The Cooking Language Decoded: Don’t Call Yourself a ‘Chef’ Without Knowing these Terms

I used to sit in my grandmother’s kitchen and watch Julia Child (full disclosure-I love Julia Child) for hours. She julia childwas so real and funny. She knew how to make you feel that you could cook anything. Because of her, I used to think how cool it would be to be a chef. Obviously, I didn’t take that road, but I have never given up the dream of becoming a chef not just a cook (I know that isn’t going to happen, but I still dream about it). Now I spend my time in the kitchen at the computer trying to create recipes that taste good, look good and are good for you. But what good is a great recipe if you don’t know what the words mean? There is a whole other language that is spoken in the cooking world. Some words you can guess the meaning, but for others you need a food dictionary. So I thought it would be a good idea to put together a list of the most common words in the cooking language. Keep it handy and soon no recipe will be out of reach.

Preparation Jargon

It’s true what they say about a bad cut-it can be quite traumatic. That applies not only to hair, but also food. Cutting your ingredients the right way is essential if you want a great end product. Here are the most common “cuts.”

  1. Chop -To cut into bite-sized pieces with quick, heavy blows of the knife.
  2. Cube -To cut into little cubes that are usually ½ -1 inch.
  3. Dice -To cut into really tiny cubes that are anywhere from ¼’ to 1/8 of an inch.
  4. Grate -To take a large piece of something and make it smaller by rubbing against a coarse surface. Usually requires some type of grater.
  5. Julienne -To cut into long skinny strips that are 2 inches long and 1/16th of an inch wide.
  6. Mash -To make food soft by crushing, beating or squeezing with a fork or masher.
  7. Mince -To finely cut something as small as possible using a knife, grinder, blender or food processor.
  8. Pare -To cut off the outside covering of items such as potatoes and apples.
  9. Peel -To strip the outer covering of foods like oranges and grapefruits.
  10. Score -To make shallow or deep cuts in a decorative pattern with a point or knife. This allows food to cook more evenly.
  11. Shred -To cut into very fine strips or pieces.
  12. Slice -To cut into even slices, many times across the grain.
  13. Snip -To cut into small uniform lengths using kitchen shears.

Cooking 101 – Terms

Once you have your food prepped and ready to go, it’s important to cook it the right way. Here’s what all those fancy cooking terms really mean:

  1. Bake -To cook in the oven.
  2. Blanch -To plunge food into boiling water for a few seconds (up to a minute or two) and then immediately place in cold water. This is used to loosen skin, brighten color and enhance flavor.
  3. Braise -To cook in a small amount of liquid in order to concentrate flavor.
  4. Broil -To cook close to a direct heat source. This will cook your meat quickly and give a nice brown exterior.
  5. Grill -To cook above a heat source (gas, charcoal, wood) in the open air.
  6. Pan -fry-To cook larger pieces of food in a small amount of hot fat, turning only once or twice.
  7. Parboil -To cook partially in boiling water.
  8. Poach -To cook in a shallow pan of water that is just below boiling.
  9. Reduce -To cook liquids down so that some of the water evaporates.
  10. Roast -To cook, uncovered, in an oven with the goal to produce a well-browned exterior and moister cooked interior. No liquid should contact item being roasted.
  11. Sear -To cook quickly over a high heat so that juices are sealed inside. Can be done in very hot oven, under a broiler or in a skillet.

Other cooking terms to know

There are few other terms that you need know if you want to make it in the kitchen:

  1. Al dente -Usually used to describe how to cook pasta. It is when pasta is cooked for shorter period of time so it has a slight resistance when chewed. Fresh pasta can’t be cooked this way, as it is too soft to start with.
  2. Beat -To blend quickly in order to add as much air as possible so that the end result is smooth.
  3. Cream -To work a fat against the side of the bowl until smooth adding tiny air bubbles to the mix. Many times sugar is also included.
  4. Drizzle -To pour a liquid over a food in a thin stream.
  5. Fold -To incorporate a delicate substance, such as whipped cream or beaten egg whites, into another substance without releasing air bubbles. Cut down through mixture with spoon, whisk, or fork; go across bottom of bowl, up and over, close to surface. The process is repeated, while slowing rotating the bowl, until the ingredients are thoroughly blended.
  6. Resting -To allow a roasted meat or turkey to sit for 20-30 after removing from the oven before slicing. Loosely cover item with foil to maintain heat.
  7. Sift -To shake through a fine sieve to combine dry ingredients.

Now it’s time to start mastering the cooking language so head to your kitchen and get cooking. Bon Appetite!

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