The essentials: defintions of cooking terms

Imagine this: you find a wonderful recipe. You have all of the ingredients and utensils on hand. You start reading the directions. Preheat oven–easy. Melt butter–easy enough. Mince onions–what is mince? With the knife in your hand, you stare blankly at the onion and wonder “what on earth am I going to do with you?” This is one of those times where a dictionary of cooking terms would come in handy.

Look no further! Below I have listed some of the most common cooking terms along with their definitions. If this is still not clear, I recommend using a website like YouTube or Instructables for a video demonstration.

PEEL : To strip of the outer covering. Applied to oranges, grapefruit, etc.

PARE : To cut off the outside covering. Applied to potatoes, apples, etc.

CUT : To divide food materials with a knife or scissors in any desired shape.

SLICE : A cross cut 1/8 to 3/8 inch thick. To slice is to cut into even slices, usually across the grain.

CUBE : A cube-shaped cut ½ to 1 inch. To cube is to cut into cubes.

DICE : A cube-shaped cut but smaller than the cube at about ¼ inch.

FINE DICE : A cube-shaped cut 1/8 inch in size; brunoise.

CHOP : To divide into small pieces with a knife or other sharp tool.

MINCE : To cut into very fine pieces using a knife, food grinder, blender or food processor.

MATCH CUT : A long thin cut, ¼ x ¼ x 3 inches; alumette

JULIENNE : To cut meat or vegetables into thin stick-shaped pieces (1/8 x 1/8 x 1½ -2 inches)

BREAD : To coat the surface of a food with flour, egg wash, and breadcrumbs before cooking or frying.

COAT : To cover surfaces of an item with another substance.

DREDGE : To sprinkle or coat lightly with flour, cornmeal, or ground almonds.

AL DENTE ( ahl den’ tay ) : An Italian term applied in cooking pastas also with vegetables that means firm to the bite and yet tender.

BASTE : To moisten meat or other foods while cooking also adding flavor and to prevent it from drying. The mixture for basting are usually melted fat, meat drippings, fruit juices or sauce.

BRAISE : To cook with a small amount of liquid in a covered container in a low lemperature to produce a thick sauce. Examples are adobo, mechado, etc.

POACH : To cook submerged in liquid at temperatures of roughly 160° to 180º F (71º – 82º C). A liquid at these temperatures has bubbles on the bottom of the pan but is undisturbed.

SIMMER : To cook submerged in liquid just below a boil, at temperature upwards of 180°F ( 82°C ). A simmering liquid has bubbles floating slowly from the bottom, and the surface is fairly quiet.

BOIL : To cook in water or liquid under a boiling point or reaches the point when a boiling liquid is in turmoil; its surface is agitated and rolling.

BROIL : To cook with heat from above like the broiler. Example is the ham. Most ovens have a broil setting.

For a more complete, alphabetical listing of cooking terms, visit this website

Having all of the right equipment and ingredients means nothing if you don’t know what to do with them. I hope that these definitions make interpreting and following recipes just a little bit easier.

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