Cooking Terminology

The language of food is changing all of the time. This dictionary catalogs kitchen vocabulary from classic to contemporary.

A Al dente This term is usually used in cooking pasta. It means to cook until tender but still slightly firm.
B Bake Cooking in an oven or oven-type appliance. When meat is cooked uncovered it is generally referred to as roasting.
Baste Brushing food with liquid such as melted fat, meat drippings, fruit juice, sauce, marinade, or water during cooking to moisten. Basting adds flavor and prevents surfaces of food from drying out.
Beat Stirring thoroughly and vigorously with a wire whisk, spoon, hand-beater or electric mixer to incorporate air into food.
Blanch Quickly immersing vegetables or fruit into boiling water for 1 to 2 minutes then into cold water to stop the cooking process. Blanching is sometimes necessary before freezing fruits or vegetables for better quality products when they are thawed. Blanching is also helpful in removing skins from tomatoes or peaches.
Blend Mixing two or more ingredients together thoroughly. Blending may be done by hand or with a spoon, or low speeds of a blender or electric mixer.
Boil Cooking in liquid that is at boiling temperature. When a liquid is at a boil (212º F at sea level for water) bubbles will rise and continuously break the surface.
Braise Browning meat or poultry in a small amount of liquid or fat, then cooking, tightly covered, over low heat for a long time. Braising meat develops flavors in the browning process. A good cooking method for less tender cuts of meat.
Bread Coating a food with bread crumbs, cracker crumbs, or other food prior to cooking. Typically, the food is moistened with beaten egg or other liquid first. Good for sautéing or frying.
Broil Cooking meat (or other food) directly under (as in a gas or electric oven) or over the heat source (as on a grill). Moisture is held in the food by the high cooking temperatures which quickly "seal in" flavor. This cooking method is ideal for tender cuts of meat.
Brown Cooking food in a small amount of fat over moderate or high heat until the surface is browned. (Additional cooking may be required to thoroughly cook food.)
C Caramelize Heating sugar or foods containing sugar over moderate heat with constant stirring to develop a brown color. This browning process contributes to the flavor of foods.
Chill To cool in refrigerator, but not freeze.
Chop Cutting food into small pieces with a knife, chopper, or other sharp tool, blender, or food processor.
Coat Covering a food with, or dipping it into, an ingredient such as flour or sauce. To cover with a thin layer of flour, sugar, nuts, crumbs, seeds, or spices.
Coats a spoon This phrase refers to the stage of cooking a sauce or custard when it is thick and forms a film on a metal spoon.
Combine Stirring 2 or more ingredients together to form a mixture of uniform consistency.
Cream Mixing 1 or more foods (usually fat and sugar) with a spoon or an electric mixer until soft, smooth, and creamy.
Crisp-tender Cooking foods such as vegetables just until tender but not soft or limp. This term is often used in stir-fry recipes.
Cube Cutting foods such as vegetables or meat into pieces with 6 equal sides.
Cut in Mixing solid fat throughout dry ingredients using 2 knives or a pastry blender until flour-coated fat particles are the desired size. Typically used when making pastry.
D Dash About half of 1/8 teaspoon of a spice or seasoning.
Deep-fry Cooking food in enough hot fat (350º F - 375º F) to cover the food.
Deglaze Adding liquid to a hot pan after sautéing or roasting to release the meat's essence left in the pan. This liquid usually consists of wine, brandy, juice or broth.
Dice Cutting food into very small cubes.
Dilute Thinning a liquid or reducing flavor by adding liquid.
Dissolve Making a solution such as sugar in water; to melt or liquefy.
Dredge Lightly covering or coating food with flour or other fine substances such as bread crumbs or cornmeal. Often beef cubes are "dredged" in flour prior to browning for beef stew.
Drippings The fat and juices obtained when cooking meat, poultry, seafood, or fish.
Drizzle Pouring a liquid over the surface of food in a fine, thread-like stream.
Dust A light sprinkle of flour or sugar over a food. This process results in a lighter covering than when coating a food before frying. Powdered sugar is commonly used to dust desserts.
F Flake Breaking food into small pieces, most often with a fork. This technique is used to break apart delicate foods such as fish or crab meat for salads. Flaking is used to test fish for doneness.
Flute/Fluting Pressing or crimping an attractive edge into the edges of a piecrust before baking, using a fork or fingers. The fluted edge should be pressed under the rim of the pan in several places to prevent shrinkage. When a top crust is used, the top and bottom crusts are pressed together to seal in the filling.
Fold Combining 1 ingredient, usually a light or delicate ingredient, with another heavier ingredient by gently turning the mixture with a spoon or spatula to minimize loss of air. Two motions are used: cutting vertically through the mixture and sliding it across the bottom of the bowl and up the other side. Typically used to mix fruit into a batter such as muffin or pancake batter.
Fry Cooking food in hot fat over moderate to high heat. Pan-frying (frying) and sautéing are similar, although sautéing is generally considered to be quicker and uses less fat. Deep-frying requires that the food be submerged in the hot fat.
G Garnish An edible decoration added to finished dishes or desserts. Garnishes may be placed under, on, or around the food. They range from a simple sprig of parsley to delicately carved vegetables.
Glaze Coating with a glossy mixture that enhances both flavor and appearance of food such as meat, vegetables, and desserts.
Grate Cutting foods into smaller pieces using a grater or food processor. This technique is used on firm foods such as carrots or cheese.
Grease Rubbing the surface of a pan or dish with fat to prevent food from sticking.
Grease and flour Preparing a pan by greasing and then lightly dusting with flour to prevent food from sticking. This is a common technique used when baking cakes; some recipes will refer to the pan as a "prepared" pan.
Grill Cooking food on a rack over direct heat in a charcoal or gas grill. In some regions, "barbecue" may be used synonymously with grill.
Grind Reducing food to small particles by cutting or crushing the food mechanically in a grinder, blender, or food processor. Foods can be ground to varying degrees-- fine, medium and coarse. Spices can be ground in a mortar and pestle.
J Julienne Cutting meat, vegetables or fruit into long, thin strips. May be used as a garnish or in stir-fry.
K Knead Working dough with the heel of a hand or with the kneading attachment of a mixer in order to develop the structure of bread.
L Lukewarm A temperature of about 95ºF. Lukewarm liquids and food feel neither hot nor cold when tested on the inside of the wrist.
M Marinade A seasoned liquid in which foods are soaked (marinated). The marinade is usually a combination of an oil and an acid, such as vinegar or fruit juice. Marinades are used to add flavor to the food or to tenderize. If a marinade is to be used later for basting or as a sauce, make a larger batch and reserve a portion before adding the meat. Never reuse marinade that has been in contact with uncooked meat.
Marinate Soaking a food in a marinade. Foods should be refrigerated during marinating. Discard any remaining marinade that has been in contact with uncooked meat, poultry or seafood.
Meringue A foam of beaten egg whites and sugar that is baked. A soft meringue may be baked as topping of a single-crust pie; a baked hard meringue is used as a shell for berries or other dessert fillings.
Microcook or Microwave (v.) Cooking food in a microwave oven using high-frequency radio waves that cook food quickly.
Mince Finely chopping or cutting food into 1/8 inch pieces or smaller. (This term refers to foods cut up more finely than simply being chopped.)
Mix Combining 2 or more ingredients into a uniform mixture by stirring or using an electric mixer.
P Panbroil Cooking meats and fish, uncovered, over high heat on a hot surface (usually in a frying pan), pouring off fat as it forms.
Panfry Cooking foods, uncovered, over high heat in a small amount of fat.
Parboil Partially cooking foods in water or other liquid. Cooking is usually completed by another method. Also called blanching.
Peel Removing the outer covering or skin of fruit and vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, oranges, or bananas.
Punch down Pushing down a risen yeast dough with the fist. This step is necessary to allow formation of smaller, more uniform air pockets.
Purée (v.) Grinding food until it is completely smooth by using a blender, food processor or forcing the food through a sieve or food mill.
Purée (n.) A smooth paste made by pressing food through a fine sieve or food mill; also a thick sauce made from puréed vegetables or fruit.
R Reconstitute Adding water to dried or concentrated foods, such as nonfat dry milk or orange juice concentrate, to restore them to their original consistency.
Reduce Boiling a liquid to reduce the volume. This technique is often used with stocks, wine, and sauce mixtures to intensify flavors and thicken.
Rehydrate Restoring water lost during drying by soaking or by cooking the dehydrated food in liquid, as when cooking dried beans.
Roast Cooking foods in an uncovered pan in the oven at moderate temperatures. When roasting meats or poultry, tender cuts should be used. (Tougher cuts require longer, slower cook times.)
Rub/Paste A rub is a dry blend of ground herbs and spices that is rubbed onto the surface of meat, poultry, or fish to impart an "instant" flavor to the food. To make a wet rub or "paste," simply combine the dry blend with a touch of oil, water, honey, or juice.
S Sauté Quickly cooking foods in a small amount of hot fat in a skillet.
Scald Heating liquid to just under the boiling point. Also refers to placing fruit and vegetables in boiling water for 1 minute to aid in removing the skin.
Scallop Layering sliced food, often potatoes, with sauce or other liquid, and baking in a casserole. The scalloped food is often topped with bread or cracker crumbs before baking.
Score Making shallow cuts, notches or lines on the surface of meat or food to increase tenderness, prevent the fat from curling, or make food look attractive.
Sear Browning the surface of meat quickly in a skillet or grill over high heat or under the broiler to help seal in juices.
Shred Cutting food into narrow strips using a knife, grater or food processor. Cooked meats can be shredded by pulling it apart with two forks.
Simmer Cooking food gently over low heat in liquid that is just below the boiling point (about 180ºF to 210ºF). Bubbles will form slowly and and just begin to break the surface.
Skewer A long, thin, pointed rod of wood or metal upon which food is placed to hold it during cooking or serving. Wood skewers should be soaked in water for at least 15 minutes before use. Also, to position food on a "skewer."
Steam Cooking food on a rack in steam over boiling water in a closed container. The food should not touch the water.
Steep Extracting flavor or color from a food, by placing the food (such as tea, coffee, herbs, or spices) in a heated liquid that is below the boiling point in order to extract flavor or color, as in tea.
Stew Simmering less tender cuts of meat and vegetables in liquid for an extended time.
Stir Mixing ingredients with a circular motion.
Stir-fry Frying thinly and uniformly sliced food quickly in a small amount of hot oil, stirring constantly. Denser foods, such as broccoli and carrots, may need to be sliced thinner and/or cooked before other ingredients are added.
Strain/Drain Removing liquid from food by placing it in a strainer or colander and allowing the excess liquid to drain out.
T Thicken To make a thin paste by mixing flour, cornstarch, or arrowroot with an equal amount of cold water and then stirring the paste into a hot liquid and cooking it, stirring constantly, until the liquid has thickened.
Toasting A technique commonly used with dried seeds such as sesame, cumin and fennel to release maximum aroma and flavor. Low to medium heat is applied to seeds in a dry skillet or baking pan. Should be done right before adding to the recipe.
Toss Gently mixing ingredients together by turning them over using two forks or a fork and a spoon.
W Whip Rapidly beating ingredients, such as egg white or cream, with a whisk, fork, or mixer in order to incorporate air into them to increase their volume until they are light and fluffy.