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Culinary Terms

By December 4, 2023No Comments

Culinary Terms

Acidulated water: A bath of water and an acid ingredient (lemon juice or vinegar), used to prevent cut fruits and vegetables from turning brown. Use 1 T lemon juice for each cup of water, or 2 T vinegar per quart of water.

Adjust: To taste before cooking or serving and add herbs, sweeteners, or other ingredients to satisfy individual preference.

Al dente: Pasta that is fully cooked but not soft or mushy. The phrase is an Italian expression that translates as “to the tooth,” meaning that the food offers a slight resistance when bitten.

Baste: To spoon liquids (marinade, pan drippings) over food as it bakes to add flavor and color; keeps food from becoming dry.

Blanch: To plunge raw fruit or vegetables into boiling water briefly and then into cold water. This firms the flesh, loosens skins for easier peeling, and preserves the color and flavor.

Boil: To heat a liquid until bubbles break the surface (212° F at sea level), or to cook food in boiling liquid. Water has a lower boiling point at higher altitudes. The boiling point drops about 2° for every thousand feet above sea level. At 10,000 feet, water boils at 194°. Food must be boiled longer at higher altitudes to cook it fully.

Borscht: Fresh beet soup; can be served hot or cold. Originally from Russia and Poland.

Bouillon: Broth made by cooking vegetables, poultry, meat, or fish in water with herbs and other seasonings, then straining out the solids. Low-sodium bouillon cubes and granules are available. See Court bouillon.

Bouquet garni: A “bouquet for garnish,” made by tying a bundle of leafy herbs (classically three stalks of parsley, a small sprig of thyme, and a small bay leaf) together with a string or wrapping them in a cheesecloth bag and cooking in a stew or casserole.

Dried orange or lemon peel, garlic, marjoram, or other herbs or spices can also be
added to the bouquet garni. The bouquet garni is easily removed from the food before serving.

Braise: To brown food first, then finish cooking slowly over low heat, in a small amount of liquid, tightly covered. Long, slow cooking develops flavor and tenderizes the food.

Broth: See Bouillon.

Brown: To cook food quickly over high heat, so the surface turns brown but the inside stays moist. Adds color and flavor.

Bruise: To partially crush an ingredient, such as a peppercorn or garlic clove, to release the flavors.

Caramelize: To heat sugar until it liquefies and becomes a clear golden or dark brown syrup. Also called burnt sugar.

Casserole: A deep, round, oven-proof baking dish with handles and a lid, or the food it contains.

Cheesecloth: A fine or coarsely woven light-weight, natural cotton cloth. Used to strain liquids, make bouquet garni, or line molds. ‘

Chiffonade: Thin strips or threads of vegetables. The word is a French expression that means “made of rags.”

Chinois: A conical sieve that has a very fine mesh; a spoon must be used to press the food through it.

Chop: To cut food into bite-sized pieces with a knife or cleaver.

Chutney: A spicy condiment made of fruit, vinegar, sugar, and spices. Can be mild or hot, smooth or chunky. Good with curries or spread on bread.

Clafouti: Fresh fruit topped with a layer of batter, baked, and served hot; the baked topping may be like a biscuit or a pudding.

Clingstone: Fruit whose pit is strongly attached (“clings”) to the flesh. See Freestone.

Condiment: A savory, spicy, or salty accompaniment to food; mustard, catsup, chutney, salsa, and pickle relish are popular condiments.

Cooking spray: A product that can be sprayed on utensils and cooking surfaces to keep foods from sticking; foods should be sautéed in cooking spray, rather than butter or 0il. Contains oil (olive, corn, or other), lecithin (an emulsifier), alcohol (prevents the sprayer from clogging), and a propellant.

Core: To remove the seeds or tough woody parts in the center of a fruit or vegetable.

Coulis: A thick purée or sauce.

Court bouillon: Broth made of vegetables and herbs (usually onion, cloves, celery, carrots, and bouquet garni), simmered for about 30 minutes, cooled, and then strained. Generally used to poach fish, seafood, or vegetables.

Cover: To add enough liquid to a container so that its contents are completely immersed.

Crab boil: Also called shrimp boil. A pre-packaged mixture of herbs and spices added to the water used for cooking crab, shrimp, or lobster. Usually contains mustard seeds, peppercorns, bay leaves, whole allspice, whole cloves, dried
ginger pieces, and red chilies.

Cream: To beat one or more ingredients (usually including a fat) until the mixture is soft, smooth, and completely homogenized, so that individual ingredients are indistinguishable.

Crimp: Also called flute. To press or pinch two pastry edges together to seal the dough and make a decorative edge. Fingers, a fork, or other utensils can be used.

Crisp: To restore crispness to limp or wilting vegetables by soaking them in ice water.

Croutons: Small cubes of toasted bread used to garnish soup or salad.

Cruciferous: Shaped like a cross or crucifix. Refers to a family of vegetables whose flowers have four petals that look something like a cross. Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, and kale are a few of the cruciferous vegetables. They are thought to have a protective effect against cancer.

Crudités: Raw seasonal vegetables served as a party platter, usually with a dip.

Crystallized ginger: Also called candied ginger. Fresh ginger that has been boiled in sugar syrup and, after drying, dipped in granulated sugar. Use as a garnish or as an ingredient in cooking. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.

Curry: Any of a number of East Indian-inspired spicy, hot, gravy-based dishes.

Cut in: To mix a solid fat (such as margarine) with flour and/or other dry ingredients with a pastry blender, food processor, or two knives used in scissor fashion until the mixture is reduced to small crumbly particles.

Dash: A tiny amount of seasoning, generally between 1/16 and 1/8 teaspoon.

Deglaze: After food is sautéed and removed from the pan, to heat a small amount of broth, wine, or other liquid in the pan, stirring to dissolve the residue and loosen the cooked-on browned bits. The liquid is used to make a sauce.

Dredge: To lightly coat uncooked food with flour or bread crumbs; helps brown food during cooking.

Dust: To very lightly coat food with a powdery substance, such as confectioners’ sugar or flour.

Dutch oven: A large oven-proof pot or kettle with a tight-fitting lid. Used for moist cooking, such as stew.

Egg substitute: No-cholesterol imitation eggs, made with egg white, food starch, oil, skim-milk powder, food coloring, and other additives. 1/4 C equals 1 whole egg. They can be used in most baking and cooking recipes that call for whole eggs. In many recipes, two egg whites can be substituted for one whole egg.

In some recipes, or when eggs are used in large quantities, a commercial or homemaut egg substitute may be necessary.

Escalope: Also called scallop. A very thin, flattened slice of meat or fish, which cooks very quickly.

Fish glace: Fish stock that has been reduced to a syrupy consistency.

Fold: To gently combine a light, airy mixture with a heavier mixture so that the light mixture does not lose its volume. The lighter mixture is placed on top of the heavier mixture; a rubber spatula is used to cut down through the center of the mixture, across the bottom of the bowl, and up the side. The bowl is turned one-quarter turn and the cutting motion is repeated until the two mixtures are as fully combined as specified in recipe (some do not require complete mixing).

Freestone: A fruit whose stone does not adhere to the pulp. See Clingstone.
Fumet: A concentrated stock made from poultry or fish; used to make sauces.

Gazpacho: Uncooked vegetable soup, usually a chunky purée made with tomatoes, bell peppers, onions, celery, garlic, olive oil, and vinegar; served cold. A summer soup from Spain.

Glacé de viande: Meat glaze used to add flavor and color to sauces, made by reducing meat juices to a thick syrup by boiling.

Granite: See Sorbet.

Harissa: An extremely hot sauce from Tunisia, made with chili peppers, garlic, cumin, coriander. Traditionally served with couscous, but also used in soup and stew.

Herbes de Provence: A blend of dried herbs commonly used in southern France to season meat, poultry, or vegetables. Available ready-mixed in supermarkets or gourmet shops, it usually contains basil, fennel seed, lavender, marjoram, rosemary, sage, and thyme.

Hoisin sauce: Also called Peking sauce. A sweet, spicy, thick, reddish brown sauce used as a condiment or flavoring agent; made of soy-beans, garlic, chili peppers, and other spices. It should be stored in the refrigerator in a glass or plastic container.

Hors d’oeuvres: Appetizers.

Ice: See Sorbet. Or solid cold water.

Macerate: To soak fruit in a marinade. The term for soaking meat or vegetables in this manner is marinate.

Marinade: A seasoned liquid used to soak meat, chicken, fish, or vegetables. Herbs, spices, and other seasonings add flavor to the marinated food; acid ingredients, such as vinegar, wine, or lemon juice, help break down the proteins
and tenderize it.

Marinate: To soak meat, chicken, fish, or vegetables in a marinade. Food should be marinated in a covered glass, ceramic, or stainless steel container in the refrigerator. The term for soaking fruit in this manner is macerate.

Medallion: A small, coin-shaped piece of meat.

Miso: Also called bean paste. A high-protein, high-salt paste made from fermented soybeans and rice or barley. Thick like peanut butter, it dissolves easily in hot liquids; add it at the end of the cooking period and do not let it boil. Extensively used in Japanese cooking, usually to flavor broth or dipping sauce; it also adds flavor to marinades for fish, poultry, meat, and vegetables. Available in a wide variety of colors, flavors, and aromas. Contains vitamin B12 (which is almost never found in non-meat foods) and beneficial bacteria. Store, tightly covered, in the refrigerator.

Nonpareil: French for “without equal.” Usually refers to tiny capers from Provence.

Nuoc-nam: Vietnamese name for a sauce called nam pla in Thailand and shottsuru in Japan. Salty, fermented fish sauce used as a condiment or flavoring agent. Served over rice, or in a small dish for dipping fish or meat at the table.

Ouzo: An anise-flavored liqueur from Greece.

Parboil: To partially cook food by briefly boiling in water. Dense foods (carrots, turnips) are of ten parboiled before they are added to quick-cooking foods so that all ingredients finish cooking at the same time.

Pastry knife or pastry blender: A utensil made of several wire strands that are used to cut through solid fats and flour (or other dry ingredients) until the mixture is cut into very small particles.

Phyllo: Tissue-thin layers of dough commonly used in Greek and Near Eastern cooking; similar to strudel.

Pinch: The amount of seasoning that can be held between the tips of the thumb and the forefinger, about 1/16 teaspoon.

Plump: To soak dried fruit in a liquid (such as water, fruit juice, sherry, brandy) until it has softened and, depending on the type of liquid, absorbed flavors.

Poach: To cook food in liquid that is just below the boiling point.

Poivrade: With pepper.

Polenta: A coarsely ground cornmeal used to make mush; popular in Italy.

Potage: A slightly thick soup, usually puréed.

Purée: To mash or grind a fruit or vegetable until it is smooth and thick. A blender or food processor is commonly used to purée foods.

Reconstitute: To restore a dehydrated food to its original state by soaking in liquid, usually water.

Reduce: To simmer or boil a liquid until the volume is reduced by evaporation; produces a thicker consistency and a stronger flavor.

Ricer: A perforated utensil used to press cooked food into small pieces (something like a giant garlic press). Cooked food pushed through the ricer looks something like rice or small squiggles. A ricer can be used to make mashed potatoes, to form spaetzle noodles, or to purée cooked vegetables or fruit for making baby food.

Salsa: Mexican term for “sauce.” Vegetable or fruit sauces that are cooked or raw. Can be mild or hot.

Sauté: To cook food quickly in a skillet over direct heat. For low-fat cooking, lightly coat the inside of a nonstick pan with cooking spray and omit butter, margarine, or oil.

Savory: Food that is piquant and full of flavor; not sweet.

Scald: To heat a liquid to just below the boiling point.

Sear: To brown meat quickly at very high heat in a skillet, broiler, or oven.

Season: To add flavor to foods to strengthen or improve their taste. Common seasonings include herbs, spices, condiments, and vinegar. In general, seasonings should be added sparingly; more seasonings to suit the cook’s taste should be incorporated as needed, tasting after each addition.

Section: Also called segment. To cut the individual pieces or segments in a citrus fruit out of their membranes, making wedges of bright,
juicy fruit.

Shoyu: The Japanese term for soy sauce.

Shrimp boil: See Crab boil.

Shuck: To remove the husk from an ear of corn, or the shell from a shellfish.

Simmer: To boil very gently, so the liquid barely bubbles.

Simple syrup: Also called sugar syrup. A solution of sugar and water cooked over low heat until clear; the ratio of water to sugar can be varied to make thin (3 parts water to 1 part sugar), medium (2 parts water to 1 part sugar), or heavy (equal parts water and sugar) syrups.

Sorbet: A frozen dessert or palate refresher served between courses. French term for sherbet. Unlike sherbet, a sorbet does not contain milk. It can be sweet or savory. Also called ice or granite, both of which are usually more granular in texture.

Souffle: An airy mixture that is lightened by stiffly beaten egg whites; can be baked, chilled, or frozen. They can be sweet or savory, served as a dessert or main course. A baked souffle should be served immediately; it will fall or deflate easily because the hot air it contains will begin to escape when it is removed from the oven. A soufflé must be made in a special dish that has straight sides.

Spring roll wrapper: Also called won ton skins or egg roll skins. Round or square paper-thin sheets of dough widely used in Chinese cooking to wrap foods, as for won ton or egg rolls.

Steam: To cook food on a rack or special basket placed over boiling or simmering water in a covered pan. Retains more flavor, texture, and nutrients than boiling or poaching.

Steep: To soak in liquid to extract flavors, as in brewing tea.

Stir-fry: To quickly cook small pieces of food over very high heat, stirring constantly. Food stays crisp-tender. For low-fat stir-frying, coat the inside of the pan with cooking spray and omit oil.

Stock: The broth from boiled chicken, beef, or fish; used to make soup, gravy, and sauces.

Sweat: To cook mushrooms, onions, or other high-water-content foods over low heat until they begin to release their moisture.

Tabasco sauce: A fiery sauce made from vinegar and red peppers. Use sparingly.
Tahini: A thick, creamy paste made of finely ground sesame seeds. Popular in Greece, Cyprus, Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria. Used as the basis for salad dressings and as a condiment.

Tamari: A very dark brown natural soy sauce. More intense but mellower flavor and thicker than soy sauce; can be used in place of soy sauce in any recipe. Keeps at room temperature indefinitely.

Ti leaves: Used in Polynesia to wrap foods before cooking. The leaves are not eaten. Soak dried ti leaves (available in ethnic or specialty stores) before using.

Worcestershire sauce: A hot and zesty seasoning from India made with soy sauce, vinegar, molasses, chilies, tropical fruits, and spices.

Zest: The colored portion of the citrus peel, containing aromatic oils that add flavor to foods. The white pith just under the zest is very bitter and should not be used. The zest can be removed with a special utensil called a citrus zester or with a vegetable peeler.

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