Glossary of Helpful Basic Cooking Terms

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When you are cooking and baking you are going to come across terms that are not familiar to you. We know this is going to be a very helpful resource and take some of the mystery out of baking and cooking. It is not every single term out there, but a great deal of the common ones.


Aromatics These are ingredients that give flavor and scent to a dish. Examples are herbs and spices, that are used in cooking or in raw form added to a cooked dish.

Arrowroot This is a starch that is made from the root of a tropical plant. Arrowroot is used to thicken sauces. Arrowroot powder gives a clearer, less sticky effect than cornstarch. You just add in the same way as cornstarch, but cook only until just boiling.


Bake Baking means to cook by dry heat, and is generally done in an oven.

Barbecue Barbecuing method means to broil or roast on a rack or in a spit. Barbecuing is done on a gas or electric barbecue or charcoal.

Baste You can use a basting bulb or a large spoon to put hot fat or liquid several times over food as it roasts.

Beat This means to stir vigorously in a circular motion. You can use a whisk or a spoon and you beat to make a lightness in a mixture.

Bechamel This is a white sauce made with milk in is infused with seasonings. The sauce is thickened with butter and flour.

Bind To moisten with liquid to keep a mixture together.

Blanch Blanching removes strong flavors from vegetables. First you immerse the vegetables in cold water, then bring to a boil. As soon as it comes to a boil drain before it cooks any more. Green vegetables should be put directly into boiling water and cooked for up to one minute.

Blend To stir a mixture until it is completely combined and smooth.

Boil To cook in water or stock at 212 degrees F (100 celsius). It is the point when water bubbles vigorously.

Bone To remove all bones from meat, fish or poultry with a small sharp knife.

Bouillon Can be either meat or vegetable stock. When using commercial bouillon premade, they are often pretty salty, so add less salt to your recipe when seasoning. You can always adjust salt to taste at the end of a recipe.

Bouquet garni Traditionally it was bunch of parsley, thyme and bay leaves tied with string or in a enclosed into a piece of cheesecloth. The purpose was for flavoring stews and sauces. You can use any variety of herbs. The bouquet garni is removed from the dish before serving.

Braise After browning meat in fat or oil, braising means to cook slowly with a moist heat, which means using a small amount of liquid, in a tightly covered container. Brasing is very suited to tougher cuts of meat requiring slow cooking.

Brine A brine consists of a salt and water solution used in preserving meats and fish and poultry and certain recipe preparations.

Brochette This is a combination of small pieces of meat,fish or poultry with vegetables, broiled on a skewer, either is made of metal or bamboo to make a kebab.

Broil Broiling is done with direct heat. A way to cook meat, fish, and poultry which is done usually under a gas or electric broiler OR over a charcoal, gas or electric barbecue fire.

Butter Beurre blanc:, This is a suce of butter,made with white wine or white vinegar, fish stock and chopped shallots. It is served with poached or boiled fish.

Beurre noisette This is butter that is cooked to a nut-brown color, preferably using clarified butter.


Caramelize There are two methods. (1)Is to dissolve sugar slowly in water then boil it steadily until it is a deep honey color. You do not stir it while it is boiling. (2)To give a nice caramel topping to a dessert surface, you sprinkle the surface of the dessert with granulated sugar and then you either can broil under the broiler or use a small kitchen torch to heat the sugar, turning it into a thin caramel topping.

Casserole This covers a variety of foods baked in a Dutch oven or a stewing pot. They can be stews made from meat, fish or poultry with vegetables cooked in a liquid or sauce. The cooking is done slowly in the oven, or you can do it on the stove top.

Chapon Is a crust of regular bread or French bread that is rubbed with a peeled garlic glove. This then gets buried in a salad and it imparts a light flavor of garlic to the salad. The capon gets removed once the salad has been tossed with dressing.

Chill When you chill food, you refrigerate, or you can put over ice, but you do not freeze.

Chop This term is used when you cut small uneven pieces with a sharp knife.

Chowder Soups based on fish or shellfish are considered chowders. Chowders can also be made with meats or vegetables. Most fish and seafood chowders have a milk base that has been seasoned. With chowders food are cooked until they are tender, but you do not puree a chowder.

Clarify The process by which you remove impurities by melting used fat. Example is beef drippings, add 1/3 quantity of water, boil, strain and cool. When the fat is set, scrape any sediment from base of solidified fat.

Clarify Butter To clarify butter, heat gently until foaming,skim well, leave to set to a solid cake. The sediment(the milk solids) at the bottom is discarded.

Compote Fresh or dried fruit in a syrup that is usually made from water and sugar.

Concasser To shred coarsely or to chop roughly. This usually applies to tomatoes that have first been peeled, halved and then gently squeeze to remove seeds.

Condiment Is highly flavored sauce, relish or seasoning.

Consomme Clear soup made from flavored meat stock that is concentrated and clarified before serving. Can be served hot or cold.

Cool A term you see in so many recipes meaning to lower to room temperature.

Cornstarch A thickening agent made from very fine corn flour.

Cream To beat a substance, usually a fat, like butter, until it is soft enough that is would almost slip off a spoon.

Crepe Is a very thin pancake that can be sweet or savory.

Croquette This is a savory mixture you shape into balls, rounds or cones, coat with egg and breadcrumbs and fried in deep fat. Generally ingredients include meat, hard-cooked egg,or fish, that is bound with thick bechamel sauce. Also can be mashed potatoes.

Croute A small round or decorative shape of bread that is lightly toasted or fried then spread or piled high with a savory mixture. This is also used as a garnish.

Crouton Small square toasted or baked bread pieces to accompany soups or salads.

Curdle Curdling occurs when a smooth mixture separates into solid and liquid parts. It is often due to the action of an acid or of heat.

Custard Cooked mixture of eggs and milk that is usually sweetened.


Deglaze A process that after removing excess fat, to heat stock and or wine together with sediments left in the roasting or frying pan so that the gravy or sauce is formed.

Degorger The process to remove impurities and strong flavors before cooking. This can be done a few ways. (1) Soaking food: For example; uncooked ham should be soaked in cold water for a specific length of time. (2) Sprinkling food with salt: For example; sliced vegetables such as cucumber with salt, then covering with a heavy plate and leaving up to one hour. Then, washing away the salt and pressing out the excess liquid with a weighted plate.

DiceThe process of cutting meat, fruit and vegetables into small squares about 1/4 inch in size.

Dissolve Is to melt a solid substance by mixing it into a liquid substance and if necessary to apply heat.

Dough A dough is a basic mixture composed of a flour, a liquid and a fat used for bread and pastry.


Entree This is main course of a meal. It sometimes gets confused because in France the entree is the appetizer.

Escalope This is a process to pound a thin slice of meat or chicken very flat.


Flamber To add flavor by adding warmed brandy, spirits or sherry over food then igniting to burn off the alcohol and continuing to cook.

Flan A shallow pastry pan that is similar to a pie shell but it is molded into a metal ring that is set on a baking sheet. Flan can also mean a baked custard.

Fold A process by which yo umix a very light substance with a heavier one so as little lightness as possible is lost. The mixture must be lifted from beneath and folded over and not stirred in a circle.

Freeze This is to chill below freezing point of water.

Fricadeller Ground and raw meat shaped into small balls and fried.

Fricassee (1) It is reheated, cooked chicken in a white sauce. (2) It is a stew of meat, poultry, fish or vegetables usually served in a white sauce.

Fritter Fritters can be made from raw meat or cooked vegetable or fresh fruit that is dipped in batter then fried in deep fat.

Fry There are three methods: (1) Dry: to cook meat over high heat in fat or oil that is barely covering the base of the frying pan. (2) Shallow: To cook eggs, fish or breaded chips briskly without burning in 1/4 to 3/4 inch of fat or oil. (3) Deep fat frying: Is to immerse the fry food that is generally protected with a batter, or breadcrumbs or flour into fat or oil. Most deep frying is meant to seal foods and fat should be very hot. Strain used fat and keep covered for future use. You should keep deep frying fats separate, such as fat used for fish should only be used for fish, and for sweets only for sweets. The flavors contaminate the fats and food flavor will be passed from food to food. Drain deep-fried foods on paper towels or wire racks before serving.


Homogenized And example is homogenized milk. It is an emulsified liquids with fat particles broken up and dispersed.

Hors d'oeurve A first course of assorted appetizers that can be hot or cold, bite sized snacks. These are generally served before the first course of a meal.


Infuse A method of drawing flavor into a liquid by steeping in warm and not necessarily boiling water.

Julienne Here are two meanings: (1) Fine matchstick strips of vegetables usually 1/8 inch thick by 1 1/2 to 2 inches long. Can also refer to meat cut that way. (2) A clear vegetable soup to which a mixture of finely shredded cooked vegetables are added. It is similar to a consomme.


Knead Refers to working a dough until it is a smooth and elastic texture. The original method is to do this by hand and is important in bread making.

Lard This is rendered pork fat that is used for frying or used as shortening.

Liason Is a mixture for thickening or binding sauce, gravy or soup. Examples of liasons: A roux, egg yolks, cream and kneaded butter.


Macerate This process is to soak or infuse, usually fruit in a liqueur or syrup.

Marinate Marinating is to soak raw meat, fish or poultry in a cooked or uncooked spiced liquid which is called a "marinade". This marinade can be made of wine, oil, herbs and vegetables and is soaked for hours and sometimes days before cooking. This softens, tenderizes and flavors. A marinade can also be used to make the final sauce. Always use a non-porous container such as glass, stainless steel or a glazed enamel to withstand the effects of the acid in the wine or vinegar.

Marmelade This is not to be confused with marmalade preserve or jam made from citrus fruit. Marmelade is fruit stewed and reduced to a thick almost solid puree or butter and it is used as a pie or flan filling.

Meringue Is a light airy mixture made by beating egg whites with sugar.

Mousse A Sweet Mousse is made from eggs, sugar and cream with flavoring such as chocolate, coffee or fruit. It is a sweet, smooth airy rich mixture. A Savory Mousse is made from salmon, lobster, veal, chicken, cheese or vegetables and is usually served chilled. Powdered gelatin may be used for setting the mousse.

Noisette There are 3 meanings. (1) A small 'nut' of rolled meat withought the bone, example noisette of lamb. (2)To be flavored with hazelnuts. (3) A nut-brown color, for example to cook butter to a noisette.

Organic Means anything living that is grown or raised without chemical fertilizers or pesticides,or without artificial growth enhancers.


Parboil This method is to boil until just half-cooked, as with potatoes before you roast them.

Pare To pare is to remove a very thin layer from the surface of vegetables and fruits with a sharp small knife or peeler.

Pasta Is a paste based on flour and water and cut into different shapes. Some examples are spaghetti and macaroni.

PastryPasta is a basic mixture of flour and water and it can have additions of butter, margarine or shortening as well as water, milk, sugar and eggs. Difference combinations produce different types of crusts such as pie, flaky, puff and choux.

Pectin This is a substance contained in some fruits and vegetables that acts as a setting agent for jams and jellies.

Pickles A method using a brine to preserve vegetables such as cucumbers and onions, preserved in spiced vinegar.

Pit To remove the stones or seeds from fruit.

Pith This is the white part of citrus fruits between the peel and the flesh.

Poach A method of cooking gently in trembling (not boiling) liquid.

Pound A method to reduce to a powder or smooth paste generally using a mortar and pestle, but if you don't have that you can use a heavy bowl and the end of a rolling pin.

Praline This is a flavoring of caramelized sugar and almonds that is used in sweet dishes.

Puree This term applies to fruit, vegetables and meats that are usually precooked then sieved or blended to a thick cream consistency.

Quiche A savory custard, that can be flavored with any combination of cheese, ham or fish and baked in a pie shell.


Raqout Brown stew cooked slowly without thickening.

Rare Underdone, a deep pink color when applies to roasted and broiled meats.

Reduce This means to boil down a sauce or a liquid to a concentrate flavor and to thicken the consistency in the process.

Refresh A process of pouring cold water over previously branched and drained food. This process will 'set' vegetable colors.

Refrigerate Is to store food at temperatures above freezing (40 degrees F) so that bacteria that can cause spoilage are relatively inactive.

Render This means to melt down fat gently into dripping in the oven and then strain, or you can boil with a little water and strain when clean.

Roast This is to cook by direct heat. An example is when oven roasting, a meat should be set on a rack in the roasting pan with fat, and it should be well basted during the cooking process.

Roux A roux can be white, blond or brown in color. It is a mixture of fat and flour and is the basis of all flour sauces. The amount of fat added is generally about the same as that of the flour. To make a roux, melt the fat, stir in the flour (off the heat) and pour onto the water, stock or milk. Stir over heat until the roux thickens. Season it, bring to a boil and cook as directed in a recipe.


Saute A method in which you brown food in butter or oil and butter. Sometimes food is completed in a saue made with food in a saute pan.

Scald We have two explanations: (1) To plunge into boiling water for easy peeling. (2) to heat a liquid, such as milk to just under the boiling point.

Score This is a process to mark with a series of shallow even cuts.

Sear To seal in valuable juices of foods, usually meat by browning or frying over fierce heat for a short time. Searing often precedes making a stew or casserole.

Seasoning Salt and pepper, and also other flavorings. To 'correct' seasoning is to taste towards the end of the cooking process to see if more salt, pepper or other flavors are needed and then to adjust accordingly.

Shortening Is a fat which, when worked into flour gives a 'short' crisp quality to pastry and cakes. This includes lard, and vegetable shortenings. Fasts with the least liquid have the greatest shortening power.

Shred To shred is to cut or break into uneven strips.

Sieve A method in which to work through a sieve or food mill to obtain a puree.

Sift A method in which to shake a dry, powdered substance through a sieve or sifter to remove and lumps and to give it lightness.

Simmer Is to cook liquid at 195 degrees F. or just below the boiling point so bubbles occasionally break the surface.

Skim This done to remove impurities such as fat and scum from the surface of sauces, soups and stocks. You do it when the liquid has been slowly brought to a boil.

Souffle This dish is similar to a mousse but is is a lighter consistency made with beaten egg whites. It can be hot or cold, sweet or savory. Traditionally, it should rise 1-2 inches above the rims of a straight-sided serving dish.

Steam Is to cook steadily in a closed container over a half-filled pan of steadily boiling water. The food must not touch the water.

Stew This is a process to cook meat, vegetables, fish or poultry slowly in liquid in a covered pan. It is well suited to coarse-fiber meats. A Brown Stew is lightly browned meat in fat or oil before adding the liquid. A White Stew is to put the meat into cold water and bring to a simmering point.

Stock This is liquid that is made by simmering either meat, bones, vegetables or any combination in water for several hours. It is used for making gravy, sauces and soups. Fish stock is made from simmering fish bones with root vegetables along with herbs and seasoning for 20 minutes.

Syrup We have three explanations of different syrup. (1) Sugar and water boiled together to a specific temperature. It is used for poaching and candying fruit that is added to fresh fruit salads and other items. (2) It is a liquid derived from other sources of sugar such as maple syrup or corn syrup. (3) Stock syrup is made from 1 cup granulated sugar dissolved in 2 cups of water over gentle heat and brought to a boil. It is then boiled for 10 minuts. It is used for mixing with icing to give it a glossy appearance.


Tenderize A method of breaking down tough fibers in meat by either heating, marinating or beating with a mallet.

Vinaigrette This is a cold salad dressing made with oil and vinegar and flavored with chopped fresh herbs.

Vol-au-vent Case of puff pastry filled with small pieces of cooked meat, poultry or shellfish in a thick sauce.

Water bath A method in which a large pan of simmering water, is used to cook at a temperature just below the boiling point. It is used in the preparation of sauces, creams and food liable to curdle or stick to the pan if cooked over direct heat. It can be done in the oven or on the top of the stove. A double boiler gives a similar result. Sauces and other delicate dishes may be kept hot in a water bat at less than simmering heat.

Whisk To whisk is to beat fast in a circular motion so that a mixture is made lighter by incorporating air. You can accomplish this with an electric mixer on high speed, with a rotary beater, or a balloon whisk.



Return to this Glossary of Helpful Basic Cooking Terms article or check out more recipes at Grandmother's Kitchen

References: Grand Diplome Cooking Course (1972, Hardcover), William Anne. Danbury Press.

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