Recipe Terms 101

If you have ever come across a step in a recipe that confuses you or leaves you clueless, don’t worry!  Whether you’re a beginner in the kitchen, trying to stray away from microwave meals, or trying to perfect your cooking skills, these terms are all important to know. Here is a list with the most popular steps in a recipe and exactly what they mean!  Keep this list handy so that you can master any recipe that piques your interest or catches your eye.

Food Preparation Terms

  1. Blanch- cooking fruits or vegetables in boiling water to lock in their color and flavor before placing in ice water to immediately stop the cooking.
  2. Chop- cut food into small, bite sized, even pieces using a sharp knife. Often the recipe specifies what size the pieces should be.
  3. Dice- very similar to chopping, but when dicing, the food is cut into very small pieces (about half the size of “bite sized” pieces).
  4. Dilute- thinning a liquid to reduce the intensity of the flavor, usually done by adding water. Recipes should specify how much water to use and the ratio of water to the concentrated flavor.
  5. Emulsify- mixing together two liquids that do not blend together (ex. oil and vinegar) and adding an emulsifying agent (with oil and vinegar, mustard is often used in salad dressings) to mix the liquids or by slowly whisking the liquids together.
  6. Grease- spreading a thin layer of butter or oil on the cooking surface to prevent food from sticking.
  7. Mince- cut food into the smallest pieces you can (even smaller than dicing)

Cooking Terms

  1. Al dente- usually referring to pasta; cooking to be slightly firm , but not hard. Literal translation: Italian for “to the tooth.”
  2. Braise- gently cooking food in a small amour of liquid in a covered pan on top of the stove. This method yields a flavorful and moist result!
  3. Broil- cooking under direct heat in the oven, usually to melt cheese or make the top golden brown. This is often used for macaroni and cheese or lasagna.  Most ovens have a “broil” setting, but watch the food closely as it can burn quickly!
  4. Caramelize- literally this means the “browning of sugar”, it is placed in a pan until the sugar is brown and has a nutty flavor. This also refers to the sugars in vegetables and is often used when cooking onions by cooking them slowly, on low heat, and in a little bit of olive oil until brown and shiny.
  5. Poach- cooking food by placing it in a pot of seasoned, simmering liquid. The recipe will specify what seasonings to use, the time for cooking, and what the food should look like when it’s cooked. This method is often used with eggs but can also be used with fish, poultry and meat.
  6. Score- cutting small slits into food (often when grilling meats and vegetables) to allow the sauces and marinades to penetrate the surface, adding more flavor to the food.
  7. Sear- quickly browning meat in a pan with the burner set on “high” to seal in the flavorful juices.

Baking Terms

  1. Beat- mix all ingredients to an even, smooth consistency using a fork, spoon, electric mixer or whisk.
  2. “Coats Spoon”- mixing your ingredients together enough so there is a thin, even layer of batter on the spoon after dipping it into the batter.
  3. Cream- beating together one or more ingredients (usually room temperature butter or margarine and sugar) until the mixture is smooth and fluffy. Test the butter by cutting into it with a knife; if it offers some resistance, it is perfect for creaming.  If it is too oily, it is over- softened!
  4. Dash- a measurement of an ingredient that is less than 1/8 of a teaspoon.
  5. Dust- sprinkling lightly with flour, sugar or cocoa.
  6. “Fold In”- very gently combining a heavy mixture with a lighter one (ex. beaten egg whites or whipped cream are folded into a heavier mixture) to avoid losing the air in the light mixture. Use a spatula with a gentle, light hand.  This is usually done when making cakes from scratch.
  7. Stir- combining ingredients with a spoon or whisk using large motions so all of the ingredients blend together.

Now that you have an understanding of many basic cooking terms, trying to follow recipes should be less daunting. If you are a brand new cook, realize that you may make some mistakes along the way when first getting started, but you have heard the saying “Practice Makes Perfect.” Ultimately, basic cooking is an important skill to master, and who knows, you may even find cooking therapeutic.  You’re on your way to becoming an expert chef!

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One Comment

  1. The Cordon Bleu School is waiting for you. I printed this article and put in with my “personal favorites” cookbook. Thanks.

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