If you're a new chef you may have noticed that the culinary world has its own set of terms and definitions. You may encounter a number of these even in the most basic of recipes. Getting to know these terms can help new recipes run smoothly and make cooking more enjoyable! We've compiled a list here of some of the most common words for a quick reference:
Al Dente – To cook until just firm. This term is often used for pasta but can also be used for vegetables. This term comes from Italian “to the tooth.”
Baste – To moisten food while cooking to prevent drying.
Braise – To first cook by browning and then cooking slowly in a closed container at a lower temperature.
Broil – A technique that uses the dry heat of the oven. This is different from baking because it uses direct intense heat and often is used for meat and fish.
Caramelize – This term traditionally applied to sugar; however you can caramelize lots of things! It essentially means to heat slowly until the color changes to a golden or a dark brown.
Dash – This a measurement term for a very small amount of an ingredient. It is generally equivalent to 1/16th of a teaspoon.
Dollop – Also a measurement term, a dollop is a small amount of an ingredient, served in a round shape. This is normally used for foods such as sour cream, whipped cream, sauces, jams, and is often placed on top of a dish when serving. The actual quantity of a dollop is contested, but generally it’s around a tablespoon.
Dredge – This technique is used to coat wet foods with dry ingredients prior to cooking. You can either roll or pull the wet ingredient through the dry ingredients to cover evenly.
Fillet – This is either a boneless piece of meat, or the process of preparing a section of meat. Usually referring to chicken or fish, to fillet is to slice away from the bones.
Julienne – This is also referred to as the French cut. To julienne is to cut an ingredient into thin, long strips resembling matchsticks. This is normally applied to firm vegetables.
Mince – This is a preparation technique referring to dividing an ingredient into small, uniform pieces. Check out our blog on Everyday Culinary Tips to learn more about mincing.
Parboil – To parboil is to partially boil food. This is often used to retain the color of food and food should be rinsed in cold water after it is just softened but not cooked through in boiling water.
Pinch – This is a term of measurement used to describe an ingredient amount slightly larger than a dash. Generally, if you can pinch it between two fingers, you’ve got a pinch. This is about 1/8th of a teaspoon.
Scald – To heat a liquid to just below the boiling point. Bubble should be seen around the edges of the pot but should not reach a full boil in order to scald.
Sear – To brown the surface of food very quickly on high heat. This is normally used when preparing meat to seal in the meat’s juices.
Scant – This refers to a measurement that is loosely packed. For example, a scant cup of berries is a scoop of berries that is not level, and not packed tightly.
Smidgen – Generally, this is an even smaller measurement than a dash. Around 1/32nd of a teaspoon, a smidgen is a few shakes of a spice jar.
Steep – The act of soaking an ingredient in a liquid, usually water. This process softens the ingredient and releases flavors of the ingredient into the liquid.
Zest – Cutting or shaving the outer rind of unwaxed citrus fruits. This is often used to add flavor and aroma to food. There are zesting tools you can buy which are essentially very fine graters or small peelers to achieve this technique.
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