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Common culinary terms
from my free eBook, The Novice Cook

Like all pursuits, cooking has its own jargon which can often be a bit mystifying for the learner cook, as recipe writers generally assume the reader will understand them. Here is a collection of commonly used culinary terms you are likely to encounter. It's by no means exhaustive but it will get you started. At the foot of the page are links to more comprehensive glossaries.

Click to downloadAl dente - often used to describe pasta which is cooked until tender but still firm “to the tooth”

Antipasto - a course served before pasta in Italian meals. Antipasti can be hot of cold -salami, olives, baked aubergine, artichoke hearts

Au gratin - a dish prepared with a sauce and topped with breadcrumbs or cheese and browned under a grill or in a hot oven

Bake - Cook covered or uncovered in the oven

Bake blind - to place pastry in a pie dish, cover it with a circle of greaseproof paper, and weigh the paper down with dried beans or similar. This will stop the pastry puffing up too much. The beans and paper are removed, the filling added and cooking finished

Baste - to spoon sauce or juices over food e.g. basting roasting lamb with the fat which collects in the pan

Batter - uncooked mixed ingredients for cakes, muffins, batter, pancakes

Beat - mix rapidly and thoroughly with a fork or spoon, with a rotary hand beater, or electric beater

Béchamel - a white sauce made with a butter and flour roux (see below) and milk

Blanch - place food in boiling water for a few seconds to a few minutes. Tomatoes may be blanched for a few second to make the skins easy to remove. Vegetables can be blanched before adding to dish - e.g. cauliflower is blanched prior to covering it with cheese sauce and baking it for cauliflower au gratin

Bind - add an ingredient such as egg to hold a mixture together

Blend - to mix ingredients thoroughly together. This can be done by hand or with a food processor. The recipe will generally indicate which to use

Boil - to cook in a liquid that has reached boiling point and has bubbles breaking on the surface

Braise - cook slowly in a little liquid in a container with a tight lid. This can be done on the stove-top or in the oven

Chill - place in a refrigerator to rapidly lower the temperature

Chop - cut into small pieces

Coulis - smooth sauce, gravy or puree

Cream - to beat softened butter and sugar together until light and fluffy

Cut [butter etc] into - to blend fat into flour with a pastry blender or fork

Dice - chop into cubes

Drain - Remove liquid from food. Sometimes the cooking liquid is retained for use in a sauce

Dredge - to sprinkle with flour, for example, to sprinkle flour over meat when preparing a casserole

Emulsion - oil or fat suspended in liquid - e.g. when an oil and vinegar salad dressing is shaken, it forms and emulsion

Flake - to separate cooked fish into “flakes” prior to adding it to a sauce or other ingredients

Flambé - to flame in alcohol. Crepes can be flamed in brandy prior to serving

Floret - a head of broccoli or cauliflower can be broken down into smaller “florets”before cooking

Fold - to lightly cut a fluffy mixture such as whipped egg whites into a heavier mix so the lightness is retained. Done with a spoon or spatula in a cutting motion through the mix to the bottom of the pan, then “folding” the bottom mix into the top

Fry - cook in hot oil or fat. Shallow frying involves using a little fat whereas deep frying involves immersing completely in a deep pan of hot oil

Grate - to scrape over the surface of a grater. Used for items like cheese, chocolate,citrus rind

Grind - crush in a grinder or in a mortar, using a pestle

Infuse - steep in hot liquid. Used for tea, herbs, dried mushroom, for example

Julienne - to cut a vegetable into matchsticks

Knead - to roll, press and fold bread dough to produce a springy, elastic texture

Line - to line a cake tin with greaseproof paper, baking paper or foil. Sometimes the lining is greased

Marinate - to place meat or fish in a flavouring medium (a marinade) for several hours prior to cooking. This can also serve to tenderise the meat

Microwave proof - a dish that can withstand microwaving. Some dishes have metallic decorations that spark when microwaved

Mince - chop finely with a mincer or food processor

Ovenproof - a dish that can withstand high oven temperatures

Pan fry - cook quickly in a heavy pan with a little fat

Parboil - partly boil. To partly cook something before processing further

Poach - cook gently in simmering liquid

Preheat - to bring the oven to cooking temperature before placing in the dish to be cooked. Preheating an oven takes around 10 minutes

Puree - to sieve or mash items like cooked vegetables into a smooth mix

Reduce - to boil a liquid briskly until much of it evaporates and leaves a smaller, thicker residue. This concentrates the flavour

Refresh - to drain and plunge into iced water and thus stop cooking

Roast - cook in an oven in an uncovered dish

Roux - a mix of melted butter and flour cooked together. Often the basis of a sauce - e.g. white sauce where milk is added to the roux

Rub in - to rub butter into flour with your finger tips or with a pastry blender until the mix looks like fine breadcrumbs. Best done with chilled butter

Sauté - To cook food in a small amount of oil over a medium to high heat. Stir as you cook

Scald - to heat milk just below boiling point

Sear - to brown meat quickly in hot oil, sealing in the juices. Don’t overcrowd the pan.It’s best to do a few bits at a time

Shred - cut into fine strips or grate

Sieve - to strain through a sieve to remove any lumpy particles

Sift - to pass dry ingredients through a flour sifter or sieve to aerate and mix evenly

Simmer - to cook just below boiling point - the surface of the liquid will just quiver

Skim - remove scum or fat from a cooking liquid

Steam - cook over boiling water, usually in a steamer basket. The food should not touch the water

Stew - to cook slowly in a simmering liquid, usually in the oven

Stir - to blend ingredients in a circular motion with a spoon or whisk

Stirfry - cook quickly in a little oil over high heat. The ingredients are stirred and tossed as they cook

Sweat - to soften in a little oil over a medium heat until the juices run

Truss - to tie poultry so it holds its shape during cooking

Whip - Beat with an egg beater until thick and well aerated

Whisk - beat with a wire whisk till light and frothy

Further culinary glossaries

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