Culinary Glossary

Check back often because we may add to this glossary of culinary terms.

Al Dente: Pasta that is cooked until it has a slight resistance to a bite. This is often considered the perfect consistency. Pasta has a lower glycemic index (less impact on blood sugar) when cooked al dente. 

Au Gratin: To top with cheese or breadcrumbs mixed with bits of butter, then heated in the oven or broiler until browned.

Au Jus: To serve with the natural juices or gravy.

Bake: Cook by dry heat in an oven or to cook pancakes on a griddle.

Baking sheet: Good baking sheets (also called cookie sheets) are thick, and the best are insulated. Nonstick baking sheets can make life easier.

Baking (Pizza) Stone: It is best to bake pizza and bread directly on a hot surface, and a baking stone provides the hot surface needed.

Barbecue: To roast meat slowly on a spit or grill over coals, or in the oven, basting frequently with a highly seasoned sauce.

Bard: To tie fat, such as bacon, around lean meats or fowl to prevent their drying out during roasting.

Baste: To moisten foods during cooking with drippings, water, or seasoned sauce to prevent drying or to add flavor.

Beat: To work a mixture smooth with a regular, hard, rhythmic movement.

Binder: A thickening agent for soups, sauces, and other mixtures, eggs, roux, or other starches like flour, cornstarch, and arrowroot. Also referred to as a liaison.

Blanch: To immerse fruits or nuts in boiling water to remove skins or make easy to peel; also, to dip fruits and vegetables in boiling water in preparation for canning, freezing, or drying. Blanching uncut cruciferous vegetables (such as brussel sprouts, broccoli, and cauliflower) reduces sulforaphane content. Adding mustard seed, horseradish, or wasabi after cooking but prior to eating also increases sulforaphane. 

Blend: To mix two or more ingredients until smooth and uniform.

Blind Bake: To bake a pie crust before it is filled to create a crisper crust. To prevent puffing and slipping during baking, the pastry is lined with foil and filled with pie weights, dry beans, or uncooked rice. These are removed shortly before the end of baking time to allow the crust to brown.

Bloom: To moisten gelatin in a small amount of water before dissolving it in hot liquid.

Boil: Cook in boiling liquid in which bubbles rise vigorously to the surface. The boiling point of water is 212 F at sea level.

Braise: To brown meat or vegetables in a small quantity of hot fat, then to cook slowly in a small amount of liquid either in the oven or on top of the stove. Braising is an ideal way to prepare less tender cuts of meat, firm fleshed fish, and vegetables.

Breading: A coating of bread, cracker, or other crumbs that has been applied to food.

Brine: A strong solution of water and salt used for pickling, preserving, and tenderizing foods. Herbs, spices, or sweetener such as sugar or molasses is sometimes added to flavor the brine. 

Broil: Cook by exposure to direct heat under the broiler of a gas or electric range, in an electric broiler, or over an open fire.

Brown:To cook food quickly on top of the stove (in fat or without fat), under a broiler, or in the oven to develop a richly browned, flavorful surface and help seal in the natural juices.

Bruise: To partially crush an ingredient in order to release its flavor. Bruising garlic clove with the flat side of a knife, for example, crushes without cutting it.

Brush: To spread food with butter or margarine or egg, using a small brush.

Butterfly: To split a food such as shrimp, boneless lamb leg, or pork chop, horizontally in half, cutting almost but not all the way through, then opening (like a book) to form a butterfly shape. Butterflying exposes more surface area so the food cooks evenly and more quickly.

Candy: To cook fruit in a heavy sugar syrup until transparent, then drain and dry. Also, to cook vegetables with sugar or syrup to give a coating or glaze when cooked.

Caramelize: To melt sugar slowly over very low heat until sugar is liquid, deep amber in color and caramel flavored.

Chill: To refrigerate food or let it stand in ice or iced water until cold. Cooking potatoes then chilling them prior to reheating, for example, lowers their glycemic impact by approximately 40%. 

Chop: To cut food into small pieces with a knife or small cutting appliance. Chop garlic, for example, ten minutes prior to use to maximize its health benefits. 

Chow (Stir-fry): A basic cooking method in Oriental kitchens. Generally a wok is used, but you may use a frying pan. The food is tossed about in a hot pan with very little oil in a process not unlike sautéing.

Clarify: To clear a liquid, such as consommé, by adding slightly beaten egg white and egg shells; the beaten egg coagulates in the hot liquid and the particles that cause cloudiness adhere to it. The mixture is then strained.

Coat: To roll foods in flour, nuts, sugar, crumbs, and so forth until all sides are evenly covered or to dip first into slightly beaten egg or milk, then to cover with whatever coating is called for in a recipe.

Coats Spoon: When a mixture forms a thin, even film on the spoon.

Coddle: To cook slowly and gently in water just below the boiling point. Eggs are frequently coddled.

Combine: To mix various ingredients together.

Cook: To prepare food by applying heat in any form. Vegetables cooked whole retain more nutrients. 

Core: To remove the core or center of various fruits, such as apples, pears, and pineapple, and vegetables, such as lettuce and cabbage. Coring eliminates small seeds or tough and woody centers. There are many creative uses for cores if you are looking to reduce food waste. Cores of vegetables are often high in fiber. 

Correct the seasoning: To check for salt, pepper, or herbs to make sure the dish has turned out as expected. Herbs, for example, provide flavor and have antioxidant and antiinflammatory benefits. 

Cream: To rub, whip, or beat with a spoon or mixer until mixture is soft and fluffy. Usually describes the combining of butter and sugar for a cake.

Crimp: To pinch or press dough edges (especially pie crust edges) to create a decorative finish and/or to seal two layers of dough so the filling does not seep out during baking. Edges of parchment or foil may also be crimped to seal in food and its juices during cooking.

Crisp: To make firm and brittle in very cold water or in the refrigerator (lettuce or other greens, for example).

Curdle: To coagulate or separate into solids and liquids. Egg- and milk-based mixtures are susceptible to curdling if they are heated too quickly or combined with an acidic ingredient, such as lemon juice or tomatoes.

Cut: To break up food into pieces with a knife or scissors.

Cut In: To mix shortening with dry ingredients, using a pastry blender, knife, or fork. Usually applied to pastry making.

Deep-Fry: Cooking in enough fat to cover the food completely. The aim is to produce foods with a crisp golden-brown crust and a thoroughly cooked interior without letting them absorb too much fat. The kind, quantity, and temperature of the fat are important in accomplishing this result.

Deglaze: After meats or vegetables have been browned, wine or stock is added to the pan over high heat, and the rich coloring that remains in the pan is gently scraped with a wooden spoon and combined with the wine or stock.

Devein: To remove the dark intestinal vein of a shrimp by using the tip of a sharp knife, then rinsing the shrimp in cold water.

Develop: Allow food to sit for a time before serving so the flavors have a chance to blend or brighten. Allowing vegetables to sit after cutting is often also beneficial for developing more phytonutrients. 

Devil: To coat with a hot seasoning, such as mustard or a hot sauce. Eggs are "deviled" when the yolk is mixed with highly spiced seasonings.

Dice: To cut food into small cubes of uniform size and shape, usually about 1/4 inch in size.

Dissolve: To make a liquid and a dry substance go into a solution.

Dot: Scatter small amounts of specified ingredients, usually butter, or nuts, chocolate, and so forth on top of food. This adds extra richness and flavor and helps promote browning.

Dredge: To sprinkle, coat or cover with flour, crumbs, cornmeal or other seasoned mixture.

Drizzle: To slowly pour a liquid, such as melted butter or a glaze, in a fine stream, back and forth, over food.

Dust: To sprinkle a food or coat lightly with flour, sugar, cornmeal, or cocoa powder.

Emulsify: To bind liquids that usually cannot blend smoothly, such as oil and water. The trick is to add one liquid, usually the oil, to the other in a slow stream while mixing vigorously. You can also use natural emulsifiers (egg yolks or mustard) to bind mixtures like vinaigrettes and sauces. Vinegars as part of a meal may help to balance blood sugar. 

Ferment: To bring about a chemical change in foods or beverages. Beer, wine, yogurt, buttermilk, vinegar, cheese, and yeast breads all get their distinctive flavors from fermentation. Fermenting vegetables is one of the safest preservation techniques, increases available nutrients in the vegetable, adds flavor, and helps support the gut microbiome. 

Filet: A strip or compact piece of boneless meat or fish.

Flambe: To sprinkle with brandy or liqueur and ignite and serve flaming.

Fold or Fold In: To combine two ingredients or two combinations of ingredients by two motions; cutting vertically through the mixture and turning over and over by sliding the implement (usually a rubber spatula or wire whisk) across the bottom of the mixing bowl with each turn.

Fork-tender: A degree of doneness for cooked vegetables and meats. You should feel just a slight resistance when food is pierced with a fork.

Fricassee: To cook pieces of fowl or meat by braising and serving with a thickened sauce.

Fry or Pan-Fry: To cook a small amount of fat on top of the stove; also called "saute " and "pan-fry.” Using an oil appropriate for the temperature at which your cooking is important to avoid the formation of harmful compounds and unpleasant tastes. 

Garnish: To decorate any food. Nuts, olives, parsley, citrus zest, and so forth are called garnishes when used to give a finish to a dish. Microgreens are a nutrient dense garnish option. 

Glace: To coat with a thin sugar syrup cooked to the crack stage.

Glaze: To cover with aspic; to coat with a thin sugar syrup; to cover with melted fruit jelly. Cold meats, fish, fruit, and so forth are often glazed.

Grate: To rub on a grater to shred or flake.

Grill: See "Broil." Herbs and spices such as basil, mint, rosemary, sage, savory, oregano, and thyme contain antioxidants that help reduce the carcinogenic heterocyclic amines that form when grilling meat.  Additionally marinating with a vinegar based sauce (without sugar) may also be beneficial. 

Hack: When cutting up chickens or thin boned meats, one "hacks" with a cleaver, thus cutting the meat into large bite-size pieces and retaining the bone. The presence of the bone will keep the meat moist during cooking.

Julienne: Food cut into very thin strips.

Knead: To work and press dough with the heels of your hands so the dough becomes stretched and elastic.

Lard: To insert strips or pieces of fat into uncooked lean meat for added flavor and moisture; or, slices of fat may be spread on top of uncooked lean meat, meatloaf, or fish for the same purpose.

Leavening: Any agent that causes a dough or batter to rise. Common leaveners include baking powder, baking soda, and yeast. Natural leaveners are air (when beaten into eggs) and steam (in popovers and cream puffs).

Liqueur: A sweet, high-alcohol beverage made from fruits, nuts, seeds, spices, or herbs infused with a spirit such as brandy or rum. Traditionally served after dinner as a mild digestive, liqueurs can also be used in cooking.

Lukewarm: At a temperature of about 95 F. Lukewarm food will feel neither warm nor cold when sprinkled on or held to the inside of the wrist.

Marinate (Marinade): To let foods stand in a marinade, usually an acid-oil mixture of oil and vinegar or wine, often flavored with spices and herbs.

Melt: To heat solid food, like sugar or fat, until it becomes liquid.

Mince: To cut with a knife or scissors into very fine pieces.

Mix: To stir, usually with a spoon, until ingredients are thoroughly combined.

Pan-broil: To cook, uncovered, on a hot surface, usually a skillet. The fat is poured off as it accumulates.

Pan-fry: To cook or fry on top of the range in a hot, uncovered skillet with little or no fat. Steaks, chops, and potatoes are frequently cooked this way.

Parboil: To boil until partially cooked.

Pare: To cut away the coverings of vegetables and fruits.

Pasteurize: To sterilize milk by heating, then rapidly cooling it.

Peel: To strip or slip off outer coverings of some fruits or vegetables. Often the skin of vegetables is high in nutrients (especially phytonutrients) and fiber. When possible, not peeling vegetables like carrots increases the nutritional value of the carrot. 

Pinch: The amount of a powdery ingredient you can hold between your thumb and forefinger—about 1/16 teaspoon.

Pickle: To preserve fruits, vegetables or meats in a brine.

Pipe: To force a food (typically frosting or whipped cream) through a pastry tip to use as a decoration or garnish, or to shape dough, such as that for éclairs.

Pit: To remove the seed or pit.

Plank: To bake or broil meat, fish, or vegetables on a wooden or metal plank.

Poach: To cook eggs, fish, chicken, fruit, and other delicate foods in hot liquid (below the boiling point), being very careful that food holds its shape.

Pot-roast: To brown meat in a small amount of fat, then finish cooking in a small amount of liquid. Moist methods of cooking help vegetables retain their nutritional value, especially when the liquid is consumed as part of the meal. 

Pound: To flatten meats and poultry to a uniform thickness using a meat mallet or rolling pin. This ensures even cooling and also tenderizes tough meat by breaking up connective tissues. Veal and chicken cutlets are often pounded.

Preheat: To heat the oven to stated temperature before using.

Prick: To pierce a food in many or a few places. You can prick a food in order to prevent buckling (an empty pie crust before it is baked, for example) or bursting a potato before baking or sausages before cooking.

Proof: To test yeast for potency; if you're not sure if yeast is fresh and active, dissolve it in warm water (105 to 115 F) with a pinch of sugar. If the mixture foams after five to ten minutes, then the yeast is fine to use. Proofing also refers to the rising stage for yeast dough.

Punch down: To deflate yeast dough after it has risen, which distributes gluten (the elastic protein in flour that gives bread its strength) and prevents dough from over-rising. Punch your fist in the center of the dough, then pull the edges toward the center.

Puree: To force vegetables, fruits, and other foods through a fine sieve, food mill, or ricer or blend in an electric blender or food processor to remove skins, seeds, and so forth to produce a fine-textured substance.

Reconstitute: A procedure used for preparing dried foods, whereby the product is soaked in fresh water for a time.

Reduce: To evaporate some of the liquid in stock or sauce by boiling.

Render: To heat meat fat, cut into small pieces, until fat is separated from connective tissues. The clear fat is strained before being used in cooking. The crisp, brown bits left in the skillet—delicious but high in fat—are called cracklings.

Roast: Cook (bake) by dry heat in an oven, on a spit in an oven, over charcoal, or in an electric rotisserie.

Roux: A blend of flour and oil or butter used to thicken sauces and gravies. The fat and flour are mixed together in equal amounts over heat. If a white roux is desired, the melting and blending are done over low heat for a few minutes. If a brown roux is desired, the flour is cooked in the fat to the desired degree of brown.

Rubbed: When whole-leaf herbs, such as sage or bay leaves, are crushed in the hands so that their oils are released, the herbs are then referred to as having been rubbed.

Saute: To fry lightly until golden and tender in a small amount of hot fat on top of range, turning frequently. From the French word that means "to jump."

Scald: To heat liquid just below the boiling point; milk has reached a scalding point when film forms on the surface.

Scallop: To arrange foods in layers in a casserole (such as scalloped potatoes) with a sauce or liquid, and then bake. Usually has a topping of bread crumbs.

Score: To cut narrow grooves or gashes part way through fat in meats before cooking (e.g., in steaks to prevent curling) or to cut diamond-shaped gashes through fat in ham just before glazing.

Scramble: To stir or mix foods gently while cooking as with eggs.

Sear:To cook at a very high temperature, either on top of range or in the oven, for a short time to quickly form a brown crust on the outer surface of meat.

Shave: To cut wide, paper-thin slices of food, especially Parmesan cheese, vegetables, or chocolate. Shave off slices with a vegetable peeler and use as garnish.

Shirr: To break eggs into a dish with cream or crumbs, then bake.

Shot: A liquid measure that amounts to very little of taste. A shot of wine is about one ounce, but a shot of Tabasco is less than 1/16 teaspoon.

Shred: To cut food into slivers or slender pieces, using a knife or shredder.

Shuck: To remove the shells of oysters, mussels, or clams or the husks of corn.

Sift: To put dry ingredients through a fine sieve.

Simmer: To cook in a liquid that is kept just below the boiling point; bubbles form slowly and break below the surface. Consume the cooking liquid when possible to obtain the most nutrients from your vegetables (think soup, stock, sauces, etc.). 

Skewer: A long, thin metal or wooden pin used to secure or suspend meat and/or vegetables during cooking. To thread foods, such as meat, fish, poultry, or vegetables on a wooden or metal skewer so they hold their shape during cooking.

Skim: To remove fat or froth from the surface of a liquid, such as stock or boiling jelly.

Steam: To cook on a rack or holder over a small amount of boiling water in a tightly covered container. Steaming is one of the best ways to cook vegetables if looking to retain the most nutrients. Avoid over-steaming by stopping when the color of the vegetable is bright and it is still somewhat firm. 

Steep: To allow food, such as tea, to stand in hot liquid to extract flavor and/or color. Steeping fresh herbs at cool temperatures extracts fewer tannins and can make for enjoyable herbal infusions in the summer. 

Sterilize: To heat in boiling water or steam for at least twenty minutes until living organisms are destroyed.

Stew: To cook foods in enough liquid to cover, very slowly—always below the boiling point.

Stir: To mix, usually with a spoon or fork, until ingredients are worked together.

Stir-fry (chow):A basic cooking method in Oriental kitchens. Generally a wok is used, but you may use a frying pan. The food is tossed about in a hot pan with very little oil in a process not unlike sautéing.

Stock: A liquid in which vegetables or meat has been cooked. Stocks are a great way to utilize vegetable scraps (and reduce wasted food) while adding flavor and nutrients. 

Sweat: To sauté over low heat with a lid on. This method causes steam and expedites the cooking time.

Temper: To heat food gently before adding it to a hot mixture so it does not separate or curdle. Often eggs are tempered by mixing with a little hot liquid to raise their temperature before they are stirred into a hot sauce or soup.

Tender-crisp: The ideal degree of doneness for many vegetables, especially green vegetables. Cook them until they are just tender but still retain some texture.

Terrine: A dish used for the cooking and molding of coarse-ground meat loaves. Also the meat itself. The dishes are found in many styles and materials.

Toast: To brown and dry the surface of foods with heat, such as bread and nuts.

Toss: To tumble ingredients lightly with a lifting motion as in a salad.

Truss: To tie meat with metal or wooden pins or skewers, or string, to help meat hold its shape during cooking.

Whip: To rapidly beat eggs, heavy cream, and so forth to incorporate air and expand volume.

Whisk: To beat ingredients (such cream, eggs, salad dressings, sauces) with a fork or the looped wire utensil called a whisk so as to mix or blend or incorporate air.

Zest: To remove the colored peel of a citrus fruit. Use a grater, zester. or vegetable peeler to remove the outermost part, avoiding the bitter white pith underneath. The peel itself is often referred to as zest.