Sometimes reading a recipe can be confusing when you don’t know what some of the terms mean. What are some of the most common cooking terms used in recipes? You ask. Read on and I hope to help you solve that mystery.
I was following a recipe for beef stew several years ago. One of the steps was to dredge the stew meat in flour. What? Honestly, I didn’t know what that meant. For some reason the picture of pulling the stew meat through the flour with a certain kitchen tool that I was sure was not in my kitchen, popped into my head.
The term actually means to “lightly cover foods in flour or bread crumbs”. Why couldn’t the recipe just simply state that instead! I’m just a home cook, no fancy culinary background. The easier a recipe the better I like it. As long as the results taste good that is all that really matters. Have you encountered a term you didn’t understand when trying a new recipe?
Common Cooking Terms
- Al Dente: An Italian term that means “to the tooth” it is used to describe pasta that is cooked but still firm.
- AuJus: The natural juices that have not been thickened that collect while roasting meats.
- Bake: To cook in an oven surrounded by dry heat. Always remember to preheat your oven before baking.
- Baste: To moisten foods while cooking by brushing with pan juices, butter, margarine, oil, or a reserved marinade
- Batter: This is a mixture made with flour and a liquid such as milk. It can also include other ingredients such as sugar, butter, shortening or oil, eggs, leaveners, and flavorings. There are different consistencies of batters that range from thin to thick. Thin batters are pourable such as pancakes or cakes. Thick batters can be dropped from a spoon such as quick breads.
- Beat: To mix rapidly with a spoon, fork, wire whisk, or electric mixer.
- Bias Cut: To cut foods diagonally into slices.
- Blanche: To cook for a few minutes in boiling water. This method is used to help remove peels such as tomatoes, to partially cook foods prior to freezing, or as a preparation step in a recipe.
- Blend: To combine several ingredients with a spoon, electric mixer, blender, or food processor.
- Boil: To heat liquids until bubbles form that cannot be stirred down.
- Braise: To cook food slowly in a small amount of liquid in a covered pan either on the stovetop or oven. This is generally used for less tender cuts of meat.
- Breading: A coating of fine bread crumbs or crackers.
- Broil: To cook foods about 4-6 inches from a heat source.
- Brown: To cook foods in a small amount of fat over medium to high heat until the food becomes brown. This method seals in the juices and develops rich pan drippings.
- Caramelize: To heat sugar in a skillet or pan over low heat until the sugar has melted and turns golden brown. This method also refers to cooking onions in butter until soft and caramel-colored.
- Chill: To cool foods to below room temperature by placing them in the refrigerator, freezer, or ice bath. (40 degrees or less)
- Chop: To cut foods into 1/4 to 1/2 inch pieces.
- Coat: To dip or roll foods in flour, bread crumbs, sugar, or a sauce until covered.
- “Coats Spoon”: To leave a thin, even, smooth film on the back of a metal spoon. This is a test for doneness in stirred custards.
- Combine: To mix thoroughly several ingredients in a single bowl.
- Cool: To bring foods to room temperature.
- Core: To remove the seed area of an apple or pear using a coring tool or small knife.
- Cream: To beat softened butter, margarine or shortening either alone or with sugar using a spoon or electric mixer until light and fluffy.
- Cut in: To break down and distribute cold butter into a flour mixture using a pastry blender or two knives.
- Dash: A measurement of less than 1/8 teaspoon that is used for herbs, spices, or hot pepper sauce. This however is not an accurate measurement
- Deglaze: To add water, broth, or wine to a pan to a pan of which meat has been cooked to remove the brown bits to make gravy.
- Dissolve: To stir a solid food with a liquid until none of the solid remains such as yeast with warm water, gelatin in boiling water, or sugar in water.
- Dot: To break up butter into small pieces and distribute it over the top of a pie or dough.
- Dredge: To lightly coat foods with flour or bread crumbs.
- Dress: To toss salads with salad dressing. Also to remove the internal organs of fish, poultry, or game.
- Drippings: The juices and melted fat that collect in the bottom of a pan where meat has been cooked. The juices and some fat from the drippings can be used in gravies and sauces.
- Drizzle: To slowly spoon or pour a thin stream of icing, melted butter, or other liquid over food.
- Dust: To lightly sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar, cocoa, or flour.
- Dutch Oven: A multi-purpose cooking pot that can range in size from 5-8 quarts and is used to roast meats, cook soups and stews, boil pasta, or steam vegetables.
- Egg Wash: A mixture of beaten egg, egg yolk, or egg white and water that is brushed over bread, rolls, pastries, or pie crusts before baking. Egg washes give the final baked product a shiny brown finish.
- Fold: The method of mixing to combine light or delicate ingredients such as whipped cream or egg whites with other ingredients without beating. A rubber spatula is used to gently cut down through the ingredients, move across the bottom of the bowl and bring up part of the mixture.
- Full Rolling Boil: A vigorous boil in which the bubbles cannot be stirred down and continuously break the surface.
- Glaze: To coat the exterior of sweet or savory foods with a thin, glossy mixture.
- Grate: To rub ingredients such as citrus peel, spices, and chocolate over a grater to produce very fine particles.
- Julienne: To cut foods into long, thin matchstick shapes about 2 inches long and 1/2 inch thick.
- Line: To cover a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper, waxed paper, or foil to prevent sticking.
- Marinate: To tenderize and/or flavor foods, usually meat or raw vegetables by placing them in a liquid mixture of oil, vinegar, wine, lime or lemon juice, herbs, and spices.
- Mince: To cut foods into very fine pieces no longer than 1/8 inch
- Poach: To cook meat, fish, eggs, or fruits in hot (160 to 180 degrees) liquid which is just below a simmer.
- Proof: To check the quality of yeast before using. To proof yeast, dissolve yeast and a little sugar in warm water (110 to 115 degrees) and let stand for 5 minutes. If the yeast is alive, there will be a thick foam on the surface. To proof also refers to letting yeast dough rise. Most yeast dough has a double rise, meaning letting the dough rise after mixing and then a second time after it has been shaped and before baking.
- Reduce: To thicken sauces and gravies by boiling down and evaporating a portion of the liquid in an uncovered pan.
- Roast: To cook meat or vegetables in an oven without the addition of liquid. Also, refers to large cuts of meat that are intended to be roasted.
- Roux: A french term for a mixture of flour and fat that is cooked together until golden brown and used to thicken gumbo, soups, and sauces.
- Saute: To cook or lightly brown foods in butter, margarine, or oil until tender.
- Scald: To heat milk or cream over low heat until just before it boils. Look for small bubbles around the edge of the liquid.
- Sift: To pass dry ingredients such as flour or confectioner’s sugar through a fine-mesh strainer or sifter to remove lumps.
- Simmer: To cook liquids alone or a combination of ingredients with liquids just under the boiling point. (180 to 200 degrees). The surface of the liquid will have some movement and there may be small bubbles around the side of the pan.
- Soft Peaks: The stage of beating egg whites or heavy whipping cram when the beater is lifted from the mixture and the points of the peaks curl over.
- Stiff Peaks: The stage of beating egg whites or heavy whipping cream when the beater is lifted from the mixture and the points of the peaks stand straight up.
- Strain: To separate solids from a liquid by pouring through a sieve or colander.
- Tear: To use your hands to pull food apart into uneven pieces, such as when tearing salad greens.
- Toss: To quickly and gently mix ingredients with a spoon or fork. Often done with flour and candied fruit in baked items.
- Warm: To hold foods at a low temperature, usually around 200 degrees, without further cooking.
- Whip: To beat rapidly by hand or with an electric mixer to add air and increase volume.
If you are just learning how to cook I hope these common cooking terms will help you in that journey. There are hundreds of them and I tried to narrow them down to the most common terms. I hope this list will help you with your kitchen adventures and take the guessing out of those confusing recipes.
Have you come across a common cooking term in a recipe that you didn’t know or understand?
Leave me a comment below and tell me your experiences in reading those confusing recipes! As always I love hearing from you.