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Enrich your culinary lexicon – A glossary from A to Z

cooking terms glossaryYou probably came across some obscure words while trying to copy a recipe. If you are still wondering about some meanings check this food dictionary and glossary of cooking terms, arranged in alphabetical order.


Al dente: Italian for “to the tooth”, describes pasta that is cooked until it offers a slight resistance when bitten into.

After taste: Taste which returns to the mouth after ingestion of certain foods and beverages.

Al forno: An italian term to describe a dish that is oven baked or oven roasted.

Amuse bouche: A french term that is literally means mouth amusement. These are tiny bites of food served before a meal to invigorate the appetite.

Aromatic: A vegetable, herb or spice used to enhance the flavor and fragrance of food and drinks. In classic cooking, a reference to aromatics most often means onions, carrot and celery.

bBake: To cook food, covered or uncovered, using the direct, dry heat of an oven. The term is usually used to describe the cooking of cakes, other desserts, casseroles, and breads.

Baste: To moisten foods during cooking or grilling with fats or seasoned liquids to add flavor and prevent drying. In general, recipes in this cookbook do not call for basting meat and poultry with pan juices or drippings. That’s because basting tools, such as brushes and bulb basters, could be sources of bacteria if contaminated when dipped into uncooked or undercooked meat and poultry juices, then allowed to sit at room temperature and used later for basting.

Batter: An uncooked, wet mixture that can be spooned or poured, as with cakes, pancakes, and muffins. Batters usually contain flour, eggs, and milk as their base. Some thin batters are used to coat foods before deep frying.

Beat: To make a mixture smooth by briskly whipping or stirring it with a spoon, fork, wire whisk, rotary beater, or electric mixer.

Bias slice: To slice a food crosswise at a 45-degree angle.

Blackened: A popular Cajun cooking method in which seasoned fish or other foods are cooked over high heat in a super-heated heavy skillet until charred, resulting in a crisp, spicy crust. At home, this is best done outdoors because of the large amount of smoke produced.

Blanch: To partially cook fruits, vegetables, or nuts in boiling water or steam to intensify and set color and flavor. This is an important step in preparing fruits and vegetables for freezing. Blanching also helps loosen skins from tomatoes, peaches, and almonds.

Blend: To combine two or more ingredients by hand, or with an electric mixer or blender, until smooth and uniform in texture, flavor, and color.

Boil: To cook food in liquid at a temperature that causes bubbles to form in the liquid and rise in a steady pattern, breaking at the surface. A rolling boil occurs when liquid is boiling so vigorously that the bubbles can’t be stirred down.

Bouillon: A bouillon cube is a compressed cube of dehydrated beef, chicken, fish, or vegetable stock. Bouillon granules are small particles of the same substance, but they dissolve faster. Both can be reconstituted in hot liquid to substitute for stock or broth.

Bouquet garni: A bundle of fresh herbs usually thyme, parsley, and bay leaf used to add flavor to soups, stews, stocks, and poaching liquids. They are often tied inside two pieces of leek leaf or in a piece of cheesecloth.

Braise: To cook food slowly in a small amount of liquid in a tightly covered pan on the range top or in the oven. Braising is recommended for less-tender cuts of meat.

Breading: A coating of crumbs, sometimes seasoned, on meat, fish, poultry, and vegetables. Breading is often made with soft or dry bread crumbs.

Broil:To cook food a measured distance below direct, dry heat. When broiling, position the broiler pan and its rack so that the surface of the food (not the rack) is the specified distance from the heat source. Use a ruler to measure this distance.

Broth: The strained clear liquid in which meat, poultry, or fish has been simmered with vegetables and herbs. It is similar to stock and can be used interchangeably with it. Reconstituted bouillon can also be used when broth is specified.

Brown: To cook a food in a skillet, broiler, or oven to add flavor and aroma and develop a rich, desirable color on the outside and moistness on the inside.

Butterfly: To split food, such as shrimp or pork chops, through the middle without completely separating the halves. Opened flat, the split halves resemble a butterfly.

cCandied: A food, usually a fruit, nut, or citrus peel, that has been cooked or dipped in sugar syrup.

Carve: To cut or slice cooked meat, poultry, fish, or game into serving-size pieces.

Cheesecloth: A thin 100-percent-cotton cloth with either a fine or coarse weave. Cheesecloth is used in cooking to bundle up herbs, strain liquids, and wrap rolled meats. Look for it among cooking supplies in supermarkets and specialty cookware shops.

Chiffonade: In cooking, this French word, meaning “made of rags,” refers to thin strips of fresh herbs or lettuce.

Chill: To cool food to below room temperature in the refrigerator or over ice. When recipes call for chilling foods, it should be done in the refrigerator.

Chop: To cut foods with a knife, cleaver, or food processor into smaller pieces.

Coat: To evenly cover food with crumbs, flour, or a batter. Often done to meat, fish, and poultry before cooking.

Coulis: A strained sauce made from purée fruit or vegetables.

Crimp: To pinch or press pastry or dough together using your fingers, a fork, or another utensil. Usually done for a piecrust edge.

Crisp tender: A term that describes the state of vegetables that have been cooked until just tender but still somewhat crunchy. At this stage, a fork can be inserted with a little pressure.

Crumbs: Fine particles of food that have been broken off a larger piece. Crumbs are often used as a coating, thickener, or binder, or as a crust in desserts. Recipes usually specify either soft or fine dry bread crumbs, which generally are not interchangeable.

Crush: To smash food into smaller pieces, generally using hands, a mortar and pestle, or a rolling pin. Crushing dried herbs releases their flavor and aroma.

dDeep fry: To cook food by completely covering with hot fat. Deep-frying is usually done at 375 degrees.

Dip: To immerse food for a short time in a liquid or dry mixture to coat, cool, or moisten it.

Direct grilling: Method of quickly cooking food by placing it on a grill rack directly over the heat source. A charcoal grill is often left uncovered, while a gas grill is generally covered.

Dissolve: To stir a solid food and a liquid food together to form a mixture in which none of the solid remains. In some cases, heat may be needed in order for the solid to dissolve.

Double boiler: A two-pan arrangement where one pan nests partway inside the other. The lower pot holds simmering water that gently cooks heat-sensitive food in the upper pot.

Drawn: A term referring to a whole fish, with or without scales, that has had its internal organs removed. The term “drawn butter” refers to clarified butter.

Dredge: To coat a food, either before or after cooking, with a dry ingredient, such as flour, cornmeal, or sugar.

Dressed: Fish or game that has had guts (viscera) removed. In the case of fish, gills are removed, the cavity is cleaned, and the head and fins remain intact. The scales may or may not be removed.

Drip pan: A metal or disposable foil pan placed under food to catch drippings when grilling. A drip pan can also be made from heavy-duty foil.

Drizzle: To randomly pour a liquid, such as powdered sugar icing, in a thin stream over food.

Dust: To lightly coat or sprinkle a food with a dry ingredient, such as flour or powdered sugar, either before or after cooking.

eEmulsion/emulsify: To bind together two liquid ingredients that normally do not combine smoothly such as water and fat. Slowly add one ingredient to the other while mixing rapidly.

En papillote: A french word meaning in a paper bag. En papillote is a cooking process that cooks foods in their own juices in a bag. Traditionally the food is enclosed with parchment paper, but today is also cooked enclosed in aluminum foil bags.

Epicure: A person who enjoys and has a discriminating taste and appreciation for all fine food and drink.

fFillet: A piece of meat or fish that has no bones. As a verb, fillet refers to the process of cutting meat or fish into fillets.

Flake: To gently break food into small, flat pieces.

Flavoring: An imitation extract made of chemical compounds. Unlike an extract or oil, a flavoring often does not contain any of the original food it resembles. Some common imitation flavorings available are banana, black walnut, brandy, cherry, chocolate, coconut, maple, pineapple, raspberry, rum, strawberry, and vanilla.

Flour (verb): To coat or dust a food or utensil with flour. Food may be floured before cooking to add texture and improve browning. Baking utensils sometimes are floured to prevent sticking.

Flute: To make a decorative impression in food, usually a pie crust.

Fold: A method of gently mixing ingredients without decreasing their volume. To fold, use a rubber spatula to cut down vertically through the mixture from the back of the bowl. Move the spatula across the bottom of the bowl, and bring it back up the other side, carrying some of the mixture from the bottom up over the surface. Repeat these steps, rotating the bowl one-fourth of a turn each time you complete the process.

Fricassée: To cook by braising.

Frost: To apply a cooked or uncooked topping, which is soft enough to spread but stiff enough to hold its shape, to cakes, cupcakes, or cookies.

Fry: To cook food in a hot cooking oil or fat, usually until a crisp brown crust forms. To pan-fry is to cook food, which may have a very light breading or coating, in a skillet in a small amount of hot fat or oil. To deep-fat fry (or French fry) is to cook a food until it is crisp in enough hot fat or oil to cover the food. To shallow fry is to cook a food, usually breaded or coated with batter, in about an inch of hot fat or oil. To oven fry is to cook food in a hot oven, using a small amount of fat to produce a healthier product.

gGarnish: To add visual appeal to a finished dish.

Giblets: The edible internal organs of poultry, including the liver, heart, and gizzard. (Although sometimes packaged with the giblets, the neck is not part of the giblets.) Giblets are sometimes used to make gravy.

Glacé: The French term for “glazed” or “frozen.” In the United States, it describes a candied food.

Grate: To rub food, such as hard cheeses, vegetables, or whole nutmeg or ginger, across a grating surface to make very fine pieces. A food processor also may be used.

Grease: To coat a utensil, such as a baking pan or skillet, with a thin layer of fat or oil. A pastry brush works well to grease pans. Also refers to fat released from meat and poultry during cooking.

Grind: To mechanically cut a food into smaller pieces, usually with a food grinder or a food processor.

hHalf and half: A mixture of equal parts cream and milk. It has about 12 percent milk fat and cannot be whipped.

Hors d’oeuvres: French term for small, hot or cold portions of savory food served as an appetizer.

Haute cuisine: French term for the highest quality restaurant food available. The ingredients in this cuisine are not only of the finest quality but the food is elegant and elaborate as well.

High fiber: A food that contains 5 grams or more of fiber per serving.

iIce: To drizzle or spread baked goods with a thin frosting.

Indirect grilling: Method of slowly cooking food in a covered grill over a spot where there are no coals. Usually the food is placed on the rack over a drip pan, with coals arranged around the pan.

Infusion: The flavor that is extracted from any ingredient such as tea leaves, herbs or fruit by steeping them in a liquid such as water, oil or vinegar.

Iodized salt: Table salt (sodium chloride) containing potassium iodide, a source of the essential nutrient iodine.


Jaccart: to inject a product, usually beef with tiny needles in order to tenderize it.

Julienne: To cut vegetables, fruits or cheese into thin strips, which are also called matchsticks. (a la julienne)

Jardiniere: Garnished or served with diced vegetables, usually carrots, green beans, onions and turnips. (a la jardiniere).

Jelly: A clear, cooked mixture of fruit juice, sugar, and usually pectin.

kKnead: To work dough with the heels of your hands in a pressing and folding motion until it becomes smooth and elastic. This is an essential step in developing the gluten in many yeast breads.

Kosher salt: A coarse salt with no additives that many cooks prefer for its light, flaky texture and clean taste. It also has a lower sodium content than regular salt. Find it next to salt in the supermarket.

lLard: A product made from pork fat that is sometimes used for baking. It’s especially noted for producing light, flaky pie crusts. Today, shortening is commonly used instead of lard.

Leavenings: Ingredients that are essential in helping batter and dough expand or rise during baking. If omitted, the baked products will be heavy and tough. See specific ingredients, such as yeast, baking powder, and baking soda, for more information.

Lukewarm: Neither cool nor warm, body temperature

mMarble: To gently swirl one food into another. Marbling is usually done with light and dark batters for cakes or cookies.

Margarine: A product generally made from vegetable oil that was developed in the late 1800s as a substitute for butter. When baking, be sure to use a stick margarine that contains at least 80 percent fat. Check the nutritional information. It should have 100 calories per tablespoon.

Marinade: A seasoned liquid in which meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, or vegetables are soaked to flavor and sometimes tenderize them. Most marinades contain an acid, such as wine or vinegar.

Marinate: To soak food in a marinade. When marinating foods, do not use a metal container, as it can react with acidic ingredients to give foods an off flavor. Always marinate foods in the refrigerator, never on the kitchen counter. To reduce cleanup, use a plastic bag set in a bowl or dish to hold the food you are marinating. Discard leftover marinade that has come in contact with raw meat. Or if it’s to be used on cooked meat, bring leftover marinade to a rolling boil before using to destroy any bacteria that may be present.

Mash: To press or beat a food to remove lumps and make a smooth mixture. This can be done with a fork, potato masher, food mill, food ricer, or electric mixer.

Melt: To heat a solid food, such as chocolate, margarine, or butter, over very low heat until it becomes liquid or semi-liquid.

Mince: To chop food into very fine pieces, as with minced garlic.

Mix: To stir or beat two or more foods together until they are thoroughly combined. May be done with an electric mixer, a rotary beater, or by hand with a wooden spoon.

Moisten: To add enough liquid to a dry ingredient or mixture to make it damp but not runny.

Mortar and pestle: A set that includes a bowl-shape vessel (the mortar) to hold ingredients to be crushed by a club-shape utensil (the pestle).

Mull: To slowly heat a beverage, such as cider, with spices and sugar.

nNicoise (a la): Food cooked in the manner of the chefs of the French city of Nice, generally includes a garnish of garlic, tomatoes, anchovies, black olives, capers and lemon juice.

Nap or nappe: French word that means to completely coat food with a light, thin even layer of sauce or a jelly.

oOffal: Edible internal organs of meat, poultry and game.

Oven bag: A heat-resistant nylon bag for cooking meals without basting or tending.

Oven slide: Cookie sheet

pParbroil: To boil a food, such as vegetables, until it is partially cooked

Parchment paper: A grease- and heat-resistant paper used to line baking pans, to wrap foods in packets for baking, or to make disposable pastry bags.

Pare: To cut off the skin or outer covering of a fruit or vegetable, using a small knife or a vegetable peeler.

Peel: The skin or outer covering of a vegetable or fruit (also called the rind). Peel also refers to the process of removing this covering.

Phyllo dough: Prominent in Greek, Turkish, and Near Eastern dishes, phyllo consists of tissue-thin sheets of dough that, when layered and baked, results in a delicate, flaky pastry. The word phyllo (sometimes spelled filo) is Greek for “leaf.” Although phyllo can be made at home, a frozen commercial product is available and much handier to use. Allow frozen phyllo dough to thaw while it is still wrapped; once unwrapped, sheets of phyllo dough quickly dry out and become unusable. To preserve sheets of phyllo, keep the stack covered with plastic wrap while you prepare your recipe. Rewrap any remaining sheets and return them to the freezer.

Pinch: A small amount of a dry ingredient (the amount that can be pinched between a finger and the thumb).

Pipe: To force a semisoft food, such as whipped cream or frosting, through a pastry bag to decorate food.

Pit: To remove the seed from fruit.

Plump: To allow a food, such as raisins, to soak in a liquid, which generally increases its volume.

Poach: To cook a food by partially or completely submerging it in a simmering liquid.

Pound: To strike a food with a heavy utensil to crush it. Or, in the case of meat or poultry, to break up connective tissue in order to tenderize or flatten it.

Precook: To partially or completely cook a food before using it in a recipe.

Preheat: To heat an oven or a utensil to a specific temperature before using it.

Process: To preserve food at home by canning, or to prepare food in a food processor.

Proof: To allow a yeast dough to rise before baking. Also a term that indicates the amount of alcohol in a distilled liquor.

Puff pastry: A butter-rich, multi layered pastry. When baked, the butter produces steam between the layers, causing the dough to puff up into many flaky layers. Because warm, softened puff pastry dough becomes sticky and unmanageable, roll out one sheet of dough at a time, keeping what you’re not using wrapped tightly in plastic wrap in the refrigerator.

Puree: To process or mash a food until it is as smooth as possible. This can be done using a blender, food processor, sieve, or food mill; also refers to the resulting mixture.

qQuadriller: To mark the surface of grilled or broiled food with a crisscross pattern of lines. Very hot skewers may also be used to mark the surface.

Quart: A measure of volume in the U.S. system; 32 fluid ounces equal 1 quart and 4 quarts equal one gallon.

Quatre epices: French spice mixture containing ground cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and pepper. This mixture is used to season stews and pates.

rReconstitute: To bring a concentrated or condensed food, such as frozen fruit juice, to its original strength by adding water.

Reduce: To decrease the volume of a liquid by boiling it rapidly to cause evaporation. As the liquid evaporates, it thickens and intensifies in flavor. The resulting richly flavored liquid, called a reduction, can be used as a sauce or as the base of a sauce. When reducing liquids, use the pan size specified in the recipe, as the surface area of the pan affects how quickly the liquid will evaporate.

Rind: The skin or outer coating, usually rather thick, of a food.

Roast: A large piece of meat or poultry that’s usually cooked by roasting. Roasting refers to a dry-heat cooking method used to cook foods, uncovered, in an oven. Tender pieces of meat work best for roasting.

Roll out: To form a food into a shape. Dough, for instance, can be rolled into ropes or balls. The phrase “roll out” refers to mechanically flattening a food, usually a dough or pastry, with a rolling pin.

Roulade: Refers to something that has been filled or stuffed and rolled. In particular meats, pastries and sponge cakes.

Roux: A French term that refers to a mixture of flour and a fat cooked to a golden- or rich-brown color and used for a thickening in sauces, soups, and gumbos.

sSauté: From the French word sauter, meaning “to jump.” Sauteed food is cooked and stirred in a small amount of fat over fairly high heat in an open, shallow pan. Food cut into uniform size sautes the best.

Scald: To heat a liquid, often milk, to a temperature just below the boiling point, when tiny bubbles just begin to appear around the edge of the liquid.

Score: To cut narrow slits, often in a diamond pattern, through the outer surface of a food to decorate it, tenderize it, help it absorb flavor, or allow fat to drain as it cooks.

Sear: To brown a food, usually meat, quickly on all sides using high heat. This helps seal in the juices and may be done in the oven, under a broiler, or on top of the range.

Section: To separate and remove the membrane of segments of citrus fruits. To section oranges, use a paring knife to remove the peel and white rind. Working over a bowl to catch the juice, cut between one orange section and the membrane, slicing to the center of the fruit. Turn the knife and slide it up the other side of the section along the membrane, cutting outward. Repeat with remaining sections.

Shortening: A vegetable oil that has been processed into solid form. Shortening commonly is used for baking or frying. Plain and butter-flavor types can be used interchangeably. Store in a cool, dry place. Once opened, use within 6 months. Discard if it has an odor or appears discolored.

Shred: To push food across a shredding surface to make long, narrow strips. Finely shred means to make long thin strips. A food processor also may be used. Lettuce and cabbage may be shredded by thinly slicing them.

Shuck: To remove the shells from seafood, such as oysters and clams, or the husks from corn.

Sieve: To separate liquids from solids, usually using a sieve.

Sift: To put one or more dry ingredients, especially flour or powdered sugar, through a sifter or sieve to remove lumps and incorporate air.

Simmer: To cook food in a liquid that is kept just below the boiling point; a liquid is simmering when a few bubbles form slowly and burst just before reaching the surface.

Skewer: A long, narrow metal or wooden stick that can be inserted through pieces of meat or vegetables for grilling. If using bamboo or wooden skewers, soak them in cold water for 30 minutes before you thread them to prevent burning.

Skim: To remove a substance, such as fat or foam, from the surface of a liquid.

Slice: A flat, usually thin, piece of food cut from a larger piece. Also the process of cutting flat, thin pieces

Snip: To cut food, often fresh herbs or dried fruit, with kitchen shears or scissors into very small, uniform pieces using short, quick strokes.

Springform pan: A round pan with high sides and a removable bottom. The bottom is removed by releasing a spring that holds the sides tight around it. This makes it easy to remove food from the pan.

Steam: To cook a food in the vapor given off by boiling water.

Steep: To allow a food, such as tea, to stand in water that is just below the boiling point in order to extract flavor or color.

Stew: To cook food in liquid for a long time until tender, usually in a covered pot. The term also refers to a mixture prepared this way.

Stir: To mix ingredients with a spoon or other utensil to combine them, to prevent ingredients from sticking during cooking, or to cool them after cooking.

Stir fry: A method of quickly cooking small pieces of food in a little hot oil in a wok or skillet over medium-high heat while stirring constantly.

Stock: The strained clear liquid in which meat, poultry, or fish has been simmered with vegetables or herbs. It is similar to broth but is richer and more concentrated. Stock and broth can be used interchangeably; reconstituted bouillon can also be substituted for stock.

tThickeners: Food substances used to give a thicker consistency to sauces, gravies, puddings, and soups. Common thickeners include:

– Flour and cornstarch: All-purpose flour and cornstarch are starches commonly used to thicken saucy mixtures. Cornstarch produces a more translucent mixture than flour and has twice the thickening power. Before adding one to a hot mixture, stir cold water into a small amount. You can also combine either flour or cornstarch with cold water in a screw-top jar and shake until thoroughly blended. It is critical that the starch-water mixture be free of lumps to prevent lumps in your sauce or gravy.

– Quick-cooking tapioca: This is a good choice for foods that are going to be frozen because, unlike flour- and cornstarch-thickened mixtures, frozen tapioca mixtures retain their thickness when reheated.

Toast: The process of browning, crisping, or drying a food by exposing it to heat. Toasting coconut, nuts, and seeds helps develop their flavor. Also the process of exposing bread to heat so it becomes browner, crisper, and drier.

Toss: To mix ingredients lightly by lifting and dropping them using two utensils.

uUnleavened: A word to describe breads, cakes, or other baked goods that do not use a leavening agent, such as baking powder, baking soda, yeast, or cream of tartar.

Unmold: To remove molded food from its container

Unsaturated fat: A kind of fat that is in liquid form at room temperature.

Upside down cake: An upside-down cake is generally made by first covering the bottom of the baking pan with butter, sugar, and arranged fruit. A cake batter is then poured over the fruit. The baked cake is inverted onto a serving plate, which makes the fruit bottom the top of the cake.

vVelouté: An extremely smooth creamy sauce of various stock bases thickened with a roux.

Venison: The flesh of the deer.

Vent: To allow the circulation or escape of a liquid or gas.

Verde: green (salad verde or pasta verde…)

wWeeping: When liquid separates out of a solid food, such as jellies, custards, and meringues.

Whip: To beat a food lightly and rapidly using a wire whisk, rotary beater, or electric mixer in order to incorporate air into the mixture and increase its volume.

Whisk: To beat or whip ingredients together until smooth, using a kitchen tool called a whisk.

zZest: The colored outer portion of citrus fruit peel. It is rich in fruit oils and often used as a seasoning. To remove the zest, scrape a grater or fruit zester across the peel; avoid the white membrane beneath the peel because it is bitter.

Zuppa: Italian word, means soup.