Food & Drink

Cooking terms

Al dente: Italian for “to the tooth.” It describes pasta that is cooked until it offers a slight resistance when bitten into, rather than cooked until soft.

Bake: To cook food, covered or uncovered, using the direct, dry heat of an oven. The term is usually used to describe the cooking of cakes, other desserts, casseroles and breads.

Baste: To moisten foods during cooking or grilling with fats or seasoned liquids to add flavor and prevent drying.

Beat: To make a mixture smooth by briskly whipping or stirring with a spoon, fork, wire whisk, rotary beater or electric mixer.

Bias-slice: To slice a food crosswise at a 45-degree angle.

Blackened: A popular Cajun cooking method in which seasoned fish or other foods are cooked over high heat in a super-heated heavy skillet until charred, resulting in a crisp, spicy crust. At home, this is best done outdoors because of the large amount of smoke produced.

Blanch: To partially cook fruits, vegetables or nuts in boiling water or steam to intensify and set color and flavor. This is an important step in preparing fruits and vegetables for freezing. Blanching also helps loosen skins from tomatoes, peaches and almonds.

Blend: To combine two or more ingredients by hand, or with an electric mixer or blender, until smooth and uniform in texture, flavor and color.

Boil: To cook food in liquid at a temperature that causes bubbles to form in the liquid and rise in a steady pattern, breaking at the surface. A rolling boil occurs when liquid is boiling so vigorously that the bubbles can't be stirred down.

Braise: To cook food slowly in a small amount of liquid in a tightly covered pan on the range top or in the oven. Braising is recommended for less-tender cuts of meat.

Breading: A coating of crumbs, sometimes seasoned, on meat, fish, poultry and vegetables. Breading is often made with soft or dry bread crumbs.

Brine: Heavily salted water used to pickle or cure vegetables, meats, fish and seafood.

Broil: To cook food a measured distance below direct, dry heat. When broiling, position the broiler pan and its rack so the surface of the food (not the rack) is the specified distance from the heat source. Use a ruler to measure this distance.

Brown: To cook a food in a skillet, broiler or oven to add flavor and aroma, and develop a rich, desirable color on the outside and moistness on the inside.

Butterfly: To split food, such as shrimp or pork chops, through the middle without completely separating the halves. Opened flat, the split halves resemble a butterfly.

Candied: A food, usually a fruit, nut or citrus peel, that has been cooked or dipped in sugar syrup.

Caramelize: To brown sugar, whether it is granulated sugar or the naturally occurring sugars in vegetables. Granulated sugar is cooked in a saucepan or skillet over low heat until melted and golden. Vegetables are cooked slowly over low heat in a small amount of fat until browned and smooth.

Carve: To cut or slice cooked meat, poultry, fish or game into serving-size pieces.

Chiffonade: In cooking, this French word, meaning “made of rags,” refers to thin strips of fresh herbs or lettuce.

Chill: To cool food to below room temperature in the refrigerator or over ice. When recipes call for chilling foods, it should be done in the refrigerator.

Chop: To cut foods with a knife, cleaver or food processor into smaller pieces. If a recipe says to cut into chunks, that means irregularly shaped pieces, about 11/2 inches to 2 inches in size. Cubes are about 1-inch square pieces of food. Dice means to cut up something into small cubes, between 1/4 inch and 1/2 inch.

Coat: To evenly cover food with crumbs, flour or a batter. Often done to meat, fish and poultry before cooking.

Cream: To beat a fat, such as butter or shortening either alone or with sugar, to a light, fluffy consistency. Can be done by hand with a wooden spoon or with an electric mixer. This process incorporates air into the fat so baked products have a lighter texture and a better volume.

Crimp: To pinch or press pastry or dough together using your fingers, a fork or another utensil. Usually done for a pie crust edge.

Crisp-tender: A term that describes the state of vegetables that have been cooked until just tender but still somewhat crunchy. At this stage, a fork can be inserted with a little pressure.

Crush: To smash food into smaller pieces, generally using hands, a mortar and pestle or a rolling pin. Crushing dried herbs releases their flavor and aroma.

Curdle: To cause semisolid pieces of coagulated protein to develop in a dairy product. This can occur when foods such as milk or sour cream are heated to too high a temperature or are combined with an acidic food, such as lemon juice or tomatoes.

Cut in: To work a solid fat, such as shortening, butter or margarine, into dry ingredients. This is usually done with a pastry blender, two knives in a crisscross fashion, your fingertips or a food processor.

Dash: Refers to a small amount of seasoning that is added to food. It is generally between 1⁄16 and 1⁄8 teaspoon. The term is often used for liquid ingredients, such as bottled hot pepper sauce.

Deep-fry: To cook food by completely covering with hot fat. Deep-frying is usually done at 375 degrees.

Deglaze: Adding a liquid such as water, wine or broth to a skillet that has been used to cook meat. After the meat has been removed, the liquid is poured into the pan to help loosen the browned bits and make a flavorful sauce.

Dip: To immerse food for a short time in a liquid or dry mixture to coat, cool or moisten it.

Direct grilling: Method of quickly cooking food by placing it on a grill rack directly over the heat source. A charcoal grill is often left uncovered, and a gas grill is generally covered.

Dissolve: To stir a solid food and a liquid food together to form a mixture in which none of the solid remains. In some cases, heat might be needed for the solid to dissolve.

Dredge: To coat a food, either before or after cooking, with a dry ingredient, such as flour, cornmeal or sugar.

Drizzle: To randomly pour a liquid, such as powdered sugar icing, in a thin stream over food.

Dust: To lightly coat or sprinkle a food with a dry ingredient, such as flour or powdered sugar, either before or after cooking.

Emulsify: To combine two liquid or semi-liquid ingredients, such as oil and vinegar, that don't naturally dissolve into each other. One way to do this is to gradually add one ingredient to the other while e_SDHpwhisking rapidly with a fork or wire whisk.

Fillet: A piece of meat or fish that has no bones. As a verb, fillet refers to the process of cutting meat or fish into fillets.

Flake: To gently break food into small, flat pieces.

Flour (verb): To coat or dust a food or utensil with flour. Food can be floured before cooking to add texture and improve browning. Baking utensils sometimes are floured to prevent sticking.

Flute: To make a decorative impression in food, usually a pie crust.

Fold: A method of gently mixing ingredients without decreasing their volume. To fold, use a rubber spatula to cut down vertically through the mixture from the back of the bowl. Move the spatula across the bottom of the bowl, then bring it back up the other side, carrying some of the mixture from the bottom up over the surface. Repeat these steps, rotating the bowl one-fourth of a turn each time you complete the process.

French: To cut meat away from the end of a rib or chop to expose the bone, as with a lamb rib roast.

Frost: To apply a cooked or uncooked topping, which is soft enough to spread but stiff enough to hold its shape, to cakes, cupcakes or cookies.

Fry: To cook food in a hot cooking oil or fat, usually until a crisp brown crust forms. To pan-fry is to cook food, which might have a very light breading or coating, in a skillet in a small amount of hot fat or oil. To deep fat-fry (or french fry) is to cook a food until it is crisp in enough hot fat or oil to cover the food. To shallow-fry is to cook a food, usually breaded or coated with batter, in about an inch of hot fat or oil. To oven-fry is to cook food in a hot oven, using a small amount of fat to produce a healthier product.

Garnish: To add visual appeal to a finished dish.

Glaze: A thin, glossy coating. Savory glazes are made with reduced sauces or gelatin; sweet glazes can be made with melted jelly or chocolate.

Grate: To rub food, such as hard cheeses, vegetables, or whole nutmeg or ginger, across a grating surface to make very fine pieces. A food processor also can be used.

Grease: To coat a utensil, such as a baking pan or skillet, with a thin layer of fat or oil. A pastry brush works well to grease pans. Also refers to fat released from meat and poultry during cooking.

Grind: To mechanically cut a food into smaller pieces, usually with a food grinder or a food processor.

Ice: To drizzle or spread baked goods with a thin frosting.

Juice: The process of extracting juice from foods.

Knead: To work dough with the heels of your hands in a pressing and folding motion until it becomes smooth and elastic. This is an essential step in developing the gluten in many yeast breads.

Marble: To gently swirl one food into another. Marbling is usually done with light and dark batters for cakes or cookies.

Marinate: To soak food in a marinade. When marinating foods, do not use a metal container, as it can react with acidic ingredients to give foods an off flavor. Always marinate foods in the refrigerator, never on the kitchen counter. To reduce cleanup, use a plastic bag set in a bowl or dish to hold the food you are marinating. Discard leftover marinade that has come in contact with raw meat. Or if it's to be used on cooked meat, bring leftover marinade to a rolling boil before using to destroy any bacteria that might be present.

Mash: To press or beat a food to remove lumps and make a smooth mixture. This can be done with a fork, potato masher, food mill, food ricer or electric mixer.

Measure: To determine the quantity or size of a food or utensil.

Melt: To heat a solid food, such as chocolate, margarine or butter, over very low heat until it becomes liquid or semi-liquid.

Mince: To chop food into very fine pieces, as with minced garlic.

Mix: To stir or beat two or more foods together until they are thoroughly combined. Can be done with an electric mixer, a rotary beater, or by hand with a wooden spoon.

Moisten: To add enough liquid to a dry ingredient or mixture to make it damp but not runny.

Pan-broil: To cook a food, especially meat, in a skillet without added fat, removing any fat as it accumulates.

Parboil: To boil a food, such as vegetables, until it is partially cooked.

Pare: To cut off the skin or outer covering of a fruit or vegetable, using a small knife or a vegetable peeler.

Peel: The skin or outer covering of a vegetable or fruit (also called the rind). Peel also refers to the process of removing this covering.

Pinch: A small amount of a dry ingredient (the amount that can be pinched between a finger and the thumb).

Pipe: To force a semisoft food, such as whipped cream or frosting, through a pastry bag to decorate food.

Pit: To remove the seed from fruit.

Plump: To allow a food, such as raisins, to soak in a liquid, which generally increases its volume.

Poach: To cook a food by partially or completely submerging it in a simmering liquid.

Pound: To strike a food with a heavy utensil to crush it. Or, in the case of meat or poultry, to break up connective tissue in order to tenderize or flatten it.

Precook: To partially or completely cook a food before using it in a recipe.

Preheat: To heat an oven or a utensil to a specific temperature before using it.

Process: To preserve food at home by canning, or to prepare food in a food processor.

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 process or mash a food until it is as smooth as possible. This can be done using a blender, food processor, sieve or food mill; also refers to the resulting mixture.

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 as the base of a sauce. When reducing liquids, use the pan size specified in the recipe, as the surface area of the pan affects how quickly the liquid will evaporate.

Rice: To force cooked food through a perforated utensil known as a ricer, giving the food a somewhat ricelike shape.

Roast, roasting: A large piece of meat or poultry that's usually cooked by roasting. Roasting refers to a dry-heat cooking method used to cook foods, uncovered, in an oven. Tender pieces of meat work best for roasting.

Roll, roll out: To form a 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 a dough or pastry, with a rolling pin.

Sauté: From the French word sauter, meaning “to jump.” Sautéed food is cooked and stirred in a small amount of fat over fairly high heat in an open, shallow pan. Food cut into uniform size sautés the best. Ingredients being sautéed shouldn't brown.

Scald: To heat a liquid, often milk, to a temperature just below the boiling point, when tiny bubbles just begin to appear around the edge of the liquid.

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 a food, such as carrots.

Sear: To brown a food, usually meat, quickly on all sides using high heat. This helps seal in the juices and can be done in the oven, under a broiler or on top of the range.

Season to taste: Taste what you are seasoning. Salting a dish as it cooks has a different effect than salting at the end.

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 rind. Working over a bowl to catch the juice, cut between one orange section and the membrane, slicing to the center of the fruit. Turn the knife and slide it up the other side of the section along the membrane, cutting outward. Repeat with remaining sections.

Shred, finely shred: To push food across a shredding surface to make long, narrow strips. Finely shred means to make long thin strips. A food processor also can be used. You can shred lettuce and cabbage by thinly slicing them.

Shuck: To remove the shells from seafood, such as oysters and clams, or the husks from corn.

Sieve: To separate liquids from solids, usually using a sieve.

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: To cook food in a liquid that is kept just below the boiling point; a liquid is simmering when a few bubbles form slowly and burst just before reaching the surface.

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 you thread them to prevent burning.

Skim: To remove a substance, such as fat or foam, from the surface of a liquid.

Slice: A flat, usually thin, piece of food cut from a larger piece. Also the process of cutting flat, thin pieces

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 a food in the vapor given off by boiling water.

Steep: To allow a food, such as tea, to stand in water that is just below the boiling point in order to extract flavor or color.

Stew: To cook food in liquid for a long time until tender, usually in a covered pot. The term also refers to a mixture prepared this way.

Stir: To mix ingredients with a spoon or other utensil to combine them, to prevent ingredients from sticking during cooking, or to cool them after cooking.

Stir-fry: A method of quickly cooking small pieces of food in a little hot oil in a wok or skillet over medium-high heat while stirring constantly.

Toast: The process of browning, crisping, or drying a food by exposing it to heat. Toasting coconut, nuts and seeds helps develop their flavor. Toasting also is the process of exposing bread to heat so it becomes browner, crisper and drier.

Toss: To mix ingredients lightly by lifting and dropping them using two utensils.

Whip: To beat a food lightly and rapidly using a wire whisk, rotary beater or electric mixer to incorporate air into the mixture and increase its volume.

Zest: The colored outer portion of citrus fruit peel. It is rich in fruit oils and often is used as a e_SDHpseasoning. To remove the zest, scrape a grater or fruit zester across the peel; avoid the white membrane beneath the peel because it is bitter.

Source: Better Homes & Gardens and Kitchen Sense by Mitchell Davis