At the beginning of your kitchen adventures, some culinary terms used in recipes may be unfamiliar. But don’t pass them up just because you do not know what they mean. This handy Kitchen Glossary will help you during your first steps.
Al Dente: Cooking the food to the point that it is tender but just firm, offering a slight resistance when bitten. Usually referring to pasta but can be used for other foods, like rice and vegetables.
Artificial Sweeteners: A category of sugar substitutes that have no nutritional value. Because they have unique attributes, they should not be substituted for other sweeteners unless a recipe calls for them specifically.
Au gratin: A dish is topped with crumbs and or cheese and bits of butter, and then browned in the oven or under the broiler.
Au jus: A roasted meat served in its natural juices.
Bain-Marie or Double Boiler: A pan holding hot-simmering water. Another container is placed partway inside the pan for slow-cooking foods that are heat-sensitive.
Bake: Cooking the food covered or uncovered in the oven using direct dry heat. The term is typically used to describe the cooking of cakes, other desserts, casseroles, and bread.
Baking Dish: A dish made out of glass or ceramic. Baking pans are made of metal.
Baste: Moistening the food during cooking or grilling using the juices from the pan or other seasoned liquids and fats. This prevents drying and adds flavor. Use a spoon, brush, or a specialty kitchen tool.
Beat: Make a mixture smooth by briskly whipping or stirring it with a spoon, fork, wire whisk, or electric mixer.
Bias-Slice: This cut is for foods with long shapes (like carrots, cucumbers, and green onions). It makes the slices more oval. To cut, slice crosswise at an angle.
Blanch: Briefly cook the food (vegetables, fruits, nuts) in boiling water and quickly immerse it in ice-cold water.
Bouquet Garni: A bundle of fresh herbs (usually thyme, parsley, bay leaf, or other combination) used to add flavor to soups, stews, stocks, and poaching liquids. Depending on the size of the herbs, they are often tied together with a string (like an actual bouquet). Otherwise, they are secured in a piece of cheesecloth.
Braise: Cooking the food by gently simmering in a small amount of liquid, in a tightly covered pan, over low heat for a prolonged time.
Breading: A coating of bread crumbs (sometimes seasoned) covers meat, fish, poultry, and vegetables. Breading is often made with soft or dry bread crumbs.
Brown: Cooking the food in a skillet over high heat to the desired brown color. This method adds a rich flavor and aroma while preserving the moisture on the inside.
Butterfly: Slicing the food (like fillet mignon or pork chops) through the middle without completely separating the halves. The two halves resemble a butterfly when they are opened flat.
Caramelize: There are two meanings for this:
a) To heat the sugar until it liquefies and becomes a golden syrup.
b) Slowly cook vegetables over low heat with just a small amount of fat until they are soft and browned to release their natural sugars (for example, caramelized onions)
Carve: Cutting or Slicing cooked meat, poultry, fish, or game into serving pieces.
Casserole Dish: A dish that is round and deep. It is essential to note the capacity of the dish and use the recommended size stated in the recipe as this affects the cooking time. If your dish is too large, reduce the cooking time by 5 minutes.
Cheesecloth: A thin cloth made 100% of cotton, traditionally used to strain cheese or yogurt. In cooking, it is used to bundle up herbs, and strain liquids.
Chiffonade: Cutting thin strips of herbs.
Chill: Cool the food in the refrigerator or over ice until it is below room temperature.
Chop: To cut vegetables into large pieces (about 1/2 inch. If the recipe calls for “Finely Chopped,” then the pieces should be about 1/4 inch.
Coat: Evenly cover the food with flour, bread crumbs, beaten egg, or batter.
Core: Removing the seeds or tough woody center of fruits and vegetables.
Cream: Beating the ingredients (usually sugar and fat or sugar and egg) to a smooth and fluffy consistency.
Crimp: Pinching at intervals with the finger or pressing together with the tines of a fork, to seal the edges of a 2 crust pie.
Crisp-Tender: Describes the state of vegetables that have been cooked until just tender but still somewhat crunchy. Trying to insert a fork, one will meet a little pressure.
Crudités: An assortment of raw vegetables typically served as hors d’oeuvres, often accompanied by a dip.
Crush: Smashing the food into smaller pieces using hands, a mortar-and-pestle, or a rolling pin. Crushing dried herbs, spices, and nuts releases their flavor and aroma.
Cube: Like chopping, it is to cut food into small cubes, usually about 1/2 inch.
Cut-In: Working a solid fat, such as butter, into dry ingredients. It is mainly used when preparing pie crusts and tarts.
Dash: 1/8 teaspoon. It is mainly used to measure spices and some liquids.
Deep Fry: Cooking the food by completely submerging it in hot oil.
Deglaze: Adding a liquid such as water, wine, or broth to a skillet or pan after cooking the meat or poultry in it. After removing the meat or poultry, the liquid is poured into the pan to help loosen the browned bits and make a flavorful sauce.
Degrease: Removing fat from the surface of stews, soups, or stock. Typically cooling in the refrigerator to harden the fat and remove it easily, or using a fat separator cup.
Deseed: Removing the seeds out of a fruit or vegetable.
Dice: To cut into small pieces, usually 1/4 to 1/8 chunks.
Dollop: A spoonful of semi-solid food, like whipped cream or mashed potatoes, placed on top of another food.
Double Boiler or Bain-Marie: A pan holding hot-simmering water. Another container is
placed partway inside the pan for slow-cooking foods that are heat-sensitive.
Dredge: Lightly coating food with a dry mixture, usually with flour, cornmeal, or bread crumbs.
Dress: This term has different uses:
a) to coat foods with a sauce, such as salad.
b) Removing the guts (viscera) from the game.
c) Removing the gills and the guts (viscera) from the fish while keeping the head and fins intact. The scales may or may not be removed.
Drip pan: A metal or disposable foil pan or just a piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil placed under food to catch drippings when grilling.
Drizzle: Pouring the liquid randomly over a dish in a fine stream, usually melted butter, oil, syrup, or melted chocolate.
Dust: To coat lightly with powdery ingredients, such as confectioners’ sugar or cocoa.
Emulsify: Sometimes, the recipe requires combining two ingredients that don’t naturally dissolve into each other (such as oil and vinegar or olive oil and lemon). This is accomplished by gradually adding one ingredient to the other while whisking rapidly with a fork or wire whisk.
Entrée: In the United States and parts of Canada, the term “entrée” is used to indicate the main course of a meal. In other countries, mainly in Europe, “entrée” is used to indicate the first course, appetizer, or starter.
Fillet: To cut the bones from a piece of meat, poultry, or fish.
Flambé: Drizzling an alcoholic spirit over food and igniting it while cooking or drizzling an alcoholic spirit over food and igniting the just before serving.
Fold: Combining light ingredients, such as whipped cream or beaten egg whites, with a heavier mixture, using an over-and-under motion.
French: The process of cutting away the meat from the end of the chop to expose the bone, as with a lamb rib roast.
Glaze: Coat foods with mixtures such as jellies or sauces. Savory glazes for meats are prepared by reducing sauces, while sweet glazes can be made with melted jelly.
Grate: Rubbing food, such as hard cheeses, vegetables, or whole nutmeg, or ginger, across a grating surface to make fine pieces. A food processor also may be used.
Grease: Coating the interior of a pan or dish with oil or butter to prevent food from sticking during cooking.
Grind: To mechanically cut food into smaller pieces, usually with a food grinder or food processor.
Hors d’oeuvre (or-DERV): French term for a small, hot or cold portion of savory food or finger food served as an appetizer.
Julienne: Cutting the vegetables until long, thin strips, approximately 1/4 inch thick and 1 inch long.
Knead: The process of mixing the dough with the hands or a mixer
Lukewarm: Neither cool nor warm; approximately body temperature.
Marble: Gently swirl one food into another (usually done with light and dark batters for cakes or cookies).
Marinate: Soaking in a sauce or flavored liquid for an extended time, usually meat, poultry, or fish.
Mash: Pressing or beating food to remove lumps and make a smooth mixture. This is done using a fork, potato masher, food mill, food ricer, or electric mixer.
Measure: To determine the quantity or size of food using a utensil. This is especially true in baking, where there’s quite a bit of chemistry involved.
Meuniere: Dredging with flour and sautéing in butter.
Mince: Cutting the food into as small as possible pieces, most commonly used with garlic.
Mix: Stirring or beating two or more foods together until they are thoroughly combined, using an electric mixer or a rotary beater, or by hand with a wooden spoon.
Moisten: Adding enough liquid to a dry ingredient or mixture to make it damp but not runny.
Pan Fry: Cook larger chunks of food over medium-heat, flipping once only.
Parboil: To partially cook by boiling, usually to prepare the food for cooking by another method.
Pare: To cut off the skin or outer covering of a fruit or vegetable using a small knife or a vegetable peeler.
Pinch: 1/16 teaspoon. A small amount of a dry ingredient (the amount that can be pinched between a finger and the thumb).
Pit: To remove the seed from fruits such as avocados, cherries, or peaches.
Plump: To allow a food, such as raisins, to soak in a liquid, which generally increases its volume.
Poach: To cook gently over very low heat, in barely simmering water to cover.
Pound: To strike a food with a heavy utensil (such as a meat mallet) to crush it. Or, in the case of meat or poultry, to break up the connective tissue in order to tenderize or flatten it.
Proof: To allow a yeast dough to rise before baking. Also, a term that indicates the amount of alcohol in a distilled liquor.
Purée: To mash or grind food until completely smooth.
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 a sauce base. When reducing liquids, use the pan size specified in the recipe. 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: Like baking, but concerning meat or poultry, it is to cook food in an oven using dry heat. Roasting refers to a dry-heat cooking method used to cook foods such as vegetables uncovered in an oven—tender pieces of meat work best for roasting.
Roll, Roll Out: To form 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 dough or pastry, with a rolling pin.
Roux (roo): A French term referring to a mixture of flour and fat cooked to a golden- or rich-brown color and used for thickening sauces, soups, and gumbos.
Sauté: To cook small pieces of food over medium-high heat with oil in a pan, usually to brown food.
Scald: To heat liquid almost to a boil until bubbles begin forming just around the edge.
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.
Scrape: To use a sharp or blunt instrument to rub the outer coating from food, such as carrots.
Sear: To brown the surface of meat by quick-cooking over high heat to seal in the meat’s juices.
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 pith.
Shred: It is done on a grater with larger holes, resulting in long, smooth stripes to cook or melt.
Sieve: As a verb, to sieve is to separate liquids from solids, usually using a stainless steel strainer-sifter. Sieve is also the term for the utensil used for separating liquids from solids.
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: Bring a pot to a boil, then reduce the heat until there are no bubbles.
Skim: To remove fat or foam from the surface, a liquid.
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 threading them to prevent burning.
Skim: Removing a substance, such as fat or foam, from the surface of a liquid.
Slice: Cut food vertically down into slices. The recipe sometimes specifies the thickness of the slices.
Smidgen: 1/32 teaspoon.
Snip: To cut food, often fresh herbs or dried fruit, with kitchen shears or scissors into very small, uniform pieces using short, quick strokes.
Steam: To cook food on a rack or in a steamer set over boiling or simmering water.
Steep: To soak a dry ingredient in a liquid just under the boiling point to extract the flavor, such as with tea.
Stew: To cook covered over low heat in a liquid for a substantial time.
Stir: Mix the ingredients with a spoon or other utensils to combine them, prevent ingredients from sticking during cooking, or cool them after cooking.
Toast: The process of browning, crisping, or drying food by exposing it to heat. Toasting coconut, nuts, and seeds help develop their flavor. Also, as a result of exposing bread to heat, so it becomes browner, crisper, and drier.
Toss: Mix ingredients lightly by lifting and dropping them using two utensils.
Whip: To beat food with a whisk or mixer to incorporate air and increase volume.
Whisk: To beat ingredients with a fork or a whisk.
Zest: The outer colored peel of citrus fruit to use as seasoning due to its richness in fruit oils. To remove the zest, scrape fruit zester across the peel; avoid the pith (the white membrane beneath the peel) because it is bitter.
Eat Mediterranean Food is a personal blog and recipes website dedicated to Mediterranean cooking and lifestyle. The readers assume full responsibility for consulting a qualified health professional regarding any health conditions and concerns before starting a health program or diet or lifestyle changes.