Cooking and kitchen terms can sometimes be confusing. I’ve defined some of the most often used below.
Bain-Marie: A hot water bath used to cook eggs, sauces, custards, or anything that can easily scorch, crack, or split.
Bake: To cook something in circulating dry heat at a constant temperature.
Baste: To keep foods moist when cooking by spooning or drizzling pan juices or sauce during the cooking process.
Blanche: To cook fruit, veggies, or seafood in boiling water for a very short amount of time to bring out their color or to ease the removal of skins. It’s best way to remove tomato skins. Refresh veggies after blanching by running them under cold water or put in an ice bath.
Blind-bake: To bake a tart or pie crust before adding the filling to avoid any “soggy-bottom” situations. Pierce the crust with a fork and weigh the it down with tin foil filling with dry beans or uncooked rice and bake for about 10 minutes before removing the weight for an additional 3-5 minutes to add nice color.
Boil: To heat water or other liquids to 212F/100C. Often used to bring something up to a high heat before turning down. A rolling boil is a consistent bubbling pot. See simmer (below).
Broil: To cook with intense top-down direct heat either under a grill or oven’s broiler. Great to use to brown tops of things with cheese or breadcrumbs.
Caramelize: To dissolve sugar and water and cook it until is becomes a thick brown consistency. Or to cook meat or vegetables to bring out their natural sugars, like caramelized onions or carrots.
Chiffonade: To cut thin ribbons of leafy greens or herbs by stacking the leaves on top of each other and then rolling them tightly together before thinning slicing.
Chop: To cut food into pieces. The size can range from large (coarsely chopped) to small (finely chopped.) See dice and mince (below)
Dash: A small quantity. I often interchange it with splash and glug (especially when talking about oils.)
Deglaze: To add liquid, most often wine, beer or other alcohol, but also stock or water, to a pan that had cooked meat or poultry and to scrap off all the cooked on bits to release more flavor. It’s done as one of the steps in making a stew, savory pie filling or gravy.
Dice: To cut food into uniform pieces. It is more precise than chopping.
Emulsify: To combine liquids that don’t normally bind together easily (such as oil and vinegar.) Emulsification is achieved by adding the oil in a slow and steady stream to vinegar while whisking vigorously. Mustard and egg help bind things together so are often used (think Dijon vinaigrette and mayo.)
Hull: To remove leaves and stems from fruit, most often strawberries.
Mince: To dice into very small pieces.
Mirepoix: Used as a base to many dishes, traditionally in French cooking is onion and carrot and celery. It is cooked slowly in oil or butter but not browned, to add sweetness to many dishes. In other cuisines it’s referred to as sofrito (Spanish) soffritto Italian, the Holy Trinity in Creole cooking (onions, celery and bell pepper,) German Suppengrün (leeks, carrots, celery/celeriac)
Parboil: It sounds like “part boil” and that’s a great way to think about it. Parboiling is used to start the cooking process on things that often need some extra time (like potatoes, hard squashes etc.) before continuing the cooking process with another method.
Pinch: The amount of dry ingredients you can hold between your thumb and first finger. A 3-finger pinch is the amount of dry ingredients you can hold between your thumb and pointer and middle fingers. It is the best way to add salt to something.
Poach: To gently cook something in liquid that isn’t boiling.
Preheat: To set a grill, broiler, or oven to the temperature you need about 15 minutes before using it so it has time to reach the desired temperature.
Prove/proof: When using yeasted doughs it’s the resting period the yeast needs to work its magic. Dough will double in size during proving. Prove is often the UK pronunciation vs. proof in the US but I learned it from the Great British Bake Off so am stuck in the UK way.
Reduce: To boil a liquid until it thickens or concentrates to intensify the flavor.
Refresh: To run hot food under cold water or to submerge it into cold water or an ice bath to stop the cooking process and to retain the color.
Roast: To cook something in circulating dry heat. Often starting at a high heat and then reducing the temperature. See bake.
Roux: A mixture of melted fat and flour cooked over a low heat and stirred constantly to make a base for a thick sauce or gravy.
Sauté: To quickly cook something on the stove top in a fat until it is lightly browned.
Sear: To brown the surface of meat very quickly with high heat.
Simmer: To cook liquid or something in liquid over low heat, without the large bubbles of boiling.
Steam: To cook something, cover, over or in a small amount of boiling water.