The Frugal Café | Photo credit: Rebecca Anne, "Flora's Cup"</a> | Creative Commons License, Flickr.com
Photo credit: Rebecca Anne, "Flora's Cup" | Creative Commons License, Flickr.com

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Cooking Basics 101: Cooking Terms Defined

By Vicki McClure Davidson

 

Unless your mother or Home Ec teacher gave you pointers about cooking terms and abbreviations, you likely struggle sometimes when deciphering the directions in a recipe. And if you're unclear about the term "Home Ec," you likely went to high school in the United States after the 1970s.

Home Ec is short for Home Economics, and was the name of the then-mandatory US high school course designed to teach teen pre-homemakers how to cook and sew. With time, and Women's Lib, the course title changed to Bachelor Survival (structured for young men) and was no longer mandatory. This may explain why so many young adults are baffled about cooking basics.

Check out the table below with brief cooking and baking descriptions. Most basic cooking terms that appear in recipes and cookbooks are defined.

 

Basic Cooking Terms

TERM
DEFINITION
al dente Italian term to describe pasta and rice that are cooked until tender but still firm to the bite; Italian translation: "to the tooth."
bain-marie A pan of water that is used to help mixtures, such as custards, bake evenly and to protect them from the direct heat of the oven or stove.
bake To cook in the oven. The terms baking and roasting are often used interchangeably, but roasting involves cooking at a higher temperature—at least at the beginning—to brown the surface of the food.
baste To spoon, ladel, or moisten with a filled baster hot cooking liquid over food at intervals during cooking to moisten and flavor it.
beat To make a mixture smooth with rapid and regular motions using a spatula, wire whisk or electric mixer; to make a mixture light and smooth by enclosing air.
bind To add egg or a thick sauce to hold ingredients together when they are cooked.
blanch To plunge some foods into boiling water for less than a minute and then immediately plunge into iced water. This is to brighten the color of some vegetables; to remove skin from tomatoes and nuts; performed to halt deterioration prior to freezing.
blend To mix two or more ingredients thoroughly together; to not be confused with blending in an electric blender.
boil To cook in a liquid brought to boiling point and kept there.
braise To cook in a small amount of liquid (also called stewing or pot roasting). Not to be confused with poaching, in which the food is completely submerged in simmering liquid; braised dishes use a small amount of liquid.
bread To coat foods to be sautéed or deep-fried with flour or a breadcrumb mixture to create a crust.
broil To cook with a direct heat source, usually a gas flame or an electric coil—above the food.
clarify To make a liquid clear by removing sediments and impurties. To melt far and remove any sediment.
corned To salt and cure a meat, as in corned beef..
coat To dust or roll food items in flour to cover the surface before the food is cooked. Also, to coat in flour, egg, and bread crumbs.
cream To make creamy and fluffy by working the mixture with the back of a wooden spoon. Usually refers to creaming butter or margarine with sugar. Can also be done with an electric mixer.
cube To cut uniformally into small pieces with six even sides (e.g., cubes of meat).
deglaze To dissolve dried-out cooking juices left on the base and sides of a roasting dish or frying pan. Add a little water, wine, or stock, scrape and stir over heat until dissolved. Resulting liquid is used to make a gravy or added to a sauce or casserole for additional full-bodied flavor.
degrease To skim fat from the surface of cooking liquids (e.g., stocks, soups, casseroles, sauces).
dredge To heavily coat with icing sugar, sugar, flour, or corn flour.
drizzle To pour in a fine thread-like stream moving over a surface.
egg wash Beaten egg with milk or water used to brush over pastry, bread dough, or biscuits to give a sheen and golden-brown color.
flake To separate cooked fish into flakes, removing bones and skin, using two forks.
fold in To combine a light, whisked or creamed mixture with other ingredients. This is accomplished by adding a portion of the other ingredients at a time and mix using a gentle circular motion, over and under the mixture so that air will not be lost. Use a spatula.
fry To cook a food in a hot fat.
glaze To brush or coat food with a liquid that will give the finished product a glossy or shiny appearance, and on baked products, a golden-brown color.
grind To pass meats or nuts through a grinder or a food processor to reduce to small pieces.
infuse To steep foods in a liquid until the liquid absorbs their flavor.
julienne To cut some food (e.g., vegetables and processed meats) into fine strips the approximate length of matchsticks. Used for inclusion in salads, vegetable dishes, or as a garnish to cooked dishes.
knead To work a yeast dough in a pressing, stretching, and folding motion with the heel of the hand until it is smooth and elastic so as to develop the gluten strands. Non-yeast doughs should be lightly and quickly handled, as gluten development is not desired.
macerate To stand fruit in a syrup, liqueur, or spirit to give added flavor.
marinate To combine foods, usually meat or fish, with aromatic ingredients for some time to tenderize and add flavor. Liquid marinades include an acid ingredient such as vinegar or wine, oil, and seasonings; dry marinades are usually salt-based.
mask To evenly cover cooked food portions with sauce, mayonnaise, or savory jelly.
pan-fry To fry foods in a small amount of fat or oil, sufficient to coat the base of the pan.
pare To peel the skin from vegetables and fruit. Peel is the popular term, but pare (paring) is the name of the knife used.
poach To simmer gently in enough hot liquid to almost cover the food so shape will be retained.
puree To work or strain foods until they are completely smooth.
sauté To cook over high heat on the stove in a small amount of fat in a sauté pan or skillet.
scald To heat milk just below the boiling point. Or, to immerse a vegetable or fruit in boiling water in order to remove its skin easily.
sear To brown the surface of pieces of meats and or fish by submitting them to intense initial heat.
simmer To cook in liquid just below the boiling point, at about 205 deg F (96 deg C), with small bubbles rising gently to the surface.
skim To remove fat or froth from the surface of simmering food.
stew To cook in a manner similar to braising, but generally involving smaller pieces of meat, and therefore, a shorter cooking time. Also, the dish prepared by using this method of preparation.
stock The naturally flavorful liquid produced when meat, poultry, fish or vegetables have been simmered in water to extract the flavor. Used as a base for soups, sauces, casseroles, etc.
sweat To cook sliced onions or vegetables, in a small amount of butter in a covered pan over low heat, to soften them and release flavor without browning.
whip To beat a preparation with the goal of introducing air into it. Also, the balloon-shaped wire whisk often used to do so.

 

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