Culinary Terms

Culinary Terms

There was an article in the newspaper this morning that said that the food companies are having to “dumb down” the menus they publish because readers today don’t understand the terminology used in recipes. Well, that’s not acceptable. I think it’s better to “smart up” people.

So Cooking Dude is going to show a list here for you Food Dudes to use when you see a word in a recipe that you don’t understand.

Acidulated water

Water that has had a food acid added to it; for example, one teaspoon lemon juice or vinegar in a quart of water.


Cooking in an oven with dry heat. Meat also used to be baked, but now its called Roasting. Same thing.


Food cooked slowly in the presence of smoke. Barbeque cooking times range from two to twelve hours, in the presence of hickory, mesquite, alder, or other aromatic wood. Also see Broiling and Grilling.


To pour or paint fat or other liquid over food while it’s cooking. Basting is used to provide moisture, glaze, or added flavor to the food.


To mix food, either with an electric beater or by hand, to make the food smooth and light. During beating, food should be scraped from the sides of the bowl as well as brought up from the bottom to incorporate all the food uniformly.


Dipping the food into boiling water for a few minutes. Usually used to make peeling easier, but also to sterilize the surface before canning, freezing, and preserving. If the food is not going to be cooked right away, it should be put in cold water immediately to stop the cooking.


To ignite liquor, usually brandy or cognac, that has been added to the dish. Today, more commonly called Flambé. This process adds more flavor to the dish than the liquor alone. Do it when you make Shrimp Fra Diavolo, one of my favorites.


Mixing and/or chopping food into extremely small pieces using a blender, either hand-held or stationary. Also used to describe blending flavors by mixing, cooking, stirring, or allowing time.


Cooking in a liquid, usually water, that is boiling. This is Lesson One of the Tutorials.

Boiling point

The temperature at which the surface of the boiling liquid is agitated and bubbling. The boiling point will be lower at higher elevations above sea level, sometimes requiring longer cooking times. This effect is usually noticeable above 5,000 feet.


To remove bones from the meat, usually fish. Pointed long nose pliers are extremely useful for this task.


Browning meat, poultry, or vegetables in a little hot oil or fat, and then adding a little liquid, like broth. Then the pan is covered to contain the moisture and the heat lowered during cooking. This is the preferred cooking method for tough cuts of meat, because the longer cooking time tenderizes the meat.


To coat the food with bread or cracker crumbs before cooking. The food can be rolled in the crumbs, or shaken in a bag containing the crumbs.


Cooking by direct heat, usually using the broiler element in the oven. However, the term also applies to heat below the food, as with a barbeque grill directly over the coals, or beside or surrounding the food, like a rotisserie. When the heat is below the food, broiling is frequently called Grilling. When broiling in the oven, a perforated pan must be used to drain the meat drippings. Accumulated fats will flame up otherwise.


To cook sugar slowly until it melts and turns deep brown. The term is also used when cooking other foods, like onions, when they are caramelized using their own sugar content or with added sugar. Caramelize onion slices for 45 minutes when making French Onion Soup.


To cut the food into small pieces. Similar to cubing and dicing, although dicing usually implies more regularly shaped pieces than chopped. The photo shows diced onion. Food chopped in smaller pieces is called minced.


To clear a liquid. Soup, for example, can be clarified by adding slightly beaten egg white and the egg shell. Butter is clarified by melting it, skimming off the foam, if any, and pouring or spooning off the clear oils from the settled solids at the bottom.


To rub with a spoon or spatula until the food is soft and creamy.


To cut into small medium-sized pieces. See also Chop, Dice, and Mince. In general, cubes are larger than dice, and minced pieces even smaller. Chopping and mincing result in irregular sizes and shapes. Cubes may be bite sized or larger, as when cutting meat into cubes for stew or chili.

Cut in

This term is used mainly in pastry making, where the shortening gets distributed into the flour or other dry ingredient by cutting it in with a pair of knives or a pastry blender.


To add liquid, usually wine or broth, to a pan that has been used to Sear or Pan-fry meat. The bottom of the pan is scraped with the tip of a spatula, loosening the bits of cooked meat that cling to the pan. This is usually the first step in creating a sauce or gravy, and adds richness and flavor. Also see Fond.


To serve with hot sauce and/or mustard. The food is also often coated with crumbs.


To cut food into small regular sized and shaped pieces. See also Cube and Chop.


To cut poultry into pieces using the joints as dividing points. For an example, see Cutting up a Chicken.


To place small bits of a substance, usually butter, over the food’s surface.


To coat food by dragging it in a dry substance, such as flour, crumbs, or sugar. It can also be coated by sprinkling, sifting, or by shaking in a bag with the coating.

Dry Rub

A marinade made of spices and herbs rubbed over meat before barbequing or grilling. See the Dry Rub page for an example.


To sprinkle the food lightly with a dry substance, like flour, sugar, or spices. Many time desserts or pastries are dusted with powdered sugar.


As a verb, to remove the meat from the bones, as to fillet a fish. As a noun, it describes the the resulting piece of boneless meat, like fillet of sole. Sometimes the French spelling is used, as in filet mignon.


To ignite liquor, usually brandy or cognac, that has been added to the dish. An older term is Blaze. This process adds more flavor to the dish than the liquor alone. Do it when you make Shrimp Fra Diavolo, one of my favorites.


To gently mix ingredients, one of which has been beaten and contains air. The spoon should be inserted sideways through the mixture, brought across the bottom of the bowl, and raised and turned over to bring the bottom layer to the top. The gentle mixing is necessary to minimize the air loss from the beaten ingredient, usually egg whites. Use this technique when making chiles rellenos.


For meat, cooking small pieces in hot oil with individual long forks. Typically a selection of sauces is provided to flavor the meat. For cheese, pieces of bread or vegetables are stuck on the fork and dipped into a mixture of melted cheese. Fruit may be dipped in melted chocolate.


The residue sticking to the pan after browning food. The fond is generally dissolved by adding a liquid, such as broth or wine, to the hot pan and scraped up by the tip of a spatula. The fond adds flavor to sauces and gravies.


To brown the food in oil, fat, or drippings, poach in flavored broth, and serve with a sauce.


This originally meant to cook the food immersed in hot oil, which we now call Deep Fat Frying. We now use this term Fry as a substitute for Sautéing, or pan frying, which is cooking in much less fat or oil.


Using a food grater to create small particles of the food, as in grating cheese. Also see Shredding and Shaving, which result in larger particles or pieces.


Same as Broiling, except that the heat source is usually beneath the food. Often confused with Barbequing.


To reduce to small particles with rotating blades or a pestle.


To cut into small strips the size of matches.


To insert small pieces of fat, salt pork, or bacon in lean meat to add flavor and juiciness. Fat may be put in gashes in the meat, pulled through the meat with a larding needle, or laid over the meat or around it. Filet mignons frequently are wrapped in bacon.


Thickening agent in a sauce, such as flour, egg yolk, arrowroot, cornstarch, crumbs, potato, or rice flour.


A spicy mixture, either wet or dry, put over the surface of meat before cooking. Frequently marinades include spices and herbs with oil, vinegar, and/or wine. For barbequing and grilling, see Dry Rub.


To let the meat sit after the Marinade has been applied. Marinating may take anywhere from 30 minutes to several days. The purpose is to flavor and/or tenderize the meat.


To chop into very small pieces.


To grill on the stove in a skillet with little fat. Fat or oil may be used on the skillet to keep the food from sticking, but accumulated pan juices are poured off. A thin layer of salt may be used instead of fat or oil to keep the food from sticking.


To Sauté.


To pre-cook or partly cook in liquid, usually water.


To remove the outside skin or covering.


To broil or roast meat and serve on a wooden plank.


To cook gently in liquid kept below the boiling point, so the surface of the liquid barely trembles. Fish, fruit, and eggs are frequently poached rather than boiled, in order to maintain their shape and texture. Try Poached Salmon with Orange Tarragon Sauce.


Food turned into a soft, smooth paste either by a food processor or by forcing it through a sieve or ricer.

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To cook, uncovered, with dry heat, either in an oven or near a fire. The food may be rotating, like on a spit. However, the food is heated less directly by the fire or heat source than in the case of Broiling.


Pronounced “roo”. A mixture of flour and fat blended over low heat. A roux is the first step in all sauces in which flour is the thickening agent. See also Making a Roux.


To fry lightly in a small amount of fat, turning the food frequently.


To heat a liquid such as milk or cream to just below the boiling point. (Using a double boiler rather than direct heat can prevent scorching and sticking.)


To apply heat directly to the food, usually meat, to quickly develop a crust. This hardens the outside and prevents the interior from losing moisture.


To put through a fine sieve. Sifting flour removes lumps and improves baked goods.


Using a peeler or knife to create thin shavings of food. Most frequently used with hard cheeses, such as Parmesan.


Using the coarse holes of a grater to generate thin strings of the food. Shred potatoes to make hash browns. Cheese is frequently available now in bags in the market, now that they have discovered that a thin coating of flour keeps it from sticking itself into a gooey blob.


To cook in a liquid, usually water or broth, at a temperature slightly below boiling. The surface of the liquid is shimmering, and bubbles are coming to the surface, but it is not as hot as a rolling full boil.


Using a metal or wooden (usually bamboo) stick to impale the food to keep it together. Usually small pieces of meat and vegetable are skewered for easier handling during broiling or grilling. Also called cooking en brochette or kebabs.


To cook food suspended over boiling water so that the steam cooks the food. The food is suspended by a basket or grating. Vegetables are frequently steamed, as are Tamales.


To mix with a fork or spoon, using a rotary motion. Stirring does not incorporate air into the food like Beating does.

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