So you’re ready to join the ranks of Masterchef, but you don’t know the difference between a confit and coulis. Check out the list below to help you talk like a pro. And if you’re ready to launch yourself into the big time, get a leg up with this course on safe food handling.
Most culinary terms are ones we’ve borrowed from the French. France is still the place to learn the basics of modern cuisine. If you haven’t been, start saving. And before you do learn some French so you can properly say, “May I please wash your tasting spoons for you, O Mighty One?”
A la minute—The opposite of fast food, this is food cooked to order.
Amandine—Garnished or cooked with almonds.
Amuse Bouche—Literally translated, this is something to amuse the mouth. It’s a tiny super-savory single bite to get you excited for the meal.
Aperatif—A cocktail served before the meal.
Barding—A technique wherein you tie fattier meat—like bacon—around lean meat to prevent it from drying out while cooking.
Basting—Tossing stock, butter or pan juices over the item you’re cooking to prevent it from drying out and to boost flavor.
Brining—Soaking raw meat in a bath of water, salt, sugar and often other flavors to keep the meat moist during cooking.
Bain Marie—A water bath. You place a smaller dish inside of a larger shallow dish of water. Often used for crème brulee and other custards.
Bisque—Traditionally, a rich shellfish soup made with the shells of the animal and cream.
Blanch—To cook in rapidly boiling water for a short time. Often followed by an ice bath.
Blind bake—The practice of baking before the final cooking as in with pastry. This ensures liquid fillings don’t affect the integrity of the shell or make it soggy.
Boil—if you don’t know this one, you definitely shouldn’t be in the kitchen.
Braise—A long slow cooking method that tenderizes meat or vegetables in a small amount of stock or wine—usually done after an initial pan browning.
Brunoise—a very fine and precise dice.
Caramelize—To heat sugars until they turn brown (also natural sugars like those in onions.)
Chiffonade—Quick ribbon-like cuts usually a term used for herbs or leafy greens.
Chinois—A fine mesh strainer.
Compote—A dessert or fruit-based accompaniment that is usually a mixture of fruit and sugar.
Confit—Originally a preservation technique, confit is the process of cooking and storing meat in its own dense fat where bacteria can’t thrive.
Consommé—A clarified stock that is completely clear.
Coulis—A think sauce made from pureed fruits or vegetables.
Crudites—Raw vegetables, often served as an appetizer.
Deglaze—Using wine or stock to remove the brown fond (see below) from the cooking pan.
Demi Glace—A rich brown sauce made from reduced veal and beef stock.
Dice—Cut into cubes
Digestif—Specifically, it’s a cocktail served after the meal to help you digest. Nowadays, it’s the polite way to be a booze hound. “I couldn’t possibly have another glass of wine, but I could go for a digestif…”
Double Boiler–A bowl placed on top of a pot of simmering water (used to create indirect and consistent heat for fragile sauces or tempering chocolate.)
Dredge—Coating an item in flour or breadcrumbs.
Dutch oven–A thick-walled, often cast iron, cooking pot with a tight fitting lid.
Duxelles—A mix of chopped mushrooms and shallots.
Egg Wash—Used mostly on pastry, an egg wash is simply a beaten egg that has been brushed on the surface of the dough before cooking to create a brown and glossy sheen.
Emulsion—A mixture of two liquids that are usually unmixable. Adding acid or whisking rapidly are two ways to make an emulsion.
En Croute—In a crust.
En Papilliote—Usually something en papilliote is something baked inside a parcel of baking paper creating a moist heat cooking environment.
Entrée—In American, an entrée is the main dish. In French, it’s the starter.
Filet—A cut of meat or fish that has been deboned.
Flambé—To cook with fire by setting alcohol alight.
Florentine–Originally, cuisine relating to Florence, ‘Florentine’ has come to mean the use of spinach in a dish.
Foil—A flavor used to contrast or enhance other flavors. Alternatively, foil can be used to describe the repetition of flavors over the course of the meal.
Fond—Those lovely brown bits at the bottom of your pan that’s the fond (the base of a great sauce.)
Fricassee—To cook by braising—usually used when referring to rabbit or fowl.
Gratin—A brown crust of breadcrumbs or cheese. Any veggie be gratinéed—not just potatoes.
Gremolata—An Italian garnish of lemon rind, parsley, basil and garlic.
Julienne—Cut into long slim strips.
Jus—Pan drippings from the meat. Literally, ‘the juice.’
Kneading—This is plain English here. Kneading is the practice of massaging dough into a pliable mass.
Larding—The process of inserting fat into the meat to flavor it while it cooks.
Marbling—Marbling is the appearance of the fat through a cut of meat.
Meuniere—Dredged in flour and sautéed in butter. (Are you ready to learn French yet?)
Mirapoix—Chopped carrots, celery, and onions that forms the flavor base of many sauces and stews.
Mise en Place—“To put in place” means having all your ingredients prepped and ready to go before cooking.
Mother Sauce- Bechamel, Hollandaise, Demi Glace, Veloute, and Tomato are the five mother sauces that form the basis of French cuisine.
Parboil—To boil until partially cooked.
Poach—To cook gently in hot liquid kept just below boiling point.
Puree—Blending food until it’s a thick and smooth consistency (think baby food.) Some chefs have been known to puree for twenty minutes.
Remouillage—A weak stock made from bones that have already been used to make stock previously.
Roux—A mixture of equal parts fat and flour cooked over low heat and used to thicken sauces.
Score—Again, this is English here. You’re just making shallow parallel cuts usually before cooking often as a way to drain excess fat off an item like a duck breast.
Slurry—A mix of cornstarch and water or stock used to thicken sauces and soups.
Supreme—To remove the inside of a piece of citrus from the tough interior membrane. (Think grapefruit.)
Sweat—Cooking slowly over low heat (no browning.)
Umami—One of the five basic tastes along with salt, sweet, sour, and bitter. Umami is something like savory-ness—it’s why MSG tastes so darn good.
There you have it: a decent list of terms, so you can become the latest and greatest culinary whiz kid. Now that you’ve mastered at least the vocab of French cooking, maybe it’s time to learn a new cooking style. If you’re ready to hang your shingle via a breakfast burrito food truck, get some tips on how to do it right. After all, the world is your oyster, so eat it!