Cooking Language


I had to laugh at myself, my very first Cooking Language term is Italian , not French!  Alphabetizing will get you every time!!

Al Dente – the Italian cooking term meaning “to the bite” or “to the tooth”.  Basically it means cooking until just barely tender.  Not cooking until too soft & mushy.  Usually referring to pasta, but sometimes to vegetables, etc.

Au Jus – natural juices produced by roasting meats.  The au jus is served with the meat just as it is, with no thickening added.

Bain–Marie or Water Bath- a pan of water placed in the oven to hold another pan or some ramekins. This allows gentle, indirect cooking for delicate dishes like custards, etc.

Bake – To cook in the oven.

Barbecue – grilling meat outside over a wood, charcoal or gas-grill fire.  The meat is almost always basted with a barbecue sauce or rubbed with a spicy, dry-rub seasoning.  In the South, pork and chicken are usually “barbecued” with a red or white barbecue sauce or a dry rub, while a steak or boneless chicken breasts, with no sauce, are “grilled”.

Baste– to moisten food during cooking.  Use a spoon or basting brush to dip into the drippings or the sauce in the cooking pan & pour or brush over the food being cooked to prevent the food from getting too dry.

Batter – 1. a batter: mixture of flour and liquid that is thin enough to pour, like a cake batter.                                
2. to batter: to dip a piece of food into a mixture usually used to coat food for frying or baking like a piece of chicken.

Blanch – to plunged food into boiling water for a few seconds to very slightly cook.  Then, immediately plunging the food into cold water to stop the cooking process. For vegetables, blanching preserves flavor & color.  Also used to loosen whole tomato & peach skins for easy peeling & to slip the skins off almonds.  

Boil- to heat a liquid until bubbles rise to the top & continually break on the surface of the liquid.

Bouquet Garni –a few fresh herbs tied together or tied in cheesecloth and added to soups or stews for flavor.  Usually parsley, thyme, & a bay leaf, but any group of fresh herbs appropriate to the dish being cooked is suitable. Remove the Bouquet Garni before serving & discard.

Braise – using the cook-top, first sear food at a high temperature; then, cover food & simmer in the small amount of liquid produced earlier. An additional small amount of liquid can be added, if needed.  This method of cooking concentrates the food’s flavors allowing re-absorption of flavors.  If desired, retain enough concentrated liquid to coat the food &/or make a small sauce.

Bread – to coat foods with flour, cracker crumbs, corn meal, bread crumbs, etc. before deep-frying or pan-frying in order to make a crunchy outside crust on the food.

Brine – very salty water for marinating pork, etc. or for pickling & preserving foods.

Broil – to cook in the oven on the setting marked “Broil” which heats to 500 degrees.  This produces the highest heat available using a gas flame or a cooking coil.  The oven rack is usually placed closest to the heat source for quick, intense cooking.  Foods must be watched constantly to prevent burning & a fire!  Often the oven door is left slightly open to allow constant observation.

Broth, Stock, Bouillon – the terms are mostly interchangeable. Make by simmering in a pot with meat, fish, seafood, poultry or vegetables & water.  Usually there are herbs, salt & pepper added. This makes a flavorful liquid to use later for sauces, soups, stuffing, braising, etc.  It freezes very well for later use.

Butterfly – partially cutting meat, fish, or seafood lengthwise to open like a book or a butterfly’s wings.

Caramelize – 1. very slowly heating sugar in a very heavy skillet to brown the sugar & give it an enhanced flavor.  Often used for caramel cake icing or a flan topping.
2. browning meats & vegetables very slowly by cooking the natural sugars to a dark color.  This method of cooking enhances & intensifies flavors such as caramelized onions that can be served on top of a steak, or various vegetables or meats to be used as a base for soups, sauces or stews.

Chop – to cut food into smaller pieces ranging in size from fine to coarse pieces.

Cream – to beat together room temperature butter, margarine, shortening or another fat usually with sugar.  The mixture is aerated & turns lighter in color and somewhat fluffier in texture. A usual procedure in baking.

Deep-fry – to cook food completely submerged in hot oil.  Deep-fried foods cooked at the proper temperature absorb very little oil and are light. The oil is at the proper temperature when the food doesn’t drop all the way to the bottom of the pot when it is added and returns to the surface within a second or two.  This rule does not cover all foods, but is generally correct.  An exception being French fries; they require hot oil to immediately surround the potatoes with bubbles.

Deglaze –  to deglaze a pan for making a sauce, first pour off any fat left in the pan, and make sure that the pieces of food clinging to the bottom of the pan haven’t blackened and burned, if they have; discard.  If the remaining pan-glaze does not taste burned; then add a few tablespoons of liquid, such as wine, broth, water, or cream. Gently stir & scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to loosen pan-glaze & mix with the new liquid. Simmer to reduce liquid to a sauce consistency. Additional ingredients can be added to make a more elaborate sauce or a different flavored sauce.  Use your imagination!

Dice – to cut into cubes (unlike chopping, which cuts foods into irregular pieces).

Double Boiler – used to gently & indirectly cook delicate foods on the cook-top such as custards, melting chocolate, etc.  A small amount of water is brought to a boil in the pot that is in contact with the cook-top; then food is added to a second pot & placed over the boiling water to cook by indirect heat.  A double boiler can be purchased or one can be improvised using a skillet & a pot; or 2 pots of different sizes.  Just be careful with the boiling water when handling the pots & definitely do not let the boiling water evaporate in the lower pot.

Dredge – to coat a food with flour, corn meal, cracker or breadcrumbs, sugar, milk, etc.  The coating ingredient is usually placed in a flat open dish & the food to be dredged is dragged through the coating ingredient; then turned over to be dragged again.  Shake off excess coating ingredient.

Flambé – to ignite a sauce, brandy, liqueur, or another liquid into flames for the theater effect in entertaining. The dish to be ignited must be hot.  A cold dish will never ignite because the spirits only release their flammable fumes when hot.  Never pour flaming liquid.

Fold to incorporate a delicate mixture such as beaten egg whites, whipped cream, etc. into another mixture without deflating the air bubbles & loosing the leavening power. Use an over and under motion with a large spoon, almost like tumbling the two mixtures together.  The object is to gently blend the two mixtures without beating.

Fond – the browned bits & pieces of foods left stuck in the cooking pan that are used when deglazing the pan to make great sauces.

Fondue – to melt cheese in a communal pot surrounded by bread cubes where long fondue forks are used to dip the bread cubes into the melted cheese or to melt chocolate for dipping whole strawberries.

Fricassee – a fricassee is usually a braised stew in which the meat, usually poultry, is cut up, lightly cooked in butter, and then slowly simmered in liquid until done.

Fry – to cook in hot fat.
1. A small amount of fat is pan-frying or sautéing.
2. One to two inches of fat is shallow frying.
3. A large amount of fat is deep-frying.  

Garnish – to attractively decorate the top of a dish with edible & compatible added ingredients such as parsley, chives, lemon or orange slices, herbs, paprika, powdered sugar, nuts, fruits, etc.  

Glaze – to give any food surface a shiny coating by brushing it with a sauce & then oven browning, or pouring a thin icing on a cake, etc.

Gratineed – to top a dish with bread or cracker crumbs &/or grated cheese & browned.

Grill – to cook on a metal grill over a charcoal fire, on a gas grill, or on an electric grill.

Grind – to put meats or nuts through a hand or electric grinder or a food processor to reduce to smaller pieces.

Julienne – to cut into long strips about matchstick-size.

Jus – natural juices produced by roasting meats.

Marinate – to soak a food in a combination of flavorful liquids and/or spices & herbs called a marinade before cooking  An example would be to soak chicken breasts in an oil & vinegar salad dressing for several hours.  Usually the marinade is discarded after the marinating time.

Melt – to make a liquid of a fat by heating it, such as melting butter.

Mince – to chop into very fine pieces.

Mix – to combine ingredients by hand, or with an electric or hand mixer in order to blend the ingredients thoroughly & uniformly.

Pan-fry – to cook larger pieces of meat or vegetables in a hot pan in a small amount of fat.  Turn only once or twice with a spatula or tongs while cooking.

Parboil – to partially cook in boiling water; then finish cooking with seasonings that are added later.

Parchment paper – Heat-resistant paper used to line baking pans. It does not require any greasing  & helps cookies keep their shape.

Pare – to remove the outer skin of fruits or vegetables.

Pâté – a rich mixture of ground meat (often goose or other liver) or seafood with some fat and other ingredients such as herbs, spices, vegetables, brandy, or other spirits all blended into a spreadable mixture. Several days of chilling in the refrigerator develops the full flavor. It can then be served hot or cold as a spread on slices of baguette or other bread.  It can be baked in pastry (pate en croute), or it can be pressed into a mold (terrine) and baked (pate en terrine); then chilled & sliced to serve.

Pinch – an amount that can be held between the thumb & forefinger; a very small amount.

Pit – to remove the center pit or stone from a fruit, olive, avocado, etc to be discarded.

Poach – to gently cook submerged in a hot simmering liquid just below the boiling point.

Puree – to place food in a food processor & pulverize until completely smooth.

Ragout – a stew served as a main dish.

Ramekin – a small, ovenproof dish. Often several are used for individual servings such as for bake custards.

Reduce or Reduction – to cook down the liquid in a dish by evaporation in order to intensify the flavor & thicken the sauce.

Render – to melt a solid fat very slowly into a liquid.

Rest or Resting – allowing a dish, such as lasagna, or a roasted meat to be kept in a warm place for 10 to 20 minutes before cutting.  This allows the natural juices to resettle into the dish or meat.  If cut just out of the oven, the juices will be pressed out of the dish or roasted meat.  Very loosely cover with aluminum foil to keep warm. The foil should not be tight.

Roast – to cook by dry heat in the oven to produce a golden brown crust when dish or meat is done.

Roulade – a thin cut of meat or fish that is stuffed, rolled, & tied with 100 % cotton  string before baking.

Sauté – to cook small-cut ingredients in a small amount of fat over high heat in a sauté pan or skillet by jerking the sauté pan to toss ingredients or “jumping” the ingredients to cook & brown quickly.  The word sauté in French means “to jump” or “jumped”.

Scald – 1. to heat milk just below the boiling point.  This point can be determined by repeatedly dipping a spoon into the milk until film forms & clings to the spoon  Then, immediately remove milk from heat to prevent boiling.
2. to briefly immerse a vegetable or fruit in boiling water to easily remove the skin.  Perfect for tomatoes & peaches.

Score – to make shallow cuts in the outside flesh of meat or fish to allow more marinade absorption, to tenderize the meat, or just for an attractive presentation appearance.

Sear – to quickly brown the surface of a food by intense heat; then the heat is lowered to begin the actual cooking of the food.  This is done to improve the appearance of the food & to seal in juices to preserve flavors.

Shred – to tear or cut into long, fine narrow pieces such as shredded brisket for sandwiches or shredded chicken for a salad.

Sift – to press dry ingredients through a sifter or a sieve to eliminate lumps or retain any hard pieces that need to be discarded.

Simmer – to cook slowly but steadily, never coming to a full boiling point.  The surface liquid should be barely moving.

Skim – to lift up; then discard any unwanted foam or fat from the surface of a soup, stock, broth, sauce, vegetable, etc.

Smother – to cook slowly in a covered pan over low heat with only a very little liquid.

Spring-Form Pan – a cake pan with a detachable bottom and a clamp on the side that can be tightened & released to make un-molding a cake easy.   Cheesecakes are often made in this type pan or any baked item that would be difficult to invert to un-mold.

Steam – to cook over steam produced by boiling water & not allow the food to touch the boiling water.  This requires suspending the food above the water.  Some pots have a steamer rack built-in.  If not available, a separate metal “steamer” can be bought to insert in the bottom of a covered pot.

Stew – to slowly simmer for a long time in a small amount of liquid.

Stir-Fry – a Chinese technique of cooking, stirring very rapidly.  Thin slivers of meat, seafood, rice, and vegetables are usually cooked in a small amount of hot oil.

Stir – to mix dry or liquid ingredients in a circular motion to blend completely.

Sweat – (the opposite of sautéing) - to evenly dice veggies into ¼ inch pieces.  Small veggies like garlic cloves should be minced.  In a skillet, heat about 2 T. extra virgin olive oil (more may be needed for a large amount of veggies) for 15 seconds; then stir in the veggies & coat with oil.  Sprinkle veggies with salt to draw out the moisture.  Cook, uncovered, on a low simmer for about 7 to 10 minutes.  Do not brown.  Veggies should be translucent and soft only; not browned.

Tart – a pie often with only a bottom crust & never with a top crust.  It sometimes has a fruit filling.

Timbales (shells) – a timbale pan is a baking pan that looks like a muffin pan or mini-muffin pan.  Actual timbale pans have wider top openings & narrower bottoms.  It is possible to use the pans interchangeably.  The timbales make individual one-bite size servings.  There are also larger timbale pans to be used for filling with larger amounts of food.  To make individual timbale easier, formed the pastry around the outsides of the individual forms; then bake, cool, & carefully removed from the outside of the pan.  

Toss – to mix ingredients by using a lifting motion such as tossing salad ingredients.

Tournedos – a ¼ -inch-thick steak cut from the tenderloin.

Truss – to tie poultry with string or pin with skewers to keep the shape of the poultry particularly the legs of a whole turkey.

Vinaigrette – an oil & vinegar base mixture often with additional ingredients added such as herbs, spices, mustard, cheese, etc. to be used as a salad dressing or as a marinade.

Wasabi – a Japanese type of horseradish producing an olfactory sensation something like powered dry mustard or horseradish.

Whip – to rapidly beat a mixture adding air to make the mixture expand with the added air & get much lighter in texture such as whipping egg whites or heavy cream.

White Sauce – 1.Bechamel -  a paste or roux made of butter, flour, & salt with milk stirred in very slowly to keep the sauce smooth.
2. Velouté -  a paste or roux made of butter, flour, & salt with broth stirred in very slowly to keep the sauce smooth.

Wok – a deep, metal round-bottomed cooking pan somewhat like a large skillet with outward sloping walls used for stir-frying & almost all Chinese-style cooking.   

Yogurt – milk cultured with bacteria to give it a thicker consistency and a sour flavor.

Zest – the thin, brightly colored outer part of the rind of citrus fruits. The oils in the rind add flavoring. Finely grate only the very thin skin; grating too deeply gets into the bitter- tasting pithy area.

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