Culinary Terms Every Novice Should Know….but might not
Here are some cooking terms that you will find in every cookbook but may not be familiar with:
A short-grain, stubby type of rice originally from Italy and named after a town in the Po Valley. With a higher startch content than most of rices, properly cooked Arborio rice is creamy but firm and chewy.
A blend of high and low protein flours. The manufacturers blend the flour so that there is enough gluten in it to make a reasonable (often excellent) loaf of bread but not so much that you will end up with a chewy birthday cake. This is why they call it “all purpose:” it is good to use in a variety of baked goods.
In Italian the phrase means “to the tooth”and is a term used to describe the correct degree of doneness when cooking pasta and vegetables. The food should have a slight resistance when biting into it, but should not be soft or overdone or have a hard center.
For a great explanation of how al dente pasta should feel and taste, I direct you to read my friend Lola’s explanation. Lola is a wonderful home cook from Italy and knows what she is talking about. Her description of al dente is at the end of my post for Pasta e Fagioli.
To tie some type of fat (bacon or fatback) around what you are cooking to prevent it from drying out while roasting. Often used with fowl or extremely lean meats, barding bastes the meat while it is cooking, thus keeping it moist.
To spoon, brush, or squirt a liquid ( meat drippings, stock, barbecue sauce, melted butter) on food while it cooks to prevent drying out and to add flavor
A cooking method where meat or vegetables are first browned in butter and/or oil, then cooked in a covered pot in a small about of cooking liquid at low heat for a long period of time. This slow cooking process both tenderizes the food by breaking down their fibers and creates a full flavored dish. Check out my article on Braising and then my recipe for ossobuco for a delicious example of this cooking method.
a little bundle of herbs, tied together or placed together in in a piece of cheesecloth, used to enhance the flavor of a soup or stew. The classic combination of herbs is parsley, thyme, and bay leaf, but I like to add different herbs that I think will go with dish.
Basically the same thing as stock, a flavorful liquid prepared by simmering meat, poultry, fish or vegetables in water with some added herbs. This liquid can then be used for making soups, sauces, braises or by itself. Home cooks were more likely to see the term broth where professionals use the word “stock”. Not to be confusing, but some people use the term bouillon.
comes from the French word caboche, a colloquial term for head. The most common cabbage is the tight leafed compact head that ranges in color from white to red although there are many other types of cabbage varying in size in shape worth trying. Cabbage can be cooked or eaten raw as in cole slaw. When buying, look for heads that appear heavier than their size with crisp leaves. The cabbage family also includes kale, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts.
A large white Italian kidney bean that’s great in soups and stews.
The market name for rapeseed. As the most popular oil in Canada, the name was changed to protect the innocent. Now popular in the US because it only contains about 6% of saturated fat. Also it contains more mono saturated fat than any oil other than olive oil as well as Omega-3 fatty acids… thought to help lower cholesterol. It doesn’t have much of a taste and should be used for cooking (high smoking point) and salad dressings.
Is the French term for a particular knife cut where herbs and leafy greens are cut into thin strips.
Coming from the Dutch term, koolsla, which means “cool cabbage”, it’s a salad made with shredded cabbage mixed with mayonnaise as well as a variety of other ingredients. Check out my dad’s cole slaw recipe for to see what he puts into his.
When a solid fat such as butter is mixed with a dry ingredient like flour until they form into small particles. I would use a food processor fitted with a metal blade and just pulse it. You can also use your trusty fingers to do the job.
– a type of soup or stock fundamental to Japanese cooking made with kelp and fermented bonito tuna flakes.
A rich brown sauce made from reduced veal and beef stock that is used to make classic sauces. This is the stuff that gives those sauces you are served at fancy restaurants that velvety texture and sheen. For more information about demi-glace.
When you lightly coat food to be pan fried or sautéed typically with flour, cornmeal, or breadcrumbs. Check out my recipe for Sole Meuniére.
Made from the dried leaves of the sassafras tree and ground into a powder, Filé is thought to have come from the Choctaw indians of Louisiana and is an important seasoning for Gumbo.
– the brown carmelized bits of “stuff” left in the pan after you saute meat or fish. It’s the stuff you make great sauces from…sort of a base.
From the French word for “melt”, the term could refer to food cooked in a communal pot at the table or to finely chopped veggies that have been slowly cooked to a pulp and used as a garnish.
– a tomato-based veggie soup that is a great summer time recipe when you have fresh vegetables readily available in the kitchen. Here’s a great gazpacho recipe
A stock that has been reduced to a syrupy consistency and used to add flavor and color to a sauce.
Grown in the Midwest, this large white bean looks like a Lima bean and has a wonderful delicate flavor. Goes great in Winter Polish Peasant Sausage & Bean Stew.
An Italian garnish consisting of minced garlic, parsley, lemon rind, and sometimes shredded basil. It is most often used in garnishing osso buco.
means “with a browned crust of bread crumbs and grated cheese.” You may have heard of gratin potatoes or gratinéed tomatoes.
A thick stewlike dish associated with Creole cooking down in Louisiana. It typically has ingredients including okra, tomatoes, onions and some protein like crab, shrimp, sausage or chicken. The name gumbo comes from a derivation of the African word for okra, one of the principal ingredients. Check out my recipe for Gumbo.
An early gift from the American Indians, hominy is dried corn kernels which have had the hulls and germ removed either mechanically or chemically. For our Posole, we purchased canned hominy, but you can also buy it dried. Do you remember in the movie My Cousin Vinny when they talk about grits? Well they were talking about ground dried hominy.
I’m not talking about frozen water ice but instead the act of drizzling a baked good (cake, cupcakes, etc) with a thin layer of frosting. You know it more commonly as icing.
Oh yeah, a delicious dessert prepared by spreading a thin layer of filling like jelly on a thin layer of sponge cake and then rolled up into the shape of a log.
– is a very spicy condiment that is extremely pungent that is served at most Korean meals. Made from fermented vegetables like turnips and cabbage that have been pickled. In Korea they are then jarred, buried in the ground and dug up when needed. If you like it HOT, you’ll like kimchi.
To mix and work dough into a pliable mass either manually or with a mixer/food processor. When done by hand, you press the dough with the heels of your hands, fold in half, give a quarter turn, and repeat until smooth and elastic.
Shaped like a fat finger, it is a delicate sponge cake that is used for making desserts like Tiramisu and Charlottes. You can usually purchase them in bakeries, supermarkets, or specialty markets.
the addition–through biological, chemical or mechanical means–of gases to a dough or batter which causes it to raise and lighten during mixing and/or baking.
A fruit (they have a pit) that are fleshy and have a light-orange ripened skin color. A typical mango is around three to five inches in length and weighs approximately one pound.
Short for maître d’hôtel and is translated literally as master of the hotel is the headwaiter who is in charge of assigning people to their tables in a restaurant. Part of their responsibilities may also include making sure the staff waiters are doing their jobs, training, handling complaints and working as a liaison between the front of the house and the kitchen.
A combination of fancy, young salad greens once hard to find but now popular and available pre washed in the produce section of your supermarket in the Bag O Salad section. The mix usually contains a combination of arugula, dandelion, frisee, mizuma, oak leaf, radicchio and sorrel.
A fancy French name for “miller’s wife” and refers to the cooking technique used. In this case, fish is seasoned with salt and pepper and then dredged with flour and sautéed in butter. Check out my recipe for Sole Meuniére
A mixture of diced carrots, onions, celery and herbs that has been sautéed in butter or oil and used to season soups and stews. Sometimes mirepoix will contain diced prosciutto or ham to enhance flavor.
mise en place (MEEZ ahn plahs) This technique is IMPORTANT and one that’s hardest to get novice cooks to stick with. It’s a French term for having all your ingredients prepped and ready to go before starting you start cooking. That means everything is cleaned, peeled, chopped, diced, measured out, whatever’s necessary to get the ingredients ready prior to preparing your dish. Many of us, me included, start cooking and prepping at the same time. A big NO NO. Try to get into the habit of mis en place. Too read more about mise en place
Mongolian Hot Pot A sort of Chinese fondue, this giant communal pot contains a simmering stock where diners cook a variety of raw, thinly sliced meats and vegetables. A reader asked if I knew where to buy one….any ideas?
To completely cover food with a light coating of sauce so that it forms a thin, even layer.
orzo (OHR-zoh) in Italian means barley, but it is really a pasta that is shaped like rice. I like to substitute it for rice in salads like my Seafood Orzo Salad but it is also great in soups.
Ossobuco (AW-soh BOO-koh) in Italian means bone with a hole and that’s where this dish derives it’s name. The hole is filled with marrow and some consider it a delicacy while others shy away from it. This Italian dish is made with gelatinous veal shanks that are braised with fresh vegetables and rich stock. This dish comes from Milan in Italy’s northern region of Lombardy. The area is known for dairy farming with veal being a natural by-product. Ossobuco is simple and delicious meal that is often served with Gremolada.
panko – Japanese breadcrumbs – See my post on panko bread crumbs
pappardelle from the Italian city of Bologna, this long ribbon pasta measures from 6 – 10 inches long and anywhere from 1/2″ to 1″ wide and is great with hardy sauces because of it’s larger surface. It’s usually homemade but is starting to show up more and more in gourmet stores and supermarkets. If your local gourmet store doesn’t carry it, ask them. They are usually accommodating.
pesto (PEH stoh) An uncooked sauce that can also be used as condiment from Genoa, Italy and usually contains fresh basil, garlic, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese and olive oil although I’ve made it with arugula, sun dried tomatoes, and cilantro. I make mine with a food processor, but it is often made by hand with a mortar and pestle.
pine nut also called pignoli or Italian nut, pine nuts come from, you guessed it, pine trees. The nut is extracted from the cone usually with heat and is highly labor intensive thus expensive. they have a high fat content and should be stored in airtight containers in your refrigerator. They have a wonderful flavor especially when toasted.
pomme de terre Translated from French, it means “apple of the earth”, but refers to the potato. Usually seen as pommmes frites or French Fries.
posole – (poh-SOH-leh) a traditional Mexican dish from the pacific coast region of Jalisco. A thick soup that’s usually made with pork, hominy, garlic, onion, chili peppers, cilantro, and broth. Check out Huntley Dent’s recipe for posole.
pope’s nose – The stubby tail that protrudes from dressed chicken, turkey, and other fowl that my dad always served me at Thanksgiving.
resting – removing meat or poultry from heat before reaching ideal internal temperatures to allow the redistribution of juices in the meat. This helps keep the meat retain its juices, evens out temperature and doneness and easier to carve.
roux – A mixture of flour and fat that is cooked over low heat and used to thicken soups and sauces. There are three types of roux…white, blond, and brown. White and blond roux are both made with butter and used in cream sauces while brown roux can be made with either butter or the drippings from what you are cooking and is used for darker soups and sauces.
sachet – A sachet is a small bag made out of cloth or cheesecloth that is filled with various herbs and spices and used to add flavor to soup, stews, stocks and sauces. The combination of herbs and spices can vary depending on what you are cooking but typically include bay leaves, peppercorns, parsley and thyme.
Fresh herbs and spices are better but dried will do nicely if you don’t have access to fresh. You can use kitchen string (I have a roll of kite string in our kitchen) to tie the bundle together or even tie the four corners to themselves. I have even seen these nifty disposable cloth bags you can buy at kitchen supply stores.
saffron – An extremely expensive yellow-orange spice made from the stigmas of purple crocus. Think about this, each crocus produces only three stigmas which are hand picked and dried. It takes 14,000 of these tiny stigmas to produce an ounce of saffron. When buying choose the whole threads over the powder form and store in an air tight container in a cool dark place . Saffron is used for flavoring but was once used for medicinal purposes as well as dying clothes.
self-rising flour – is one of the first “baking mixes.” Rather than having to measure out all purpose flour, baking powder and salt separately, a cook can just measure the self rising flour–everything else is already in there.
To make shallow cuts into the surface of foods such as fish, meat, or chicken breasts to aid in the absorption of a marinade, to help tenderize, and/or to decorate.
smoking point The point when a fat such as butter or oil smokes and lets off an acrid odor. Not good since this odor can get into what you are cooking and give it a bad flavor. Butter smokes at 350° F, vegetable oil at 445° F, lard at 365°-400°F , olive oil at about 375° F.
stock – also called broth or bouillon, a flavorful liquid made by gently cooking meat, chicken or fish (with bones) in water and used for making sauces, soups, glaces and can be used for braising or poaching. I have read that in order for this liquid to be called stock, it must be made with bones therefore there is no such thing as vegetable stock. Not so sure this is true but sounds interesting. I have also read that the term comes from professional chefs keeping this important liquid ingredient “in stock” until they need it to cook with.
sweat To cook slowly over low heat in butter, usually covered, without browning. See my article on How to Sweat Vegetables
toad-in-the-hole A British dish consisting of a Yorkshire Pudding batter and cooked link sausages. When baked, the batter puffs up around the sausages giving the appearance of “toads in the hole”
One of the five basic tastes often referred to as savoriness with a “long lasting, mouthwatering and coating sensation over the tongue.”
There are all kinds of vinegar because you can make it from all sorts of ingredients including grapes, apples, grains and more. It is a byproduct of fermentation creating a sour tasting liquid.
Developed in India by the British, this dark, spicy sauce got its name from the city where it was first bottled…Worcester, England. Used to season meats, gravies, and soups, the recipe includes soy sauce, onions, molasses, lime, anchovies, vinegar, garlic, tamarind, as well as other spices. Read all about it at Worcestershire Sauce.