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Know Fare

Understanding some basic kitchen lexicon can help you avoid some major rookie mistakes when creating that next treat or meal.

Article
Tiffany Duncan
Photos
Chelsi Fisher
Posted
May 28, 2018

Cooking can be a challenge when you really start to get into it.

There’s nothing worse than getting halfway through a recipe, hands messy from handling ingredients, and having to stop and grab your phone to Google an unknown term. Then mid-Google, your slippery hand might cause you to drop said phone into the mixing bowl or mixer still going full tilt. Luckily, once you’ve survived the ensuing mini heart attack and realize your phone is miraculously unharmed, you realize there’s a lot you have to learn in the kitchen.

Knowing a few basic definitions while cooking can save you from accidentally feeding your unsuspecting spouse three entire heads of garlic in a spaghetti recipe because you thought that’s what the recipe meant by “three cloves of garlic,” or attempting to consume the bay leaf floating innocently in the bottom of your soup bowl.

Here is a basic kitchen lexicon to assist you in avoiding some major rookie mistakes.

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Al dente
A term for cooking pasta until it is still just slightly underdone and firm. Some recipes will call for this if the noodles will also be added to a soup or casserole for further softening while cooking.

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Aromatics
Can be viewed as the basic building blocks of soups, stir fries, sauces, pasta dishes, chili, etc., and include but are not limited to diced onions, carrots, celery, garlic, and ginger. The aromatics are simmered together at the start of a recipe in a few tablespoons of oil or butter, and are mainly responsible for giving a dish its rich, deep, and complex flavor.

In Cajun cooking, aromatics are referred to as the Holy Trinity: onion, celery, and green bell pepper.

In French cooking, it’s the mirepoix: onions, carrots, celery, and sometimes leeks.

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Blanch
A technique used to soften, partially cook, subdue a strong taste, and/or remove color from a vegetable or fruit, and sometimes also nuts like almonds or pistachios. Blanching is done by placing the designated food substance in boiling water for a brief interval and then removing it to ice-cold water (called “shocking”) to stop the cooking process.

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Braise
Perhaps the best way to achieve a delicious, melt-in-your-mouth pot roast that will also make your home smell like heaven as it cooks. Braising is the process of searing the outsides of a meat, placing it in a pot with a lid, and letting it stew for hours in the oven at a low temperature (“low and slow”). Two key factors in braising are “deglazing” the pot (see below) and always keeping the meat at least halfway submerged in a cooking liquid, like red wine or beef broth, to make it tender and melty.

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Brine
A popular method used to prep a turkey, brining means to submerge and soak a food substance — most often meat — in extremely salty water to tenderize it.

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Broil
To place under an extremely high temperature in the oven for a short time. A popular method for achieving toasted garlic bread or cooking fish.

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Brown
To cook all the way through.

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Caramelize
Depending on what you are doing, caramelize can mean two different things: in dessert-making, caramelizing means to heat sugar until it liquefies, or also to apply direct heat to sugar to toast it (like in crème brulee); in cooking, caramelizing means to draw out the natural sugars in a meat or food substance, often by searing over high heat, sautéing in butter, or adding actual sugar to assist with the caramelizing process.

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Cheesecloth
Resembling gauze, cheesecloth is very tightly woven cotton primarily used in cheese-making but also has a variety of other uses. It can be used to strain out moisture, strain unwanted particles from a liquid, or to make an herb pouch to contain herbs while simmering.

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Cornstarch
Used as a thickening agent for things like soup or stir-fry sauce, make sure you never directly add cornstarch to hot liquids. Always mix it in a small bowl with cold water first, or else it will turn into hard white clumps when it hits the hot liquid.

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Cream of Tartar
It has nothing to do with tartar sauce. Cream of tartar is an acidic byproduct of wine production and has multiple uses in baking, including making cookies extra soft, keeping egg whites stable, and keeping fluffy desserts light and airy.

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Crush
Meaning to compress forcefully, this term is often used in reference to garlic or herbs. Crushing garlic means to turn it almost into a paste, which can be done by mincing the garlic finely and then pressing down with the back of a knife repeatedly. Crushing herbs, often done with a mortar and pestle, is a way to really bring out the aromatics of an herb to better flavor a dish.

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Deglaze
To deglaze a pan means to add a liquid (often wine, broth, or water) to a hot skillet or pot to assist in removing the burned-on bits left behind after searing meat with a spatula. These burned-on bits pack a ton of flavor and will greatly enhance a pot roast. Don’t waste them.

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Dredge
Also referred to as “breading,” dredging means to dip wet or battered meat and vegetables in a dry substance (crushed cornflakes, panko bread crumbs) before dropping in hot oil to be fried.

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Emulsify
To combine two ingredients that don’t normally mix, like oil and vinegar. To do this, you’ll need an emulsifying agent that acts as a “bridge” between the two, like eggs in combining lemon juice and oil in mayonnaise, or whole-grain mustard in a vinaigrette.

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EVOO
Whenever you see this in a recipe, it’s simply an abbreviation for extra-virgin olive oil.

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Fish Sauce
Made from pulverized anchovies or fish covered in salt and fermented anywhere 12 to 18 months or more, fish sauce is an indispensable ingredient in Asian and Thai cuisine, lending that deep umami flavor.

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Fold
Fold means to very gently mix in an ingredient with a rubber spatula — never an electric mixer. This recipe directive is often seen when adding egg whites or chocolate chips into a batter.

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Parboil
Parboiling is somewhat similar to blanching in that a food substance is added to boiling water to partially cook it before further cooking, like roasting in the oven or adding into a stew. It differs from blanching in that there is no plunging in ice water to halt the cooking process. 

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Poach
Not just limited to eggs, poaching is a gentle cooking technique that uses a liquid — such as water, wine, milk, or stock — to submerge meat, fish, fruit, or other delicate foods. Because poaching utilizes a much lower heating temperature than boiling or simmering, there’s much less agitation in the water, and it also results in a very moist finished product. Fish is a good candidate for poaching because it is easy to overcook or dry out using other cooking methods.

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Reduce
To simmer a liquid down into a thick syrup or sauce. Flavor will also intensify during reduction.

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Roux
A roux is a mixture of flour and fat (especially butter) cooked together and used to thicken up sauces.

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Sear
To cook something over high heat for a short amount of time, browning or caramelizing the outsides but leaving the inside uncooked.

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Simmer
Bringing the water temperature to just below a boil. Instead of roiling bubbles breaking the surface, simmering will look like pockets of tiny, continuous bubbles gently popping through the surface.

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Zest
If a recipe says to “zest” a lemon or lime, it means to scrape off the outside of the fruit skin. This can be done with a zester, which looks like a cheese grater but with smaller grating holes.