Glossary of Cooking Terms

Adobo: (Spanish: marinade, sauce, or seasoning) is the immersion of raw food in a stock (or sauce) composed variously of paprika, oregano, salt, garlic, soy sauce, and vinegar to preserve and enhance its flavor. The Portuguese variant is known as Carne de Vinha d’Alhos.

Aïoli (often spelled Aioli): A Provençal sauce made of garlic, olive oil, usually egg yolks, and seasonings. There are many variations, such as the addition of lemon juice or mustard. It is usually served at room temperature with seafood, especially fish soup.

Al Dente: Italian term, describes pasta and rice that is cooked until it offers a slight resistance to the bite.

All-Purpose Flour: A blend of high and low protein flours blended in order to contain enough gluten to make buns or a loaf of bread. It is called “all-purpose” because it can be used in a variety of baked goods.

Arborio: A short-grain rice originally from Italy named after a town in the Po Valley. With a higher starch content than most kinds of rice, properly cooked Arborio rice is creamy but firm and chewy.

Bake: To cook in the oven, usually by dry heat.

Baste: To moisten food during cooking with a liquid, usually pan drippings or a sauce to add flavor and prevent drying.

Bâtonnet: To batonnet is to cut food items, usually vegetables, into long, thin strips around 2 1/2″ (6cm) long pieces and then 1/4″ (6mm) slices. A shorter and  thinner cut is called Julienne.

Batter: A mixture of flour and liquid, thin enough to pour.

Beat: To mix rapidly in order to make a liquid smooth and light by incorporating as much air as possible.

Blanche: To enhance the colour of vegetables, with minimal cooking (only the outermost layer is cooked). It is often used for vegetables that are going to be eaten raw or frozen for later use. Cook only a few seconds up to a minute in already boiling water. Shock the vegetable by straining it under cold water or dipping it in ice water to halt any further cooking.

Blend: To incorporate two or more ingredients thoroughly.

Blind Baking: Many recipes require that a pastry is fully or partially baked before adding the filling. This process is called ‘blind baking’. As an an example read the Shortcrust Pastry recipe.

Bocconcini: Small mozzarella cheeses the size of an egg. They can be bought at most well stocked supermarkets.

Boil: To heat a liquid until bubbles break continually on the surface.

Bouquet Garni: The bouquet garni (French for “garnished bouquet”) is a bundle of herbs usually tied together with string to be cooked in a dish, but removed prior to consumption. I use fresh thyme, sage, flat-leaf (Italian) parsley, rosemary, oregano and a dried bay leaf. I find it easier to put all ingredients in a cheese cloth or coffee filter tied up at the end.

Broil: To cook on a grill in the oven under strong, direct heat.

Caramelize: To heat sugar or a sugary subsatnce in order to turn it brown and give it a special taste.

Chiffonade:  The French term for cutting leafy greens into thin strips.

Chile Pepper: Chile with an “e” at the end is the correct spelling of the spicy red or green pepper in Spanish speaking countries and parts of the US. The plural is “chiles”. However in most parts of the US the term “chili” like in “Chili con Carne” is used for the peppers and the pepper powder. “Chile Powder” is the condiment containing only chiles, whereas “Chili Powder” is a spice mix.

Chili Powder: aka Chilli Powder is a spice mix, containing chile peppers, spices and salt.

Chop: To cut solids into pieces with a sharp knife or device.

Chorizo: It is important to differentiate between Spanish and Mexican Chorizo. Spanish Chorizo is a dried and cured sausage in a casing. It can be be smoked or unsmoked, sweet or spicy and can be eaten raw. Pepperoni sausage in the US is a good substitute. Mexican Chorizo is a spicy ground meat sausage that is sold mostly fresh and uncooked. It is usually made of pork, highly seasoned and needs to be cooked before eating.

Cilantro: see Coriander

Clarify: To separate and remove solids from a liquid, thus making it clear.

Confit: The term is usually used to describe cooking meat or vegetables in oil, grease or sugar water at low temperatures, normally at 200 °F/95° C. This “slow” cooking process contrasts with sautéing or deep frying, where temperatures are 350°F/175°C or higher. In meat cooking, this requires the meat to be salted as part of the preservation process. After salting and cooking in the fat, sealed and stored in a cool, dark place, confit can last for several months or years. Confit is a specialty of southwestern France (duck confit).

Coriander: also known as cilantro (in the US and Spanish speaking countries) or Chinese parsley, is an annual herb widely used in the Mediterranean and Asian cuisine. The fresh leaves – in cooking terms called either cilantro or coriander leaves – have a tart, slightly lemony taste. To a few they taste like bath soap, a condition due to a gene which detects aldehyde chemicals. The coriander seeds have a nutty, slightly spicy flavor.

Crème Fraîche: A soured cream with a fat content of about 30% as compared to sour cream’s 20%. It is thicker, has a richer flavor and is less tangy than sour cream. It is used in sauces and soups because unlike sour cream it does not curdle when heated.

Cure: To preserve meats by drying and salting and/or smoking.

Egg Wash: A mixture of beaten eggs and a liquid (water or milk) which is brushed onto pastry, before baking.

Filé Powder: the dried, powdered leaves of the sassafras tree. Creole gumbo recipes often require adding filé powder after the gumbo is cooked and the heat has been turned off. The filé thickens and flavors the gumbo. It has an earthy flavor and a fruity aroma similar to coriander seeds.

Fold: To incorporate a delicate substance, such as whipped cream or beaten egg whites, into another substance without releasing air bubbles. Cut down through mixture with a spoon, whisk, or fork; go across the bottom of the bowl, up and over, close to the surface. The process is repeated while slowing rotating the bowl until the ingredients are thoroughly blended.

Frittata: It translates to “fried” in Italian and is started on the stovetop like an omelet and finished in the oven unfolded. It is normally thicker than an omelet and resembles a quiche without the pie crust. Omelets are started and finished on the stovetop and usually folded.

Fry: To cook in hot fat or oil.

Garnish: To decorate a dish to enhance its appearance and add flavors, such as parsley, lemon slices, raw vegetables, chopped chives, and other herbs.

Gratin: the French word for “crust”, describes any oven-baked dish, usually cooked in a shallow oval gratin dish, on which a golden brown crust of bread crumbs, cheese or creamy sauce has formed.

Julienne (also referred as Alumette or Matchstick Cut): To julienne is to cut food items, usually vegetables, into long, thin strips around 2″ (5cm) long and 1/16″ (2-3 mm) thick. A wider cut is called Batonnet.

Halloumi: A lightly salted hard cheese made from sheep’s or goat milk from the Middle East. It has a high fat content, it will not melt when grilled or pan-fried even at high temperatures.

Harissa: A hot chile pepper paste originally from Tunisia. Its main ingredients are roasted red peppers, serrano peppers and other hot chile peppers, spices and herbs such as garlic paste, coriander seed or caraway as well as some vegetable or olive oil for preservation. It is sold at well stocked supermarkets and most Middle Eastern stores.

Herbes de Provence: Spice mix from the Provence, mostly thyme, oregano, marjoram (or rosemary) and winter savory (in French: Sarriette). Read more »

Kefalotyri: The Greek version of Halloumi, a lightly salted hard cheese made from sheep’s or goat milk. Does not melt.

Knead: To work and press dough with the palms of the hands or mechanically, to develop the gluten in the flour.

Marinate: To flavor and moisturize pieces of meat, poultry, seafood or vegetable by soaking them in or brushing them with a liquid mixture of seasonings known as a marinade.

Meuniere: Dredged with flour and sauteed in butter.

Mezze: Also spelled Meze is a selection of small dishes served to accompany drinks or as appetizers before the main dish in the Near East and the Balkans.

Orecchiette: A variety of pasta typical of Apulia, the “heel” of the Italian Peninsula. Their name comes from their shape, which resembles a small ear.

Pancetta: Italian bacon made of pork belly meat that is salt cured and spiced with black pepper and sometimes other spices. There are two basic types of Pancetta, the ″arrotolata” (rolled) and “stesa” (flat). The “arrotolata” is mainly used sliced as part of antipasti, the “stesa” is often used chopped as ingredient in many recipes.

Pan-broil: To cook uncovered in a hot frying pan, pouring off fat as it accumulates.

Parboiling: Parboiling is usually used to partially cook an item to give it a head start. It will then be cooked another way such as braising, grilling, or stir-frying.

Passata or (“strained tomatoes”): Is an uncooked tomato purée that has been strained of seeds and skins. It originated in Italy but is used throughout Europe and readily available in well stocked supermarkets in the US (Target, Publix, Costco etc). 

Persillade: A sauce or seasoning mix of parsley (French: persil) chopped together with garlic and seasoned with salt, pepper and olive oil. Read more »

Pickle: To preserve meats, vegetables, and fruits in brine.

Pimentón: see Spanish Paprika

Pinch: A pinch is the amount of salt, sugar or other dry seasoning you can hold between your thumb and forefinger.

Piri-Piri Sauce: A very hot chile sauce used as a seasoning or marinade. Prevalent in Angola and Mozambique it was brought to Europe by the Portuguese. The sauce is made from crushed African bird’s eye chile citrus peel, onion, pepper, salt, lemon juice, bay leaves, paprika, pimiento, basil, oregano, and tarragon.

Poach: To cook very gently in a hot liquid kept just below the boiling point.

Puree: To mash foods until perfectly smooth by hand, by rubbing through a sieve or food mill, or by whirling in a blender or food processor.

Ras-el-Hanout: A spice mix from North Africa, the name means top of the shelf, the best spice mix the shop has to offer. It is used in many savory dishes, sometimes rubbed on meat or fish, or stirred into couscous or rice. Ingredients used may include cardamom, cumin, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, allspice, dry ginger, chile peppers, coriander seed, peppercorn, sweet and hot paprika, fenugreek, and dry turmeric. There is no exact composition of spices that make up ras el hanout.

Reduce: To boil down a liquid to reduce the volume.

Red Pepper Flakes: Another term for red chile pepper flakes.

Roast: To cook by dry heat in an oven.

Sauté (often spelled saute) or Panfry: To cook food in a small amount of oil or fat over relatively high heat. Used mostly to preserve the texture, moisture and flavor. Ingredients are heated at once and cooked quickly.

Sear: To brown very quickly by intense heat. This method increases shrinkage but develops flavor and improves appearance.

Simmer: To cook slowly in liquid over low heat at a temperature of about 350° F/180° C. The surface of the liquid should be barely moving, broken from time to time by slowly rising bubbles.

Skim: To remove impurities, such as fat, from the surface of a liquid during cooking, thereby resulting in a clearer liquid.

Sofrito: A slowly sautéed pepper-garlic-tomato sauce used in the Mediterranean and Latin American cuisine. Read more »

Spanish Paprika (Pimentón): made of smoked peppers, which brings out a deeper, smokier flavor. The heat and sweetness levels in Spanish paprika vary depending on the blend of peppers used.

Stew: To simmer slowly in a small amount of liquid for a long time.

Stir: To mix ingredients with a circular motion until well blended and of uniform consistency.

Tagine (Tajine): A tagine or tajine is both the name of the dish and the glazed earthenware vessel in which the food is prepared in Morocco and Algeria. It is used for cooking and for serving. Read more »

Tahini: A paste made from ground, hulled sesame seeds used in the Greek, Turkish and Middle Eastern cuisine. Tahini is served as a dip on its own or as a major component of hummus, baba ghanoush, and halva. Because of tahini’s high oil content, it is best to keep it refrigerated.

Tapenade: A Provençal dish consisting of puréed or finely chopped olives, capers, anchovies and olive oil. Its name comes from the Provençal word for capers, tapenas. It can be served on its own but more than often it is used as seasoning. Read more »

Tartine: refers to any open-faced sandwich, normally a baguette, topped with a variety of ingredients. The name derives from “tartiner” which means to spread.

Vinaigrette:  a dressing where oil is combined with an acidic ingredient, like vinegar or lemon. The mixture is rounded out with salt, pepper and perhaps some herbs. In the Mediterranean cuisine, the oil is primarily extra-virgin olive oil. The vinaigrette is the basic dressing for salads.

Whip: To beat rapidly to incorporate air and produce expansion, as in heavy cream or egg whites.