Culinary definitions and terms are something every chef, restaurateurs, and even servers should know and adapt to using to speed things up and make sure everyone stays safe in the kitchen.
As an already established chef, home cook, or an aspiring chef there are certain terminologies of cooking and baking that you need to know in the food world If professionalism is of any concern to you or if you want to get instant credibility in every restaurant kitchen.
While culinary terms are usually different from kitchen slang, they both fall under the same category of kitchen lingo, which is a language you’ll need to speak to get by in the restaurant, food or catering biz.
Here is a glossary of common cooking terms that will help you learn and get familiar with culinary terms lingo and how to use these words where applicable.
Culinary Terms and Definitions in Alphabetical Order
a la Carte – (French) Each menu item is priced separately: Foods prepared to order.
a la Mode – (French) Refers to ice cream on top of pie
Al Dente – Refers to pasta and some vegetables cooked to a barely tender consistency.
A la grecque (adj.) – served in the Greek style of cooking, with olive oil, lemon juice, and several seasonings, often referring to vegetables.
A point (adj.) – cooking until the ideal degree of doneness, often referring to meat as medium rare.
Acidulation (n.) – the process of making something acid or sour with lemon or lime juice.
Angel food cake: A type of sponge cake made with egg whites that are beaten until stiff.
Antipasto – A dish of cold meats, hors d´oeuvres and vegetables, which is served before an Italian meal.
Appetizer: Light foods served before a meal. These may be hot or cold, plated or served as finger food.
Aquaculture: The farm-raising of fish or shellfish.
Arborio: A high-starch, short-grain rice traditionally used in the preparation of risotto.
Aromatics: Ingredients, such as herbs, spices, vegetables, citrus fruits, wines, and vinegar, used to enhance the flavor and fragrance of food.
Aspic – Clarified gelatin used to cover cold foods.
Au Gratin – Food with baked in cheese.
Au Jus – Food, usually roasted meat, served in its natural juices.
Baking Powder – A leavening agent of which the most common is double-acting baking powder, called so because it reacts first with liquids and secondly, with the heat during baking. A good substitute for 1 teaspoon of baking powder is 1/4 teaspoon baking soda plus 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar. Periodically, check the expiration date on your can as baking powder loses its leavening power over time.
Baking Soda – A leavening agent, activated by interacting with something acid. Liquid ingredients like sour milk, sour cream, buttermilk, yogurt, molasses, and lemon juice help baking soda produce the gases which in turn make a batter rise. The batter should be baked as soon as possible after the liquid has interacted with the baking soda.
Barbecue: To cook food by grilling it over a wood or charcoal fire. Usually, some sort of marinade or sauce is brushed on the item during cooking.
Baste: To moisten food during cooking with pan drippings, sauce, or other liquid. Basting prevents food from drying out.
Batter: A mixture of flour and liquid, sometimes with the inclusion of other ingredients. Batters vary in thickness but are generally semiliquid and thinner than doughs. Used in such preparations as cakes, quick breads, pancakes, and crepes.
Bearnaise – A variation of hollandaise sauce. It’s made with wine and vinegar and flavored with tarragon.
Bechamel – A creamy white sauce which is made by adding a hot liquid to a roux or white sauce.
Bisque – A creamy soup, usually refers to a creamed soup made with seafood.
Blanch – To briefly plunge food into boiling water, and then into cold water to stop the cooking process.
Blind Bake – To bake a pie crust without the filling. Metal weights or dried beans are usually used to keep the pastry from bubbling.
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.
Braise – A method of cooking by which food (usually tougher cuts of meat, large poultry, or vegetables like cabbage, chicory, and artichokes) is first browned in fat, then cooked, tightly covered, in a small amount of liquid at low heat for a lengthy period of time. The long, slow cooking develops flavor and tenderizes foods by gently breaking down their fibers. Braising can be done on top of the range or in the oven.
Bread Flour -Bread flour contains a higher level of gluten, a protein that provides the structure and elasticity necessary for yeast dough.
Brine – A salt water solution used for preserving foods
Bruschetta – Grilled slices of bread brushed with olive oil and fresh garlic.
Buffet – A vast array of hot and cold foods – refers to line of foods ready to be served (usually self-served)
Bulgar – Bulgur is a wheat product sold whole or cracked. It can be used in many of the same ways as rice. When cooked, it has a nutlike flavor and a slightly chewy texture.
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.
Cake Flour – Flour that’s milled from soft wheat with a lower protein and gluten content than other flours. It has a fine uniform texture, well suited to lighter baked goods which do not need strong structure.
Candy Thermometer – Usually a large glass mercury thermometer that measures temperatures from about 40 degrees F to 400 degrees F. A frame or clip allows it to stand or hang in a pan during cooking.
Capers – Pickled buds from a caper bush, used in sauces and as condiments. It’s used in many Greek and other East European dishes.
Capon – A castrated rooster that makes a good roasting bird. It ranges in size from four to ten pounds and has plenty of breast and thigh meat. Its size makes it an ideal choice for serving eight to twelve. Buying capon may prove to be difficult; try to special order it from your butcher.
Cannellini Beans – A large creamy, white bean used often in Italian cooking. They are sometimes referred to as Northern beans and make excellent vegetarian substitutes for both fish and chicken.
Caramelize – Under intense dry heat, as in roasting or sautéing, the natural sugars change to a golden-brown color. This is called caramelization.
Carob – Large beans like carob pods are roasted and grounded into carob powder, which has an appearance similar to cocoa. It can be used to replace up to half the cocoa in a recipe. While carob performs like cocoa, it has a much lower fat content but a higher natural sugar content. Unlike cocoa, carob has no caffeine. It has high amounts of vitamin B1, vitamin A, niacin, iron and other minerals.
Caster Sugar – Also called superfine sugar. It is pulverized granulated sugar. It can be purchased or prepared at home by whizzing some granulated sugar in the blender.
Chateaubriand – A thick slice of beef carved from the center of the tenderloin, grilled or sautéed and sauced.
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.
Chipotle – Smoked dried jalapeno chiles. The distinctive smoky heat of chipotles is used to flavor Southwestern and Mexican dishes. They are sold both dried and in cans, in a vinegary sauce called adobo. Most big supermarkets carry them, but a Latin-American market is your best bet.
Chop – To cut food into nearly uniform bite size or smaller pieces.
Chorizo – Highly seasoned hog link sausage.
Cilantro – Also known as Coriander and Chinese Parsley. This herb is often used in Chinese and Mexican cooking. It resembles and is often used like parsley. The seeds of this aromatic plant are often dried and used as spices (whole or ground). Its flavor is reminiscent of slightly burnt oranges.
Chowder – A milk-based soup, usually containing seafood.
Chutney – An Indian relish made with fruits, vegetables and spices.
Clearjel™ – A modified corn starch originally developed for commercial bakeries and used mainly as a thickener for fruit pie fillings. The USDA considers Clearjel™ safe to use in making home canned pie fillings. The shelf-life of canned foods made with Clearjel™ is excellent. They retain a smooth texture with no separation or curdling during storage. Buy clear jel in some candy making supply stores, and in ag centers and farm supply stores that carry other home canning supplies.
Clarify – To remove fat and impurities from stocks and broths.
Cobbler – A baked fruit dish, usually topped with pastry and served with whipped cream or ice cream.
Cocoa Powder – There are two basic types of cocoa: regular (or American) and Dutch process (sometimes labeled ‘European process’). Dutch process cocoa has a slightly stronger flavor and richer color than regular cocoa: It’s been treated with a mild alkali, such as baking soda, which neutralizes its acidity. Both regular and Dutch process cocoa have far less fat and fewer calories than baking and eating chocolate because the cocoa butter has been removed. This also means cocoa tastes less rich, so when you’re cooking with it, you have to find another way to put the moisture and richness back in.
Coconut Cream – Coconut cream is made by combining 1 parts water and 4 parts shredded fresh or desiccated coconut meat and simmering until foamy. The mixture is then strained, squeezing as much of the liquid as possible from the coconut meat. Milk can be substituted for water for an even richer result. Coconut cream comes canned and may sometimes be found frozen in Asian markets and some supermarkets.
Coconut Milk – Coconut milk is made by combining equal parts water and shredded fresh or desiccated coconut meat and simmering until foamy. The mixture is then strained, squeezing as much of the liquid as possible from the coconut meat. The coconut meat can be combined with water again for a second, diluted batch of coconut milk. Coconut milk comes canned and may sometimes be found frozen in Asian markets and some supermarkets.
Compote – Spiced fruit cooked in syrup.
Concassée – roughly chopped or pounded food, usually refers concassée made from chopped tomatoes.
Consomme – A clarified broth used in sauces and soups.
Cornstarch – A white, powdery thickener finer than flour. It is extracted from the starch endosperm of wheat or corn. It must be dissolved in a cold liquid before it is added to a hot mixture or it will lump. It results in a glazy, opaque finish.
Cream – Beating butter or shortening either alone or with added sugar, until it’s light and fluffy.
Cream of Tartar – The common name for potassium bitartare, a by-product of wine-making. Its is a major ingredient in baking powder and is used to stabilize beaten egg whites.
Creme Fraiche – A matured, thickened cream that has a slightly tangy, nutty flavor and velvety rich texture. The thickness of creme fraiche can range from that of commercial sour cream to almost as solid as room-temperature margarine. In France, where creme fraiche is a specialty, the cream is unpasteurized and therefore contains the bacteria necessary to thicken it naturally. In America, where all commercial cream is pasteurized, the fermenting agents necessary for creme fraiche can be obtained by adding buttermilk or sour cream. To make your own: combine 1 cup whipping cream and 2 tablespoons buttermilk in a glass container. Cover and let stand at room temperature (about 70°F) from 8 to 24 hours, or until very thick. Stir well before covering and refrigerate up to 10 days. Creme fraiche is the ideal addition for sauces or soups because it can be boiled without curdling. It’s delicious spooned over fresh fruit or other desserts such as warm cobblers or puddings.
Croquette – A thick patty made up of finely chopped, diced or ground poultry, fish, or meat and vegetables. The patties are breaded then fried, sauteed or sometimes baked.
Croustade – Pastry shells filled with meat or chicken.
Croutons – Bread cubes which have been dried, toasted or fried.
Cryovac – A trademark for a process in which meats are sealed in a plastic vacuum pack.
Cube – Foods such as meat, cheese or bread, cut into small square pieces.
Curd – The coagulated substance produced when milk is soured.
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
Deglaze – 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 sautéed and roasted foods.
Devein – To remove the dark brown or black vein running down the back of a shrimp. In smaller shrimp, the vein can be eaten, but in large shrimp, the vein should be removed.
Dice – To cut food into tiny, 1/4″ or smaller pieces or cubes.
Dijonnaise – This is a name given to dishes that contain a sauce mixed with mustard.
Dock – To pierce pastry dough before baking, allowing the steam to escape and preventing blistering of the dough.
Double Boiler – A double broiler is a vessel for cooking without using direct heat. It usually consists of two saucepans that fit together. The bottom sauce pan is filled with water and the top one with the mixture to be cooked, such as custard, chocolate, etc.
Drawn Butter – Butter that has been melted over low heat allowing the solids to go the bottom. Pour off the clear liquid – that’s the drawn butter. Lasts a long time in the refrigerator – also
Dredge – To lightly coat food with dry ingredients like flour, cornmeal, or bread crumbs…the usual preparation for frying.
Dress – To prepare poultry for cooking. Could also refer to adding dressing to a salad
Dry Aging – A process usually referring to beef. This process not only adds flavor but tenderizes the beef. Maximum flavor and tenderness are achieved in about 21 days
Duchess – A potato puree that’s mixed cream, piped into decorative shapes, then browned in an oven.
Dumpling – A starchy mixture or dough. cooked in and served with a stew. Also, can refer to pastry wrapped baked fruit, such a apple dumplings.
Durum Semolina Flour – Products of Durum wheat, a high protein, hard wheat. Semolina flour is granular with a sugary texture. It makes the best quality spaghetti, macaroni and other pasta. Durum flour is a by-product of semolina milling which is used to make noodles. Both semolina and durum flour are enriched with B-Vitamins and iron.
Dutch Cocoa Powder – An alkalized cocoa. It has an intense flavor. Droste is a good and widely available brand.
Effiler (n.) – to remove the string from a string bean or to thinly slice almonds.
Egg wash: A mixture of beaten eggs (whole eggs, yolks, or whites) and a liquid, usually milk or water, used to coat baked goods to give them a sheen.
Emince – (French) Cut fine, or sliced thin.
Emincer (n.) – to slice thinly, similar to julienne style, but not as long.
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.
Entree – A single prepared dish served as the main meat item.
Escabeche (n.) – a dish consisting of fish marinated for approximately one day in a sauce of olive oil, vinegar, herbs, vegetables, and spices, and then poached or fried and allowed to cool.
Escalope – A very thinly sliced food, can be meat, fish, or vegetables.
Essence: A concentrated flavoring extracted from an item, usually by infusion or distillation. Includes items such as vanilla and other extracts, concentrated stocks, and fumets.
Evaporated Milk – A preserved milk that has much of the water content removed via evaporation. It is similar to condensed milk, although not as sweet.
Extrusion/extruding machine: A machine used to shape pasta. The dough is pushed out through perforated plates rather than being rolled.
Farina – Farina is a coarsely ground flour made from of hard wheat. Farina is used in breakfast cereals.
Fettuccine – Long, flat pasta meaning “Small Ribbons”. Perfect for heavier sauces, like cheese, meat and tomato sauces. For variety, try breaking in half and putting in soups, or use for a salad.
Finnan Haddie – Smoked haddock
Fish Sauce – A pungent, salty liquid made from fresh anchovies that is essential in Thai cooking.
Five-spice Powder – A fragrant, pungent, slightly sweet and hot Chinese spice mixture. The blend traditionally includes star anise, cinnamon, Szechwan peppercorns, cloves and fennel. Five-spice powder is used in marinades, as a spice rub for meats and in dipping salt mixtures.
Flake – To shred or teat into small pieces, usually with a fork.
Flan – A pastry tart, filled with cream and topped with fruit. Flan is used in Spanish and Mexican cooking to describe an egg custard that is baked in a shallow dish, and flavored with caramel.
Flambe – To add alcohol to a dish, then ignite it to sear the outside of the food.
Fold – To gently add other ingredients to a beaten mixture. To lightly and carefully stir in.
Fondant – A creamy white substance created by kneading cooked sugar syrup. It is used often as a filling for chocolates, frosting for cakes, petit fours or pastries. It can also be flavored and made into individual sweets.
Fondue – A sauce of cheese into which cubes of bread or other bite size foods are dipped. Can also a chocolate-based sauce into which pieces of fruit are dipped just before eating.
Fricassee – A stew prepared without first browning of the meat. Chicken is the most common form of this type of stew.
Frittata – An open-faced Italian omelet.
Fritter – Food that has been mixed with a batter and deep fried or sauteed. Fritters may be made with vegetables, fruit, or sometimes meat or shellfish.
Fruit Pectin – A natural substance found in fruit, especially citrus fruit, used in jam and jelly making because it can gel liquids. Pectin is available in powder or liquid form, sold as Certo®, Sure-Jel®, etc.
Fusilli – Literally means “Twisted Spaghetti”. This long, spiraled shaped pasta can be topped with any sauce, broken in half and added to soups, or turned into a beautiful salad. Fusilli also bakes well in casseroles.
Garbanzo Beans – Medium size, round, beige, firm beans with a nutty flavor, also known as chickpeas. A popular salad bar ingredient; also used in Mexican foods and a main ingredient in hummus – a Middle Eastern favorite.
Gazpacho – A Spanish cold vegetable soup. It’s usually made with tomatoes and other diced raw vegetables. A light gazpacho is made with cucumbers and served with avocadoes, croutons and other garnishes.
Ginger Root – This knobby, light beige-colored rhizome comes in two varieties: young and mature. Young ginger is more tender and milder in flavor and can be used with its skin on. Mature ginger has a more assertive, peppery bite. Both should be firm and free of wrinkles. Grated, slivered, minced and sliced ginger can be used in a range of dishes – from marinades and stir-fries to curries and soups.
Glaze – A greatly reduced stock. Or…A light glossy coating added to foods, anything from melted chocolate to thin icings covering pastries or cakes.
Gluten – The elastic material in grains which contributes to light breads.
Gnocchi – Small dumplings made from flour, potatoes, eggs; sometimes with parmesan, ricotta cheese, and herbs added. Gnocchi are cooked in boiling water and tossed with melted butter or served in sauce. Gnocchi is also the name of a small round or shell shaped hollow pasta.
Graham Flour – Another name for whole wheat flour, a course flour ground from the entire wheat kernel.
Gratin – A savory dish baked or broiled so its topping forms a golden crust.
Green Onions – Onions of any variety that are pulled before very early, before they mature and bulb; sometimes called spring onions. There are also onions especially raised for bunching that do not bulb.
Grits – Cornmeal and hominy grits are made from mature white or sometimes yellow corn from which the bran and wheat germ have been removed. Hominy are kernels of corn broken into particles. Grits are grains of hominy broken into smaller uniform particles. Grits are a Southern breakfast tradition.
Guacamole – Mashed avocadoes seasoned with onions, tomatoes, chiles, and cilantro, mostly served as a dip with tortilla chips. It’s sometimes served with burritos and tacos, taco salads and other Mexican dishes.
Gumbo – A thick soup, usually containing a mixture of poultry, meat, or seafood and vegetables.
Half-and-half – A mixture of equal parts of whole milk and cream; cannot be whipped like heavy cream (whipping cream).
Hazelnuts – Hazelnuts are used as snacks, in bakery items and in various other recipes. They are high in protein, complex carbohydrates, and fiber and low in sugar and sodium with no cholesterol.
Hoisin Sauce – A Chinese cooking sauce made from soybean flour, red beans, chiles and various spices; used for marinades and as a basting sauce.
Hummus – Hummus is made from cooked chickpeas, and various combinations of sesame, garlic, dill, and other spices and seasonings. It’s typically served as a dip with crackers or vegetables, as a sandwich spread, or as a vegetable topping.
Iago – A small British pastry or petit fours.
Ibrik – A small, long-handled Turkish pot with a bulbous bottom, narrow waist and flared top.
Icefish – A scaleless Antarctic fish of pallid appearance with spiny gill covers and a snout shaped like a duck’s bill.
Icelandic lobster – Norway lobster.
Infusion – The extraction of flavor from a food in a hot, but not boiling liquid. Usually refers to tea and coffee, but can also apply to cooking, such as oils that are infused with herbs.
Involtini – Thin slices of meat or fish which are stuffed and rolled. They may then be sauteed, grilled, or baked.
Jalapeno – A small green Chile pepper that is mildly hot. They are named after Jalapa, the capital of Veracruz. Serrano peppers are a good substitute when there are no jalapenos on hand.
Jasmine Rice – A fragrant long grain rice from Thailand that is distinctly aromatic, soft and sticky when cooked. The length of each grain four to five times its width.
Jicama – A bulbous, brown root with a crunchy white interior used in Latin American cooking. The sweet and nutty interior is great for crudité platters and salads. It can be found from May to November in many Mexican markets.
Julienne – Foods that are cut into very thin, match-stick like strips.
Jus – A lightly reduced stock used as a sauce for roasted meats.
Kalakukko – A Finnish dish of bread filled with fish.
Kebab – Also spelled kabob, these are skewers of meat, fish, or vegetables grilled over a fire. All countries serve some version of this dish.
Kedgeree – A British variation of an Indian dish with rice, smoked fish, hard cooked eggs, and bechamel sauce flavored with curry. Finnan Haddie is most often used, but smoked sturgeon or salmon are excellent substitutes.
Kefir – A fermented milk drink similar to a lassi, flavored with salt or spices. Where available, kefir is made with camel milk.
Ketchup – A term derived from Asian cookery; this sauce is known to be a sweet sauce made from tomatoes. Other forms of ketchup are made from walnuts, mushrooms, and grapes.
Kirsch – A clear brandy distilled from cherry juice and pits. In cookery, it is most prominently known as a flavorful addition to fondue and cherries jubilee.
Kombu (Konbu) – A large edible seaweed used in Japanese cooking.
Kosher – Foods that are prepared in accordance with Orthodox Jewish law.
Kugelhopf (Kugel Hopf) – A yeast cake from Alsace baked in a large crown-like earthenware dish. It is similar to brioche, though less rich, and flavored with currants or golden raisins and almonds. This is mainly eaten for breakfast.
Kumquat – A very small citrus fruit with the unique quality of having a sweet skin and bitter flesh. These are used in pastry making, preserves, and chutneys.
Larding – Salt pork strips inserted into meat with a special needle. Used to add flavor and moisture to meat.
Lardons – Julienne of bacon. Strips of salt pork used for larding.
Larder – To insert thin strips of fat into meats before roasting.
Leeks – A member of the onion family which does not form a bulb. Leeks are a thick stalk that resemble a large green onion without a bulb. Select Leeks that are about 1″ thick with clean, bruise-free white bases and fresh green tops. Leeks are frequently used as an ingredient in soup or sautéed and served as a side dish.
Macerate – Soaking vegetables in salt, sugar or syrup to remove a bitter taste before canning or using in a recipe.
Marinate – To let food stand in a mixture called a marinade – a liquid, dry rub, or a paste before cooking. Some marinades are for added flavor. Marinades that contain an acid such as lemon, wine, or vinegar are for tenderizing and some marinades are meant to do both.
Marzipan – An almond paste mixture is used to wrap cakes, cookies and candies. Marzipan is also formed into fruit and vegetable shapes and sold in candy stores.
Mascarpone Cheese – An Italian cream cheese most often used in desserts. It is said to have originated in Lombardy in the 16th century. The name comes from the Spanish ‘mas que bono’ (better than good). It has a soft and buttery consistency, resembling stiffly whipped cream. Mascarpone goes well with savory dishes as well as fruit and desserts. It is found in most supermarkets and Italian groceries. It can be expensive. Here is a recipe for a good substitute from the Stars Desserts cookbook. 4 cups heavy whipping cream, 1/4 teaspoon tartaric acid. Line a mesh strainer with a dish cloth folded over to make a double thickness. Rest the strainer over a bowl, making sure the strainer does not touch the bottom of the bowl. Set aside. Heat the cream in a double boiler over medium high heat. When the cream reaches 180 degrees F, add the tartaric acid and stir for 30 seconds. Remove the cream from the stove and continue to stir for another 2 minutes. Pour the cream into a lined strainer and refrigerate. When it is cold, cover it with plastic wrap. Let the cream sit in the refrigerator for 12 to 18 hours. It will become very thick and firm. The mascarpone will keep for a week in the refrigerator. Makes 2 cups.
Milk Chocolate – This is the most popular form of eating chocolate in the United States, probably because of its mild, mellow flavor. It has only 10% chocolate liquor and usually contains about 12% milk solids. Milk chocolate has a less robust flavor than sweet or semisweet.
Mince – To cut food into very small pieces. The terms “finely chopped” and “minced” can be interchangeable.
Miso – A paste made from fermented soybeans used in Japanese cooking, mostly in soups and sauces.
Mochi – A Japanese food made from pounded brown rice. It’s sold refrigerated, in flat squares. Mochi can be broiled.
Molasses – A syrup made from natural sugarcane juices, clarified, reduced, and blended. To produce table sugar, raw sugar is processed into refined sugar. The remaining syrup is the sweetest molasses. Additional processing results in darker and stronger tasting molasses called black strap.
Mole – Thick Mexican cooking sauces made with chiles and flavored with cumin, coriander, cinnamon, herbs, and other ingredients.
Mousse – Sweet, light whipped dessert mixtures usually made from cream and flavored with fruit or chocolate.
Napa Cabbage – This oval-shaped broad-leafed head has very crisp, pale green crinkled leaves and a sweet, delicate flavor. It is used extensively in stir-fried dishes and soups, and absorbs flavors beautifully.
Niçoise – Italian dishes made with tomatoes; Niçoise olives, garlic, beans, anchovies, etc., prepared “Nice” style. Salad Niçoise is made with potatoes, olives, beans, and a vinaigrette dressing.
Nougat – A confection made from sugar and honey, sometimes mixed with fruit and/or nuts.
Nutella – A commercial brand of a creamy paste made of chocolate and hazelnuts. Nutella is used in making candy, flavored milk, and in spreads.
Olive Oil – Grades of olive oil are determined by the method of extraction and the acid content. Extra virgin is the finest olive oil, with a 1% acid content. Superfine has a 1.5% acid content, fine has a 3%. Virgin olive oil, from the first pressing of the olives with no further refinement, has a 4% acid content. Store olive oil, tightly sealed, in a cool dark place, since it quickly becomes rancid when exposed to heat or light.
Paella – A Spanish dish containing rice, shellfish, chicken and ham.
Pancetta – An Italian cured meat made from the belly (pancia) of the big (the same cut used for bacon). It is salted but lightly spiced, but not smoked. You can buy it at Italian delis
Panneton – An Italian cake traditionally served at Christmas time. It’s made from dough that’s studded with raisins, candied fruit, and pistachios.
Papillote – (French) Cooked in foil or parchment paper to seal in flavor, then served and cut open at table.
Parchment Paper – A paper that can withstand high heat, especially good to use as a liner or covering when making foods such as candies or chocolate because they will not stick to it.
Pareve/Parve – Under kosher dietary laws, a category of food made without meat or milk products.
Pate – Very finely chopped meat, poultry, or liver which has been baked and is served cold, often as a spread.
Penne – Small smooth pasta tubes. Pasta tubes with ridges are penne Rigatti, also known as mostaccioli. Manicotti are large pasta tubes.
Pesto – A tasty pasta sauce made with olive oil, parmesan cheese, garlic, and fresh basil; It sometimes contains nuts and other herbs.
Poach – To gently cook food in water or a broth, just below the boiling point.
Polenta – Coarsely ground yellow cornmeal, cooked and flavored with onions, garlic, and cheese. Polenta is sometimes served as an Italian mush, with soups or stews. It’s also spooned into a greased baking pan; allowed to set; then sliced, salted, and topped with cheese and tomato sauce.
Praline – A confection containing nuts, made from a syrup.
Proof – Swelling or expanding. When yeast swells and becomes bubbly, it “proofs”. Dough proofs when it swells and rises to twice its original size.
Prosciutto – The Italian word for ham, used in the names of raw hams coming from Italy, in particular Prosciutto di Parma and Prosciutto di San Daniele.
Puree – To press through a sieve or process in a blender to a smooth consistency.
Quesadilla – A corn empanada filled with meat and deep fried. Quesadillas served in many restaurants are simply made with flour tortillas, filled with cheese, folded over and cooked.
Quiche – A dish that is a light custard mixture of eggs, cheese and sometimes a meat or vegetable fillings, baked in a pastry shell.
Radicchio – A salad green with red and white leaves; varieties range from mild to bitter.
Ragout – A stew made from poultry, meat, fish, or vegetables cut into pieces seasoned with herbs and spices and cooked in a thick liquid. In a brown ragout, the meat is browned, sprinkled with flour, and cooked in water or broth. In a white ragout, the meat is cooked but not browned, then sprinkled with flour and cooked in broth.
Ramekin – A small baking dish usually ceramic or earthenware, often used as a baking dish in a water bath.
Reduce – Boiling a liquid until its volume is reduced by evaporation, thickening and condensing the liquid and intensifying the flavor.
Render – Melting animal fat over low heat to separate it from any connective tissue, turning this tissue crisp and brown. The clarified fat is then strained. Cooking fatty meats, such as bacon or spare ribs, until the fat melts.
Resting – Meat juices are driven from the surface as it cooks. Allowing meat to “rest” before slicing lets the juices return to the surface, resulting in more flavorful meat.
Ricer – A kitchen gadget that looks like a large garlic press. Also called a potato ricer, it forces cooked foods such as potatoes or turnips through tiny holes.
Risotto – An Italian rice and cheese dish served as either a main course or as a side dish.
Roasted Garlic – Process: Cut the top third of the garlic head off and discard it. Drizzle the remainder with olive oil and put it in aluminum foil. Bake in a 400° F oven until edges of the garlic are caramelized (about 40 min.).
Roasting, Peeling, and Seeding a Bell Pepper – Many methods exist for roasting peppers. Among them are roasting them atop a stove, in an oven broiler, on a grill, and in hot oil. Using the broiler to roast peppers is a preferred method.
Roasting: Preheat the oven broiler for 15 minutes. Place the peppers on the top rack (3-4 inches away from flame). Once a side has blackened., turn (with tongs, fork, towel, or another utensil). Repeat until all sides are blackened. If you are using this method for chili pepper, other than the bell pepper, you have to monitor closely so as only the skin and not the flesh of the pepper is charred. The bell pepper has a hardier skin and does not burn so easily.
— Peeling: Two different methods can be employed to peel a charred pepper. Place the peppers in a plastic or paper bag. Fold over the top of the bag, so no steam can escape. This way the steam will build up between the flesh and the skin, making peeling even easier. When the pepper is cool enough to handle (20 minutes), take out of the bag and peel the rest by hand. OR submerge the charred pepper into a bowl of ice-cold water. This will stop the cooking process and aid in the removal of the skin. Once the pepper is cool enough to handle, peel off the rest of the skin. Seeding: If you are going to be using the peppers whole, make a slit down one side, leaving a small space at both ends. Carefully remove the inside with a knife or small spoon. Otherwise, just remove the stem, remove the seeds and veins with your fingers, and rinse the pepper under water.
Roulades – Slices of meat or pastry, stuffed with cheese.
Roux – A mixture of flour and fat such as butter or Margerine, used to thicken sauces, gravies, soups, and stews. Roux’s can also be made with bacon or meat drippings or poultry fat. After thickening, roux’s are cooked for a short time. In Creole cooking roux’s are cooked for a longer time, until they are a dark brown color.
Salt – Canning Salt – Canning or pickling salt is made without additives that could produce a cloudy brine. Table salt contains iodine plus an anti-caking agent which would cause pickling brine to be slightly cloudy and make home-canned foods unattractive.
Salt – Sea Salt – Salt comes either from the sea or from mining deposits left by prehistoric salt lakes. Sea salt is the compound remaining when sea water is evaporated. This natural salt product dissolves quicker, has more minerals and does not have a very strong salt flavor. It has a sweet, more palatable flavor that enhances the natural flavors of food.
Salt – Table salt – Sodium chloride plus iodine plus an anti-caking agent to make it free-flowing.
Samosas – Indian deep-fried dumplings stuffed with curried vegetables. The most common fillings are potatoes or cauliflower with peas.
Scald – To heat milk almost to the boiling point just as tiny bubbles start forming on the inside edge of a pan.
Scone – A lightly sweetened English pastry, similar to but denser than biscuits; Scones usually contain raisins or currants.
Score – Making shallow cuts in meats before cooking, making the meat more tender.
Sear – Frying meats quickly to seal in the juices.
Semisweet or Bittersweet Chocolate – This is the chocolate most often called for in cake and cookie recipes. ‘Bittersweet’ and ‘semisweet’ are often used interchangeably, though bittersweet generally has more chocolate ‘liquor’ (the paste formed from roasted, ground cocoa beans). Most semisweet chocolate contains at least 35% chocolate liquor, while some fine bittersweets contain 50% or more. Bittersweet and semisweet chocolate have a deep, smooth, intense flavor that comes from the blend of beans used rather than added dairy products. Sugar, vanilla, and cocoa butter are added to the liquor to lend an even richer taste.
Semolina Flour – A coarsely ground flour made from durum wheat, which is the hardest wheat variety. It has the highest protein of all flours. It’s the best flour for making pasta because it retains its shape and firmness and doesn’t become mushy or sticky while cooking.
Sesame Oil – Used extensively in Japanese and Chinese cuisine, this highly aromatic and richly flavored oil ranges in hue from golden to dark brown. It is sometimes used as a cooking oil, but most often is used as a seasoning accent in stir-fries, dressings, sauces and marinades.
Shallots – An onion variety that produces clusters of bulbs. Their flavor is slightly less intense than that of onions. Shallots are excellent for pickling.
Simmer – To slowly cook a liquid at just below the boiling point.
Skim – To remove fat and other substances from the surface of cooked or cooking liquids.
Shallots – Shallots are part of the onion family, with mild, garlic-tasting roots.
Season – To coat a pan or other metal cooking surface with oil and then heat it. This prevents sticking by sealing tiny pits on the surface.
Smorgasbord – A commonly used term for a buffet of many dishes served as a single course or a complete meal. Smorgasbord is actually a Swedish word for a buffet that would include such foods as pickled herring, marinated vegetables, smoked and cured salmon, and other appetizers.
Spätzle – A coarse German noodle made from flour, eggs, oil, and water. Spätzle are cooked, then fried in butter. They may also be sprinkled with herbs or grated cheese.
Steam – To cook foods in a perforated container suspended over boiling water.
Stew – A long cooking method in a covered pot using liquid. A stew is a one dish meal produced by cooking a combination of meat, fish or poultry and vegetables by this method.
Stir Fry – To rapidly sauté or fry while stirring chopped meat, poultry or fresh vegetables over high heat.
Stock – A broth from cooking meats, fish, shellfish, and vegetables, the basis for soup making.
Tahini – An oily paste made from ground sesame seeds. A sweetened dark variety also exists. It can be found in health food stores and the ethnic section of most grocery stores.
Tamarind Paste – A vitamin-rich, tangy, prune like pulp from the pods of a tropical Asian tree. It is used as a seasoning in curries and chutneys or made into drinks, jams, or sorbets.
Tart – A covered or uncovered pastry shell filled with fruit.
Tartare – A term used to describe a seasoned paper-thin raw steak dish called steak tartare. Also, Tartare sauce is a mayonnaise-based sauce frequently served with seafood.
Temper – To slowly add a hot liquid to an egg mixture or other food being prepared to raise the temperature without making them curdle or begin to cook.
Tofu – Tofu, or soy bean curd, is a soft cheese-like food with a naturally mild flavor. It’s found in several varieties, from soft to extra-firm. Soft tofu can be used to make cake frostings, dips and spreads. Firmer tofu is used in stir-fries, soups, and many other dishes. Tofu can be found in the dairy section in most stores. It’s an excellent source of calcium, low in sodium, low in saturated fat and contains no cholesterol.
Tiramisu – An Italian dessert made of sponge cake, typically soaked with an espresso syrup and layered with a sweet cheese and chocolate sauce.
Ugli – A citrus fruit hybrid created from a grapefruit and a tangerine.
Unbleached Flour – Bleaching is a term referring to the whitening of flour. Because newly milled flour may not make the best quality baked goods, it is stored for a few months. During this time, oxidation occurs and produces a whiter flour with a finer texture and improved baking quality. The nutritional value of unbleached flour is the same as bleached flour.
Unsweetened Chocolate – (also called baking chocolate): You don’t eat unsweetened chocolate. It has no added sugar and is generally composed of 55% cocoa butter and 45% chocolate mass from the bean. It has an intense chocolate flavor that has to be tempered by sugar and other ingredients.
Vermicelli – This pasta literally means “Little Worms”. It is slightly thinner than Spaghetti and looks like fine strands. Angel hair pasta is a very fine form of vermicelli. Vermicelli is good topped with any sauce, or as a salad or stir-fry ingredient. It is versatile enough to also be used in certain puddings and souffles. Variations include Chinese vermicelli (made with soya flour) and Far Eastern vermicelli (made with rice flour).
Vichyssoise – A chilled soup, commonly made with potatoes and leeks. Some recipes also use zucchini, apples, and carrots.
Vinaigrette – A dressing made with oil and vinegar, commonly used on salads. Vinaigrettes may also contain mustard, citrus juices or wine.
Vindaloo – The spiciest of all curry dishes. Vindaloos primarily come from central and southwestern coastal India. They are composed of a complicated roasted spice blend which includes mustard seeds, cumin seeds, ginger, peppercorns, fenugreek seeds, cloves, coriander seeds, and tamarind concentrate. One must include red chilies in the mix. Vindaloo sauce is usually served with meat over rice. You can purchase commercial vindaloo pastas and sauces in most Indian grocery stores or the ethnic food aisle in larger grocery stores.
Wasabi – Japanese horseradish, a root that is dried and ground to a fine powder. The powder is reconstituted and used with soy sauce as a dipping sauce for sushi and sashimi.
Welsh Rarebit – A cheese sauce made with ale and seasoned with mustard, black pepper, and Worcestershire sauce. It’s traditionally served on toast, sometimes with bacon bits. It can also be used as fondue.
Whipping Cream – Also called heavy cream. Fat content is around 40 percent; Will double in volume when whipped.
Whisk – A kitchen tool with strands of looped wire used for beating. To whisk means to mix or beat with a wire whisk.
White Chocolate – White ‘chocolate’ doesn’t contain a drop of chocolate. But it does have cocoa butter, from which it gets its faintly chocolaty flavor. The cocoa butter is blended with milk and sugar to form the creamy confection, which is used for both eating and cooking.
Xanthan Gum – Produced from the fermentation of corn sugar. It is most commonly used as a stabilizer, emulsifier and thickener in foods such as yogurt, sour cream and salad dressings.
XXX; XXXX: Label symbols used for confectioners’ sugar.
Yagi – Japanese word for goat.
Yakitori – A Japanese dish of chicken marinated in soy sauce, sugar, and sake. The chicken is then placed on skewers and grilled or broiled.
Yard of Ale – An elongated glass, measuring approximately 26 inches long holding 42 fluid ounces.
Yeast: A leavening agent used in doughs and batters. Bread yeast is available as a dry granulated powder and as fresh yeast cakes. It is best activated at a temperature of 110 degrees F to 115 degrees F (the temperature of a baby bottle or a comfortable bath). Anything too cold won’t activate it, too hot will kill it. Past its expiration date, yeast may rise slower, but it is still safe to use.
Zabaglione – An Italian custard made with egg yolks and wine or juices, which are beaten vigorously over hot water to form a rich, creamy dessert. The custard can then be poured into glasses and chilled to be eaten later, or eaten warm with fresh fruit. Marsala is the most common wine used, though any sweet wine such as Madeira, Champagne, or Sauterne may be used.
Zakuski – The Russian version of tapas involving a lot of food and vodka.
Zampone – A specialty of the town of Modena in northern Italy, this consists of a hollowed and stuffed pig trotter which is poached and served as a part of a traditional bollito misto.
Zest – The colored skin of citrus fruit – not including the white layer.
Zuccotto – This is an Italian form of charlotte royale. In this dessert, triangles of sponge cake are placed in a bowl to form a shell for the filling. The filling consists of stiffly whipped cream which is studded with toasted almonds, hazelnuts, chocolate chips, and candied fruit. A final layer of cake is placed over this, and when well set, the dessert is inverted onto a platter to form a large dome, reminiscent of Florence Duomo.
Zuppa Inglese – Literally translated as “English soup”, this Italian dish is, in fact, a refrigerated dessert similar to the British favorite, trifle. It is made with rum sprinkled slices of sponge cake layered with a rich custard or whipped cream (or both) and candied fruit or toasted almonds (or both).
How many of the definitions in this dictionary of culinary terms do you already know?
If you are a part of good chefs and head cooks in the fast growing food industry, sooner or later, you’ll need to get very familiar with these cooking terms, French, Italian, or otherwise to stay ahead of the curse.