A-Z of Cooking Terms
*Updated February 2020
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 cooking terms to help you out.
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.
Sprinkled with breadcrumbs and cheese, or both, and browned.The phrase ‘au gratin’ literally means “by grating” in French, or “with a crust”.
With its own juices from cooking, often refers to steak or other meat.
Description of a liquid which has been reduced until it’s almost nearly dry, a process often used in sauce making.
To cover a meat with a layer of fat before cooking, it maintains the moisture of the meat while it cooks to avoid overcooking.
To pour melted fat or the juices of the liquid over meat or other food while cooking to keep it moist.
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.
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.
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.
The process of soaking meat in a brine, or heavily salted water, before cooking.
The process of combining two or more ingredients so that they become smooth and uniform in texture and lose their individual characteristics.
Ironically, to bone a piece of meat is to remove the bone from it.
Butterflying food refers to splitting it through the centre to thin it out, but not cutting through it entirely.
A cartouche refers to a piece of greaseproof or baking paper that is used to create a lid over a pot or saucepan. Usually cut in a circle and placed over a dish with a small amount of liquid. In the instance of poaching it stops steam from escaping, it can also prevent skins from developing on sauces.
Most often refers to butter, where the milk solids and water are rendered from the butterfat. This is done by gently melting the butter, allowing the two to separate and then skimming off the solids.
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.
A type of clear liquid that has been clarified by using egg whites and flavoured stock to remove fat.
To remove the central section of some fruits, seeds and tougher material that is not normally consumed.
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.
A non-heated method of cooking where the food item is packed with a salt mixture and left so that the moisture draws out.
When egg-based mixtures are cooked too quickly and the protein separates from the liquids, leaving a lumpy mixture behind.
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.
A knife skill cut – the exact measurement changes but the shape is always a small square.
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.
To coat moist foods with a dry ingredient before cooking to provide an even coating.
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.
To cook food in a deep layer of hot oil.
To loosen bits of food which stuck on the bottom of a pan by adding liquid such as stock or wine.
To remove the ends and the string from green beans.
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.
Most commonly known as a very tender cut of beef, but can also refer to the meat of chicken and fish.
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.
The process of removing all fat, cartilage, and meat, from rib bones on a roast by cutting between the bones, often referring to lamb, beef, or pork rib.
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.
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.
A gratin is a topping that is often either breadcrumbs or grated cheese that forms a brown crust when placed under a hot grill.
Refers to applying a fat to a roasting tray or cake tin to ensure that food doesn’t stick.
To break something down into much smaller pieces, for example coffee beans or whole spices.
Refers to the husk, shell or external covering of a fruit. More specifically, it is the leafy green part of a strawberry.
To allow the flavour of an ingredient to soak into a liquid until the liquid takes on the flavour of the ingredient.
The process of poking holes into the muscle of meat in order to tenderise it, also known as needling.
Meat juice that has been lightly thickened with either cornflour or any binding thickener.
Refers to a knife skill cut where the shape resembles matchsticks.
To work dough into a soft, uniform and malleable texture by pressing, folding and stretching with the heel of your hand.
The process of inserting strips of fat into a piece of meat that doesn’t have as much fat, to melt and keep the meat from drying out.
A binding agent of cream and egg yolks used to thicken soups or sauces.
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.
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.
To finely divide food into uniform pieces that are smaller than diced or chopped foods.
Mise en place
The preparation of ingredients, such as dicing onions, chopping veggies or measuring spices, before starting to cook.
The act of coating a food with a thin even layer.
Injecting fat or flavours into an ingredient to enhance its flavour.
The process of not fully cooking food, so that it can be finished or reheated later.
A thin, flattened piece of meat, rolled with a stuffing of ingredients i.e, vegetables, which is then cooked before served.
To coat in breadcrumbs.
A mixture of starch and liquid that’s added to ground meat for hamburger patties/meatballs. Usually a mixture of bread, breadcrumbs or panko with milk, buttermilk or yoghurt.
To boil food only slightly, often used to soften foods like potatoes before roasting them. Helps to speed up the cooking process.
To cook in gently bubbling liquids such as a stock or a broth.
Cooked food, usually vegetables, that have been mashed or blended to form a paste-like consistency.
The process of preserving food in a brine, which is a salt or vinegar solution.
The process of simmering or boiling a liquid, usually a stock or a sauce, to intensify the flavour or to thicken the consistency.
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.
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.
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)
To restore a dried food to original consistency, or to change its texture, by letting it soak in warm water.
To halt the cooking process, usually that of vegetables after being blanched, by plunging them into ice cold water.
Meaning ‘to jump’ in French, sauteeing is cooking food in a minimal amount of oil over a rather high heat.
To heat a liquid so it’s right about to reach the boiling point, where small bubbles start to appear around the edges.
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.
To cook food in a shallow layer of preheated oil.
Process of cooking in hot liquids kept just below boiling point.
To remove a top layer of fat or scum that has developed on the surface of soups, stocks or sauces.
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.
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.
Shallow, diagonal cuts made on the surface of meat and vegetables for the purpose of rendering fat, encouraging crispiness and flavour absorption.
To temper is the process of adding a small quantity of a hot liquid to a cold liquid in order to warm the cold liquid slightly. This is often be done before adding delicate ingredients to a hot mixture, where their format may be affected. An example of this would be adding eggs to a hot mixture – in order to prevent them curdling or scrambling you would add a little of the hot mix to the eggs and incorporate before adding the eggs into the heated mixture. Another example would be adding a cornflour slurry to a hot mixture; a little of the hot mixture is added to the slurry to temper the temperature before adding the mix back to the main mixture.
To cut and peel ingredients such as parsnips or potatoes into a barrel-like shape. For aesthetic purposes but also to ensure that they cook properly.
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.
The process of heating up milk products to 137 degrees celsius for a few seconds and chilling it down rapidly, resulting in milk that’s 99.9% free from bacteria and extending their shelf-life.
To cut a zig-zag or decorative pattern around fruit or vegetables to create decorative garnishes for food presentation.
A type of savoury sauce in which a light stock, such as chicken or fish, is thickened with a flour that is cooked and then allowed to turn light brown, thickened with a blond roux.
The process of beating food with a whisk to incorporate air and to increase volume.
The process of using a whisk to incorporate air into food or to blend ingredients together smoothly.
Refers to removing the outer part of citrus (called the zest) either by using a grater, a peeler or a knife.
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