either to reduce the acidic ingredients or to apply the marinade for a shorter time; over-marinating these already tender foods will adversely affect their texture and in some cases (as with fish), actually cook the flesh.
Mince: To chop into very small pieces.
Mirepoix: See Soffritto
Non-reactive: A term used to describe cookware that does not react chemically with acidic foods like tomatoes, vinegar, wine and citrus juice. Non-reactive materials that can be used safely with acidic ingredients are glass, ceramic, porcelain, stainless steel, enamel-coated cast iron and anodized aluminum. Regular cast iron and aluminum and unlined copper should never be used with acidic foods.
Oxidize: A reaction that occurs when the color or texture of a specific food is adversely affected by prolonged exposure to air.
Panfry: To quickly cook vegetables, or tender cuts of meat, chicken and fish in no fat or a very small amount of fat. The term is often used interchangeably with Sauté.
Parboil: To pre-cook vegetables partially and tenderize them before applying another method to cook them completely, such as sautéing. See Blanch, which is often used interchangeably.
Pare: To remove the outer peel or skin from fruits or vegetables. This also refers to the process of “paring down” a vegetable so each piece is the same size to ensure even cooking and uniform appearance; this is commonly done with root vegetables like carrots and potatoes.
Pasteurize: The commercial process of using heat to kill bacteria in milk products; the milk is then quickly cooled to protect its fresh flavor. Pasteurized dairy products are more perishable, but have a better flavor than those that have been ultra-pasteurized (see listing).
Pith: The undesirable bitter, white, leathery substance that lies between the flesh of citrus fruits and the zest (colored outer layer). Removing the pith is best accomplished with a flexible sharp knife.
Plump: To soak a dried fruit in a warm or hot liquid to soften it. This can also be done by steaming the food over simmering water in a covered pot. Plumping is also a great way to revamp a sorry-looking vanilla bean.
Poach: To simmer or boil food in shallow liquid (stock or water) to cover. Poaching is done with the lid on and (most often) with the flame low.
Purée: To pulverize a solid (usually cooked or raw vegetables or fruits) to a smooth, liquid or paste-like consistency. This is usually done in a blender or food processor, or by cranking a mixture through a food mill.
Reduce: To concentrate flavors in a liquid by briskly boiling it uncovered until a portion of the water evaporates and the liquid thickens. Frequently, this process is applied to pan juices after roasting to intensify sauces, and when making various types of stock in different strengths.
Refresh: To stop the cooking process immediately after blanching (parboiling) vegetables or fruit by quickly plunging the drained partially cooked vegetables into a bowl of ice-cold water. By doing this, the firm texture and vibrant color of the vegetable will remain. Also, this process refers to reheating briefly frozen toasted nuts or day-old (or thawed frozen) breads in order to “awaken” their fresh taste and aroma.
Ribbon: This describes the way a batter (or a creamed sugar and egg mixture) will fall back on itself when allowed to drop off of a spoon or whisk.
Roast: To cook raw foods on a shallow pan (usually in the oven) to encourage browning. Frequently, both meats and poultry are placed on a wire rack within the roasting pan to enable the heat to circulate and brown the bottom of the food.
Roux: A cooked mixture of flour and butter (usually in equal proportion) used to thicken sauces and soups.
Sauté: To cook or brown foods quickly in a small amount of hot fat (usually butter or oil).
Scald: To heat a liquid to the point where tiny bubbles are visible around the edge of the liquid; this is below the simmering point (149° F).
Score: To make overlapping shallow incisions (either in a crosshatch or diagonal lattice pattern). Frequently done to the thick layer of top fat on a ham to enable heat to penetrate the meat. Scoring also creates a decorative affect on the exterior.
Sear: To seal in juices by quickly cooking the outside of food (usually but not exclusively meat) under intense heat to induce overall browning. Meat is usually seared before braising it gently and slowly.
Shred: To rub a whole food (cheese, cabbage, lettuce) through the raised (elongated) holes of a grater to create long, thin pieces.
Shuck: To remove clams, mussels and oysters from their shells. Also to remove corn from its outer husk.
Skim: To remove any undesirable substance (such as fat or foam) that rises to the top of a mixture as it cooks or cools.
Sieve: A wire mesh container with holes of different sizes. Sieves are used to drain, sift and purée foods.
Sift: To lighten and remove lumps from flour, sugar or a combination of dry ingredients by using a sifter, sieve, or whisk.
Simmer: When a liquid is heated to the point where small bubbles are seen slowly forming under the top surface (210° F). These bubbles will burst before they reach the surface. Simmering takes place just before a mixture reaches the boiling point.
Snip: To use kitchen scissors to cut food into small pieces.
Soffritto: The Italian term for an assortment of minced aromatic vegetables, (known as mirepoix in French and soffrito in Spanish) slowly cooked as a base for various sauces and soups.
Steam: The method of cooking food above boiling liquid in a covered environment.
Steep: To submerge and soak an ingredient in liquid (usually heated) in order to infuse the liquid with flavor.
Stew: The process in which food cooks slowly within a varied amount of liquid until very tender. See Braise
Stir-fry: To cook rapidly chunks of vegetables or strips of lean meat or poultry in a small amount of hot fat, while stirring and tossing constantly. Usually done in a wok or large skillet.
Sweat: To cook minced vegetables slowly in hot fat covered closely with greased waxed paper to prevent the loss of moisture and flavor. Vegetables are prepared this way for a soffritto and will become and stay unusually sweet.
Temper: The process of slowly adding a hot mixture to a heat-sensitive mixture (usually containing eggs or cream) to prevent the delicate ingredients from shocking and curdling. Raw eggs (alone) will begin to coagulate (curdle) at a temperature of 155° F; the addition of sugar or milk to raw eggs will raise the curdling point to 175° F (180° F maximum). The addition of flour or cornstarch to the egg, cream and sugar mixture will change the chemistry of the eggs, enabling them to be brought briefly to a boil (212° F), while stirring constantly to prevent lumps. The term “temper” is also used regarding working with melted chocolate.
Tepid: The temperature of a liquid when it touches a soft, callus-free part of the body and feels “just warm.”
Ultra-pasteurize: The commercial process of heating milk products to a very high temperature (300° F) and keeping them there for a certain length of time in order to retard the growth of bacteria and increase shelf life beyond the point of normal pasteurization. The flavor and whipping ability of cream, however, is adversely affected by ultra-pasteurization.
Zest: The deeply colored, outer skin of citrus fruits, excluding the bitter white pith that lies just beneath it. Always scrub and dry fruit before removing the zest.