August 18, 2010

Guide to Cooking Terms

Ever come across a cooking term and wonder, "what does that mean?" or "what is the real definition of al a Mode?" I thought I would share with you some of the things I have learned when coming across some cooking terms I didn't know, as some I found in my research. Now you can be like Giada and whip out words no one has any idea what they mean, but at least you sound fancy!

à la Mode - literally, “following the fashion”. In the United States, it is a food that is served with ice cream; in France it names braised meat smothered in sauce. (I thought this was so interesting - don't order in France thinking you are getting a dessert!)

al Dente - Italian for to the tooth; used to describe a food, usually pasta, that is cooked only until it gives a slight resistance when one bites into it; the food is neither soft nor overdone. (Don't over cook your pasta ever again!)

Antipasto - assorted hors d’oeuvres, Italian style. Often included are ripe black olives, green stuffed olives, garlic sausage slices, salted anchovy curled on a sliced tomato, cooked dried beans in a vinaigrette dressing, prosciutto (thinly sliced fat ham) with cantaloupe.

Bain Marie - Simply a water bath. It consists of placing a container of food in a large, shallow pan of warm water, which surrounds the food with gentle heat. The food may be cooked in this manner either in an oven or on top of a range. This technique is designed to cook delicate dishes such as custards, sauces and savory mousses without breaking or curdling them. It can also be used to keep foods warm. (I actually heard Ina Garten use this term and it inspired this post. It is a gentle cooking method and keeps the temperature stable and things cooking evenly)

Bechamel sauce - This is a white sauce made with milk or cream and thickened with a roux. Bechamel sauce is generally used as a base for other more complex sauces, though it may be used alone for binding or moistening. (see definition of Roux below)

Blind Bake - To bake a pie crust without the filling. Metal weights or dried beans are usually used to keep the pastry from bubbling. (Mmm. Pie!)

Bouquet Garni - A bunch of herbs (traditionally parsley, thyme, and bay leaf) bundled up in a cheesecloth bag that usually dangles into a stockpot via a string. The herb bundle gives the stew, soup or stock an aromatic seasoning. The bouquet garni is removed before serving.
Bruschetta - Grilled slices of bread brushed with olive oil and fresh garlic. (I included this because I think so many people think Bruschetta is the tomato part - but it is really just a toast, you can put anything on it!)

Butterfly - To split a piece of food down the center, cutting almost through. The halves are fanned open and laid flat to cook or fry. The fan resembles a butterfly. ex - butterfly shrimp.

Chiffonade - French for 'made from rags.' In cooking it refers to a small chopped pile of thin strips of an ingredient. Usually it is raw, but sometimes sautéed. Mostly used to garnish. (I learned this is when you roll up herbs or leaves, like basil, and cut into strips...)

Cream - To beat butter, margarine, or other fat until it's creamy looking or with sugar until it's fluffy and light. THis technique beats in air, creating light textured baked goods. (Mmm. Cookies.)

Cut-In - To mix a solid fat such as butter or shortening into a dry ingredient such as flour, using a pastry blender, a fork or two knives. (This is usually for recipes like pie crust or biscuits - something you want to be flaky.)

- A process of adding a liquid such as wine, vinegar or stock to a hot pan to collect the bits of food left on the pan during cooking. Deglazing is most common with sauteed and roasted foods.

Dredge - To lightly coat food with dry ingredients like flour, cornmeal, or bread crumbs...the usual preparation for frying.

Emulsify - The process of combining ingredients like water and oil with a binder. The blended product is an emulsion. These blended combinations can last from a few minutes to a few days depending on the ingredients. Mustard and egg yolks are two common emulsifiers. (Notice how I use mustard in a lot of my salad dressings? That's why!)

Fork Tender - A degree of doneness for cooked vegetables and meats .When the food is pierced with a fork, there is only a very slight resistance. 

Julienne - to cut food, especially vegetables into thin, uniform matchstick strips about 2 inches long. 

Pare - to cut away the skin or rind of a fruit or vegetable. (Get it? You usually use a Paring Knife? Oh they are clever.)

Proof - To dissolve yeast in a measured amount of warm water (105 to 115 degrees F), sometimes with a small amount of sugar, then to set it aside until foamy. 

Roux - A mixture of flour and fat such as butter or margarine, used to thicken sauces, gravies, soups, and stews. Roux can also be made with bacon or meat drippings or poultry fat. After thickening, roux are cooked for a short time. In Creole cooking roux are cooked for a longer time, until they are a dark brown color. (Roux is the plural of Roux... it isn't a typo... though it is throwing me off too.)

Scald - To heat milk almost to the boiling point just as tiny bubbles start forming on the inside edge of a pan.

Score - Making shallow cuts in meats before cooking, making the meat more tender.

Soft Peaks - When cream or egg whiles are beaten until the stand in peaks that bend over at the top.

Stiff Peaks - When cream or egg whites are beaten until they stand in peaks and hold their shape. 

Temper - To slowly add a hot liquid to to an egg mixture or other food being prepared to raise the temperature without making them curdle or begin to cook. (Like in pudding or a custard... mmm. Flan.)

Zest - The colored skin of citrus fruit - not including the white layer.       


Emily said...

What an awesome mini glossary of cooking terms--love it! Thanks!

kami @ said...

This list makes me want to be a food blogger. Thanks to all those hours of Food Network, I knew all of these terms.

...and I want to add one to the list: [url=]Mirepoix[/url]

ros said...

i always wondered what a roux is, and now i know. thanks

jeri said...

Of course, to really be like Giada, you have to say these words with an assumed, thick accent. I recommend a Russian accent.