A-Z of Cooking Terms

Words: Jess Spiro

Recipes can sometimes be a minefield of terms, jargon and foreign words that lead even the most gifted cook to question everything they know. We’re here to put an end to all the confusion and have compiled a comprehensive A-Z of those tricky cooking terms.

Al dente

Generally used in terms of pasta and rice cooking, but technically includes vegetables and beans too. Al dente is translated as ‘to the tooth’ meaning something cooked but left with a bite of firmness.

Blanch

A quick method of cooking food, usually green vegetables, whereby the item is basically scalded in boiling hot water for a short period of time and then refreshed in ice cold water. This ensures that the veggie retains its bright green colour and a good firm texture.

Broil

Normally a term used in the States, broil is what we know as grilling. Basically, you preheat the hot rod or grill at the top of your oven until it gets exceptionally hot. Place the food on an oven tray under the preheated grill until it browns and has some incredible flavour.

Braise

Braising is an old French method of cooking meat. It uses a combination of dry and moist heat, dry being when the meat is seared at a high heat and moist when it’s gently cooked in a liquid. This cooking method is ideal with sinewy, tougher cuts of meat.

Blend

The process of combining two or more ingredients so that they become smooth and uniform in texture and lose their individual characteristics.

Bone

Ironically, to bone a piece of meat is to remove the bone from it.

Butterfly

Butterflying food refers to splitting it through the centre to thin it out, but not cutting through it entirely.

Clarify

Most often refers to butter, where the milk solids and water are rendered from the butter fat. This is done by gently melting the butter, allowing the two to separate and then skimming off the solids.

Coddle

To coddle something is to cook it in water just below boiling point. More recently, the term specifically applies to eggs using a device called a coddler. The low cooking temperature produces a much softer egg than if you were to boil it.

Confit

Regularly recognised with duck, but can include other meats, where the meat is cooked in its own fat (or other fat if necessary) at a low heat.

Cure

A non-heated method of cooking where the food item is packed with a salt mixture and left so that the moisture draws out.

Curdle

When egg-based mixtures are cooked too quickly and the protein separates from the liquids, leaving a lumpy mixture behind.

Cut in

A method of blending, usually for pastry, where a fat is combined with flour. The method often refers to using a pastry blender to mix butter or shortening into the flour until the mixture is the size of peas.

Dice

A knife skill cut – the exact measurement changes but the shape is always a small square.

Dollop

A small amount of soft food that has been formed into a round-ish shape. Yoghurt, whipped cream and mashed potatoes are all examples of foods that can be dolloped.

Dress

Dress has two definitions when it comes to cooking, firstly to coat foods (mostly salad leaves) in a sauce. It also refers to preparing poultry, fish and venison for cooking, which essentially is breaking them down off of their carcasses and sectioning the meat.

Deep fry

To cook food in a deep layer of hot oil.

Deglaze

To loosen bits of food which stuck on the bottom of a pan by adding liquid such as stock or wine.

Flambé

The process of cooking off alcohol that’s been added to a hot pan by creating a burst of flames. The fumes are set alight and the flame goes out when the alcohol has burnt off.

Fillet

Most commonly known as a very tender cut of beef, but can also refer to the meat of chicken and fish.

Flake

Refers to the process of gently breaking off small pieces of food, often for combining with other foods. For example, you would flake cooked fish to combine with cooked, mashed potatoes to make fish cakes,

Grill

Grilling food is applying dry heat to food either from above or below. In South Africa, grilling refers to cooking food under the grill in your oven (in the States this is called broiling) or can also refer to cooking food in a pan with grill lines.

Glaze

A glaze is a sticky substance coated on top of food. It is usually used in terms of baking or cooking meats where a marinade will be brushed over the food continuously to form a glaze.

Gratin

A gratin is a topping that is often either breadcrumbs or grated cheese that forms a brown crust when placed under a hot grill.

Grease

Refers to applying a fat to a roasting tray or cake tin to ensure that food doesn’t stick.

Grind

To break something down into much smaller pieces, for example coffee beans or whole spices.

Hull

Refers to the husk, shell or external covering of a fruit. More specifically, it is the leafy green part of a strawberry.

Infuse

To allow the flavour of an ingredient to soak into a liquid until the liquid takes on the flavour of the ingredient.

Knead

To work dough into a soft, uniform and malleable texture by pressing, folding and stretching with the heel of your hand.

Julienne

Refers to a knife skill cut where the shape resembles matchsticks.

Macerate

The soaking of an ingredient, usually fruit, in a liquid so that it takes on the flavour of the liquid. Can also be used to soften dried fruit.

Marinate

To impart the flavour of a marinade into food, usually requires some time to allow the flavours to develop. Can also be used to tenderise a cut of meat.

Roast

Technically defined as a method of dry cooking a piece of meat, where the hot air envelopes the food to cook it evenly and to allow it to caramelise nicely.

Reduce

The process of simmering or boiling a liquid, usually a stock or a sauce, to intensify the flavour or to thicken the consistency.

Render

Using a low heat to melt the fat away from a food item, usually a piece of meat. This rendered fat can then be used to cook with.

Pané

To coat in breadcrumbs.

Parboil

To boil food only slightly, often used to soften foods like potatoes before roasting them. Helps to speed up the cooking process.

Poach

To cook in gently bubbling liquids such as a stock or a broth.

Purée

Cooked food, usually vegetables, that have been mashed or blended to form a paste-like consistency.

Pickle

The process of preserving food in a brine, which is a salt or vinegar solution.

Roux

A roux is a flour and fat mixture cooked together, which acts as a thickener in soups, stews and sauces. (link to mother sauce article)

Reconstitute

To restore a dried food to original consistency, or to change its texture, by letting it soak in warm water.

Refresh

To halt the cooking process, usually that of vegetables after being blanched, by plunging them into ice cold water.

Sauté

Meaning ‘to jump’ in French, sauteeing is cooking food in a minimal amount of oil over a rather high heat.

Steep

Similar to infuse, steeping is the process of allowing dried ingredients to soak in a liquid until the liquid has taken on the flavour of the ingredient.

Shallow fry

To cook food in a shallow layer of preheated oil.

Simmer

Process of cooking in hot liquids kept just below boiling point.

A-Z of Cooking Terms - a helpful cooking glossary
Skim

To remove a top layer of fat or scum that has developed on the surface of soups, stocks or sauces.

Steam

Method of cooking food by using steam.

Sear or brown

A method of cooking food over a high heat until caramelisation forms on the surface. This is often done before braising the food, to give it added flavour and is not usually intended to cook the food all the way through.

Sweat

This refers to the gentle cooking of vegetables in butter or oil under a lid, so that their natural liquid is released to aid the cooking process. Often vegetables cooked this way will end up looking translucent.

Score

Shallow, diagonal cuts made on the surface of meat and vegetables for the purpose of rendering fat, encouraging crispiness and flavour absorption.

Truss

To bind the legs and wings of a bird to its body, ensuring it maintains an even shape so that none of the extremities dry out.

Whip

The process of beating food with a whisk to incorporate air and to increase volume.

Whisk

The process of using a whisk to incorporate air into food or to blend ingredients together smoothly.

Zest

Refers to removing the outer part of citrus (called the zest) either by using a grater, a peeler or a knife.

Keen to brush on your baking knowledge? Check out our glossary of baking terms HERE.

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