Cooking and Preparation Terms Glossary
We've all looked at a recipe at one time or another and thought "What the heck is poaching?" or perhaps "How exactly does one fold in batter for that perfect result?" With so many different ways to prepare food, it's hard to keep all the terminology straight and to know exactly what we are expected to do with that pork chop. The following glossary is Recipe4Living's whole-hearted attempt to help you sort through the different terms for food preparation and cooking. Use this as a reference the next time you come across words like "julienne" or just check it out to discover the subtle difference between words like sauté and panfry. For many of the terms, simply click on "Example" to see its usage in different recipes on our site. As always, Recipe4Living invites feedback, so feel free to e-mail us additional queries, terms to add, or general concerns here. Happy cooking!
Al dente – This Italian expression meaning "by the tooth" describes pasta cooked a shorter time so that it has just slight resistance when chewed. Fresh pasta is too soft already to be cooked al dente. The term also describes cooking vegetables until crisp by steaming, boiling, or stir-frying. Example
Bake – To cook in the oven. While roasting is often used as a synonym for baking, the terms are actually different. Roasting describes cooking food at a higher temperature to brown the surface of the food quickly.
Baste– To moisten food during cooking with pan drippings, sauce, or other liquid, often with the help of a baster. Basting prevents foods from drying out.
Beat – To blend a mixture of food quickly with the goal of making it smooth and adding as much air as possible.
Blanch – To submerge foods in boiling water for just a few seconds, remove from the water, and refresh under cold water to stop the cooking process. Blanching is a gentle form of cooking used to loosen skins, firm flesh, and heighten color and flavor. Example
Boil – To heat water until bubbling vigorously and also to cook food in water that is bubbling vigorously. Most often, foods should be poached instead of boiled, because boiling tends to dry out and break down food too much. See definition below for poaching.
Braise – To cook in a small amount of liquid (also called stewing or pot roasting), rather than being submerged in liquid, as in boiling/poaching. Braising usually concentrates the food's flavor in the surrounding liquid for the purpose of making a sauce or coating.
Bread – To coat the surface of a food with a flour or breadcrumb mixture before cooking or frying, usually to create a crunchy surface.
Broil – To cook close to a direct heat source, such as a gas flame or an electric coil. Broiling cooks food in just a couple minutes with a nice browned exterior (especially good for tender steaks).
Caramelize – To gently brown natural sugars and other compounds in foot over low heat to produce a more intense flavor. Aromatic vegetables, especially carrots and onions, and stew meats are often caramelized in a small amount of fat. Example
Chop – To divide into small pieces with a knife or other sharp tool.
Cream – To work shortening (the general term for any fat used to make a soft dough), sometimes with sugar, against the side of a bowl until smooth. When making baked goods, creaming forces tiny air bubbles into the mixture, resulting in a fluffy end product.
Cube – To cut food into smaller pieces, roughly the size of dice. This is somewhat ironic because dicing food produces smaller pieces.
Cure – To treat food by a variety of methods in order to preserve it over long periods of time from bacteria, mold, etc. Pickling soaks food in an acid-based brine (usually vinegar). Corning soaks food in a salt-based brine with other seasonings. Example
Deep-fry – To cook completely submerged in hot oil. If done right, at the proper temperature, foods absorb little oil and are surprisingly light. The moisture in the food actually repels the oil, which heats the water within the food, and steams it from the inside out.
Deglaze – To loosen the cooked ingredients and caramelized juices that have stuck to the bottom of the pan after sautéing or roasting to release the full flavor of the meal. Usually deglazing is done with wine or stock to create a sauce.
Degrease – To skim off fat that forms on the tops of simmering broths, sauces, and other liquids.
Dice – To cut into smaller pieces, roughly the size of 1/4 inch.
Dredge – To coat foods lightly with dry ingredients before cooking. The most common dredge is flour.
Drizzle – To pour a liquid over a food in a thin stream to create a thread-like coating.
Etouffee – The French term à l'étouffée, meaning "to smother or suffocate," refers to a method in which foods are cooked over low heat with a minimal amount of liquid in a tightly covered pan. Example
Flambé – To ignite a sauce or other liquid so that it flames. Liquors such as brandy are essential to flambé, since they ignite easily.
Fine Dice – A cube-shaped cut 1/8 inch in size; brunoise.
Fold – To incorporate dry ingredients or batter into whipped eggs, usually an egg-white foam, without deflating the light and airy texture essential to the finished product. This is done with a rubber spatula by reaching reach down through the center of the egg foam to the bottom of the bowl and lifting up some of the batter on top of the foam. As you turn your wrist to deposit the batter on top of the eggs, you turn the bowl a few degrees, repeating the process until there are no traces of egg white left.
Glaze – To brush a food with sauce, icing, or other topping to create a shiny surface. Meat is often coated with sauce and browned in the oven for a couple minutes to create the glaze.
Grate – To shred food, such as cheese, into small pieces with the use of a grater.
Grill – To cook above a heat source, such as traditional wood coals or charcoal, in the open air. Example
Hull – To remove the outer covering from fruits, nuts or seeds.
Julienne – To cut food, usually vegetables, into thin stick-shaped pieces.
Marinate – To soak a food, usually meat, seafood, or vegetables, in a seasoned liquid mixture, the marinade, so that the food absorbs the flavors of mixture. Marinades also help to tenderize tough meat. Macerate is the term for soaking fruit in a similar manner. Example
Mash – To crush, beat or squeeze food into a soft state by using a fork or a masher.
Match Cut – A long thin cut, ¼ x ¼ x 3 inches; alumette.
Mince – To cut into very fine pieces using a knife, food grinder, blender or food processor.
Panfry – Panfry and sauté both mean to cook quickly in a small amount of hot oil, butter, or other fat. Strictly speaking, panfrying means to cook larger pieces, like meat, in a hot pan, turning only once or twice. Sautéing means to toss foods over high heat.
Parboil – To cook partially in boiling water.
Pare – To cut off the outside covering. Pare is applied to potatoes, apples, etc.
Peel – To strip of the outer covering. Peel is applied to oranges, grapefruit, etc.
Poach – To cook in liquid held just below boiling so it just shimmers slightly on the surface. Example Puree – To grind, chop, or mash a cooked food into a thick paste, usually with the help of a blender or sieve.
Reduce or Reduction – The technique of cooking liquids down so that some of the water they contain evaporates. Reduction is used to concentrate the flavor of a broth or sauce and, at times, to help thicken the sauce by concentrating ingredients such as natural gelatin.
Refresh – To rinse just-boiled vegetables under very cold water to stop their cooking.
Resting – To allow a roasted meat to sit for 20 to 30 minutes after removing from the oven before serving. Roasted meats should always be loosely covered with aluminum foil during resting to keep them warm, but allow the juices to distribute fully throughout the meat.
Roast – To cook in an uncovered pan in the oven to produce a well-browned exterior and a moister, cooked interior. During roasting, no liquid (such as water or wine) comes into contact with the food. Example
Roll – To coat lightly with a powdery substance; to dredge.
Score – To make shallow or deep cuts in a decorative pattern with the point or a knife. Food such as a whole fish is often scored so that it will cook evenly.
Sear – To brown food, usually meat, quickly over very high heat to seal in juices. Thus, seal is often used interchangeably with sear. Searing can be done under a broiler, in a skillet, or in a very hot oven. Example
Shred – To cut into many, very fine strips or pieces.
Sift – To shake through a fine sieve, often to combine dry ingredients like flour and sugar.
Slice – To slice is to cut into even slices, usually across the grain.
Snip – To cut food into small uniform lengths using kitchen shears or a small pair of scissors.
Strain – To pour a liquid through a strainer, sieve, or cheesecloth to remove unwanted particles or to separate out solids. Example
Wedge – A wedge-shaped cut of food, usually a section of a round or oval product such as an apple or lemon.