Culinary Dictionary

Get familiar with these cooking terms

Before you apply to a cooking school (and throughout your education), it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the following terms:

  • À la carte: A menu with each item priced separately. Food is prepared to order.
  • À la mode: A French term meaning "in the manner of". Desserts a la mode are served with ice cream.
  • Al dente: Pasta (and, in some cases, vegetables) cooked only to the point where they have a slightly tender consistency. In other words, they’re intentionally left slightly undercooked.
  • Acidify: To add acid (lemon, juice or vinegar) to a culinary preparation to make your dish a bit sour or piquant.
  • Appetizer: A small portion of food served prior to the main meal. Appetizers may be hot or cold or served as finger food. These can also be called hors d'oeuvres or starters.
  • Au gratin: Foods that have cheese baked into them.
  • Baste: To spoon, brush or pour drippings or liquid over a food prior to or while cooking in order to keep the food moist or to add flavor.
  • Blanch: Briefly cooking food in boiling water, and moving it into cold water to stop the cooking process.
  • Bon appétit: A French phrase meaning have a good meal.
  • Brine: A saltwater solution that can be used to preserve foods.
  • Butterfly: A method of cutting food right down the center, almost completely in half. The item is then pulled open and cooked or fried. The "fan" resembles a butterfly.
  • Chateaubriand: A piece of beef that’s sliced from the center of the tenderloin. It’s then sautéed or grilled.
  • Concassée: Food that’s pounded or roughly chopped. The term is most often used for chopped tomatoes.
  • Consomme: A type of broth that’s similar to a clarified bouillon. Used in sauces and soups.
  • Cut - in: Mixing a solid fat (such as lard or butter) with a dry ingredient (such as flour). This can be done with a pastry blender or by simply using a fork.
  • Dice: Cutting a food item into tiny pieces or cubes, usually only a quarter of an inch in size.
  • Dredge: To coat food with flour, cornmeal or bread crumbs. This is normally done immediately before you intend to fry the food.
  • Entrée - The main course of a meal.
  • Escalope: A thinly-sliced food, such as meat, fish, or a vegetable.
  • Filet mignon: A small, boneless cut of beef from the small end of the tenderloin.
  • Flake: To shred, tear or otherwise transform food into small pieces. It’s often done using a fork.
  • Flambe: To add alcohol to a dish and then ignite it. This is done to sear the outside of the food.
  • Garnish: An edible accompaniment to a dish, used purely to make the dish look more attractive. A garnish may be eaten, but generally that’s not its purpose.
  • Julienne: To cut a food in very thin strips, one or two inches in length.
  • Jus: A lightly reduced stock that’s used as a sauce for roasted meats, such as beef.
  • Kosher: Any food that’s prepared in accordance with Orthodox Jewish law.
  • Marinate: To leave food in a mixture (called a marinade) or a dry rub for an extended time before it’s cooked. This is done to either add flavor to the food or to tenderize it.
  • Mince: To cut food into very small pieces of indiscriminate shape.
  • Paté: A finely-chopped, often seasoned meat usually made from chicken or pork liver. It’s spread on bread or crackers or can be stuffed inside chicken.
  • Poach: To gently cook food in water or a broth. Food should be removed from heat just below the boiling point.
  • Puree: The process of pressing food through a sieve or blending it until it has a smooth consistency.
  • Reduce: Boiling a liquid until some of it has evaporated and it has a lesser volume. This serves to thicken the liquid and intensify its flavor.
  • Sauté: A cooking technique which means to cook food quickly in oil and / or butter over high heat. Common sautéed items include mushrooms and onions.
  • Score: Making shallow cuts in a meat before it’s cooked, which helps to make the meat more tender.
  • Sear: Frying a meat for a very short period at a hot temperature with the goal of sealing in its juices.
  • Simmer: Cooking a liquid at slightly below the boiling point.
  • Skim: To remove fat (and possibly other substances) from the surface of a cooked liquid, or one that’s cooking.
  • Steam: To cook a food in a perforated container that’s suspended over boiling water.
  • Stock: A broth made from cooking meat, fish or vegetables. It’s the basis for soup making.
  • Zest: The skin of a citrus fruit. Only the colored layer should be included, not the white.
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