Think you know every culinary term used in your kitchen? Get ready to think again.
Reading a recipe and aren’t sure about some of the ingredients, terms, and recipe techniques included?
Recipes can sometimes be a minefield of terms, jargon and foreign words. Even for the most gifted Chefs, there are terms in a recipe that make them stop and say “huh?”.
Don’t worry, we have compiled an extensive list of common culinary terms to help you out!
Some of the most common are defined here. Take a look at our list to get cooking.
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The butchering, cutting and trimming of meat, poultry, fish and game.
The French word for “stuffing”.
Fattoush (or Fattush or Fatush or Fattoosh or Fattouche)
A Levantine bread salad made from toasted or fried pieces of pita bread combined with mixed greens and other vegetables, such as radishes and tomatoes. Fattoush belongs to the family of dishes known as fattat (plural) or fatta, which use stale flatbread as a base.
See specific ingredients, such as butter, margarine, shortening, lard, or cooking oil.
A tan, flat bean that looks like a large lima bean. It is available dried, canned, and occasionally fresh.
Crisp, refreshing, mildly anise-flavoured bulb vegetable. Seeds and leaves are both used as a spice. Has a sweet-hot flavour, a wide variety of uses. Popular for seasoning pork roasts and fish dishes.
A brined curd tangy white crumbly Greek-style cheese made of sheep’s or goat’s milk or from a mixture of sheep and goat’s milk. Notable for its salty, slightly sharp flavour. It is a crumbly aged cheese, commonly produced in blocks, and has a slightly grainy texture. Feta is used as a table cheese, as well as in salads (e.g. the Greek salad) and pastries. Most notable is its use in the popular phyllo-based dishes spanakopita (“spinach pie”) and tyropita (“cheese pie”), or served with some olive oil or olives and sprinkled with aromatic herbs such as oregano. It can also be served cooked or grilled, as part of a sandwich, in omelettes, or as a salty alternative to other cheeses in a variety of dishes. Similar brined white cheeses produced outside the European Union are often made partly or wholly of cow’s milk, and they are also sometimes called feta.
Fillet (or Filet)
Fillet is actually both a noun and a verb. Filleting refers to the process of cutting meat, poultry, or fish into fillets removing the bones to obtain the fillet. While the resulting piece of boneless meat or fish was historically called a fillet, it is now often used only in reference to fish. In other countries, however, the cut of meat known as a chicken tender is referred to as a chicken fillet.
Filet is the alternative French spelling of fillet. The confusing part of it is that filet can also refer to boneless meat or fish. However, its most common usage in the US is for a piece of steak cut from the beef tenderloin or another expensive cut of meat, with the filet mignon being a steak cut from the thickest part of the tenderloin. Because of this usage, filet is used more widely in reference to meat than fish.
So while the general practice now is to refer to fish in fillets and meat in filets, you’d really be making no error if you do the opposite!
Filo (or phyllo)
Tissue-thin sheets of flour and water pastry (a very thin unleavened dough) used throughout the Middle East and Balkan cuisines as crisp wrappers for savoury or sweet fillings such as baklava and börek. Filo-based pastries are made by layering many sheets of filo brushed with olive oil; the pastry is then baked. Defrost thoroughly before use. Keep unused sheets covered with lightly damp towel to prevent them from drying out.
Very small, as in finely chopped, but not as small as minced.
A combination () of herbs that forms a mainstay of French cuisine. Use to flavour fish, chicken, omelettes, egg and cheese dishes, meats, game, meatloaf, sauces and gravies. It’s a balanced blend of sweet herbs, each of which has an affinity for the other. Buying these herbs premixed avoids the risk of a possible flavour imbalance. Traditionally the ingredients of fines herbes are fresh parsley, chives, tarragon and chervil. These “fine herbes” are not the pungent and resinous herbs that appear in a bouquet garni – which, unlike fines herbes, release their flavour in long cooking. Marjoram, cress, cicely, or lemon balm may be added to fines herbes. The marjoram may be dried.
To complete the preparation of a dish for consumption. This may entail adjusting the seasoning or the consistency, adding garnish, or mounting a soup or sauce with butter or vinegar before service.
Five Spice Chinese Powder
A mixture used to season roast meat, poultry, and stir fry dishes. Ingredients include anise, cinnamon, star anise, cloves, and ginger.
A pungent brown sauce made by fermenting fish, usually anchovies, in brine. It is used as a condiment in various cuisines. It’s often used in Southeast Asian and the coastal regions of East Asia and features heavily in Cambodian, Filipino, Thai, Laotian and Vietnamese cuisines. It also was a major ingredient in ancient European cuisine but is no longer commonly used in those regions.
To gently break food into small, flat pieces, often for combining with other foods. For example, you would flake cooked fish to combine with cooked, mashed potatoes to make fish cakes.
A large, thin, fairly lean, boneless cut of beef from the abdominal muscles or buttocks of the cow. The cut is common in Colombia, where it is known as sobrebarriga, literally meaning “over the belly”.
The process of adding alcohol such as brandy, cognac, or rum to a hot pan over food while it is cooking, to create a burst of flames. The fumes are set alight just before serving and the flame goes out when the alcohol has burnt off.
The sensation felt when food or drink comes in contact with the taste buds. There are four basic tastes; sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. The particular flavour of a dish derives from a combination of these. When one taste overpowers the dish, it is described as such. A skillful cook combines similar or contrasting flavours and produces a harmonious whole. Flavours are enhanced by the texture, consistency, colour, and temperature of the finished product. The flavour of the food can be altered with natural or artificial flavourings which affect these senses.
An imitation extract made of chemical compounds. Unlike an extract or oil, flavouring often does not contain any of the original food it resembles. Some common imitation flavouring available are banana, black walnut, brandy, cherry, chocolate, coconut, maple, pineapple, raspberry, rum, strawberry, and vanilla.
A milled food that can be made from many cereals, roots, and seeds, although wheat is the most popular. Store flour in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. All-purpose flour may be stored for up to 8 months. Bread flour, cake flour, gluten flour, whole wheat flour, and other whole grain flours may be stored up to 5 months. For longer storage, refrigerate or freeze the flour in moisture and vapour proof container. Bring chilled flour to room temperature before using in baking. Here are the types of flour most commonly used in cooking:
All-purpose flour (or Plain flour)
This flour is made from a blend of soft and hard wheat flours and, as its name implies, can be used for many purposes, including baking, thickening, and coating. All-purpose flour usually is sold presifted and is available bleached or unbleached. Bleached flour has been made chemically whiter in appearance. Some cooks prefer bleached flour to make their cakes and bread as white as possible, while other cooks prefer their flour to be processed as little as necessary. Both bleached and unbleached flour are suitable for home baking and can be used interchangeably.
This flour contains more gluten than all-purpose flour, making it ideal for baking bread, which rely on gluten for structure and height. If you use a bread machine, use bread flour instead of all-purpose flour for best results. Or use all-purpose flour and add 1 to 2 tablespoons of gluten flour (available in supermarkets and health food stores).
Made from soft wheat, cake flour produces a tender, delicate crumb because the gluten is less elastic. It’s too delicate for general baking, but to use for cakes, sift it before measuring and use 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons of cake flour for every 1 cup all-purpose flour specified.
Because whole grain flours are low in gluten, some whole grain bread recipes call for a little gluten flour to help the finished loaf attain the proper texture. Sometimes called wheat gluten, gluten flour is made by removing most of the starch from high-protein, hard-wheat flour. If you can’t find gluten flour at a supermarket, look for it at a health food store.
A soft wheat blend with less starch than cake flour. It is used for making pastry dough.
An all-purpose flour with salt and a leavener, such as baking powder, added. It is generally not used for making yeast products.
Specialty flours, such as whole wheat, graham, rye, oat, buckwheat, and soy, generally are combined with all-purpose flour in baking recipes because none has sufficient gluten to provide the right amount of elasticity on its own.
To coat or dust a food or utensil with flour. Food may be floured before cooking to add texture and improve browning. Baking utensils are floured to prevent sticking.
To make decorative grooves or impression in food. Usually refers to pastry such as the edge of a pie crust, pie shell or other pastry, usually in a scalloped pattern.
Fold (or Fold in)
A method of gently mixing (rather than stirring) delicate ingredients such as whipped cream or beaten egg whites with a heavier mixture, without decreasing their volume or releasing air bubbles. To fold, use a rubber spatula, spoon, whisk, or fork to cut down vertically through the mixture from the back of the bowl, using a gentle over-and-under motion. Move the spatula across the bottom of the bowl, and bring it back up the other side, carrying some of the mixture from the bottom up over the surface. The process is repeated while slowing rotating the bowl, until the ingredients are thoroughly blended.
Fontina (French: Fontine)
A creamy, mild-tasting Italian cheese made from sheep’s or cow’s milk. Although made throughout the year, the best cheese is obtained during the summer when the cows are moved to an altitude of and fed only with rich grass to give it a distinctive aroma. Fontina has PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) status under European law.
Food Colouring (or colour additive)
Liquid, paste, gels, or powdered edible dyes used to tint foods or drink. Food colouring is used both in commercial food production and in domestic cooking. Due to its safety and general availability, food colouring is also used in a variety of non-food applications including cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, home craft projects and medical devices.
Chefs and Cooks sharing cooking techniques, recipes and ideas with people who share similar interests or concerns and who interact and remain in contact for mutual assistance or support. Professionals in the foodservice industry network together to achieve quality.
Food mill (or passatutto or purée sieve or moulinette or mouli légumes or passe-vite)
A kitchen utensil used for sieving soft foods and to mash cooked food such as potatoes or soups. By using a hand-turned paddle to force food through a strainer plate at the bottom, skin, seeds, and fibre are removed. Typically, a food mill consists of three parts: a bowl, a bottom plate with holes like those in a colander, and a crank fitted with a bent metal blade which crushes the food and forces it through the holes in the bottom plate as the crank is turned. The bottom plate may be a permanent part of the device, or interchangeable plates with different hole sizes may be supplied. Three corrugated feet on the base, or two ears on the rim plus the handle, fit on the rim of a cooking pot and hold the mill in position over it.
An appliance with a closed container and interchangeable blades that can chop, blend, shred, purée, or otherwise process food at high speed. Today, the term almost always refers to an electric-motor-driven appliance, although there are some manual devices also referred to as “food processors”.
A mixture of raw or cooked seasoned ingredients that are finely chopped used to stuff a variety of foods, especially sausages. The result may either be smooth or coarse, depending on the desired consistency of the final product. Forcemeats are used in the production of numerous items found in charcuterie; such items include quenelles, sausages, pâtés, terrines, meat pies, roulades, and galantines. Forcemeats are usually produced from raw meat, except in the case of a gratin forcemeat. Meats commonly used in the production of forcemeats include pork, fish (pike, trout, or salmon), seafood, game meats (venison, boar, or rabbit), poultry, game birds, veal, and pork livers. Pork fatback is often used for the fat portion of a forcemeat as it has a somewhat neutral flavour.
Animals bred for consumption that are allowed to roam and feed without confinement which promotes better quality meats and poultry, primarily because they do not consume their own excrement, as when they are caged. On many farms, the outdoors ranging area is fenced, thereby technically making this an enclosure, however, free-range systems usually offer the opportunity for extensive locomotion and sunlight prevented by indoor housing systems. Free range may apply to meat, eggs or dairy farming.
French (or Frenching)
The process of removing all fat, meat, and cartilage from rib bones on a rack roast by cutting between the bones with a sharp paring knife, often referring to lamb, beef, or pork rib.
Fricassee (or fricassee)
A method of cooking meat (usually chicken, fowl or rabbit) in which it is cut up, sautéed and braised along with aromatic vegetables, and served with its sauce, traditionally a white sauce.
A fluted paper decoration placed over a protruding bone. This type of garnish is classically found on the presentation of a crown roast.
A small amount of thick batter or breading, usually containing food such as bits of meat, seafood, a sliced fruit (apple, banana, pineapple), or other ingredients, that is deep fried.
To apply a cooked or uncooked topping—which is soft enough to spread but stiff enough to hold its shape—to cakes, cupcakes, or cookies.
To cook food in hot cooking oil or fat, usually until crisp brown crust forms.
There are several types of frying techniques:
To oven-fry is to cook food in a hot oven using a small amount of fat to produce a healthier product.
Sauté (or sautéing)
To sauté means to cook and stir small pieces of food in a small amount of fat over medium-high to high heat in an open, shallow pan until browned on the outside and cooked through. Food, such as shrimp, cut vegetables and meat, cut into uniform small sizes sautés the best. The term Sauté comes from the French word “sauter”, meaning “to jump”.
Pan Fry (or pan-fry or panfry)
To pan-fry is to cook and/or brown food, which may have a light breading or coating, in a skillet in a small amount of hot fat or oil, over relatively high heat.
A pan fry takes place at a little lower heat than does a sauté. This is because the food to be pan-fried, such as chicken breasts, steak, pork chops or fish fillets, is not cut into pieces before cooking. Pan frying requires a lower heat so that the exterior of the food doesn’t overcook while waiting for the interior of the food to cook.
You still use the same amount of oil – just enough to glaze the pan – but the temperature should be lower during a pan fry. It’s important to note that the oil should always be hot enough to ensure that the moisture in the food can escape in the form of steam. The force of the steam keeps the oil from soaking into the food. This is important, even if you’re just talking about a little bit of oil.
Shallow Fry (or Shallow-fry or shallow-fat)
Another type of frying that isn’t talked about as much is the shallow-fry. To shallow-fry is to cook food, usually breaded or coated with batter, in about one-to-two inch layer of hot fat or oil. A shallow fry is what you do when you make fried chicken, eggplant Parmesan, or beer battered shrimp. The food sits in hot oil that comes about halfway up the sides of the food.
Stir-frying is another cooking method that yields flavourful vegetables and juicy meats from fresh foods or leftovers. To Stir-fry is to quickly cook small pieces of food in a little hot oil in a wok or skillet over medium-high heat while stirring constantly.
Deep-Fry (or deep-fat fry or French fry)
To Deep-Fry is to cook food until it’s crisp in a deep layer enough hot fat or oil to cover the food (completely immersing food in hot fat). Deep-frying is usually done at 190°C (375°F).
And, it stands to reason that, when food is completely submerged in oil during cooking it is deep fry.
What Is the Difference Between “Sauteing” – “Pan Frying” – “Shallow Frying” – “Deep Frying”?
So, while all these frying techniques are similar, the differences are worth noting. Do remember that different terms mean different things to different people in different parts of the country or the world.
Sautéing, or pan frying starts with cooking in butter or oil and ends with crispy vegetables. Both techniques generally end with the making of a quick sauce through deglazing the pan. You can sauté in a pan and stir-fry using a wok or a skillet. Although they are both considered dry heat cooking and use fat to transfer the heat of the pan to the food, the only real difference is the amount of heat and the size of the ingredient you are cooking. The only true difference between a sauté and a pan fry is that in a sauté, the food is cut into small pieces and in a pan fry, it is left in larger pieces, like chicken breasts, steaks or fish fillets and it uses a little less heat. When pan frying you also don’t move the ingredients around in the pan that much except to turn them over occasionally.
Another difference might be, in a sauté, the food is generally taken out of the pan and kept warm while you make the sauce. In a stir fry, the sauce is generally made with all the food still in the pan so it all gets evenly coated.
Also, don’t confuse pan fry with shallow fry where you typically use enough oil to reach almost halfway up the ingredient you are cooking.
The only difference between a shallow fry and a deep fry is the depth of the oil. In a shallow fry, you have to flip the food to make sure all sides are cooked. In a deep fry, it is possible to completely submerge the food in the oil, decreasing the necessity for flipping.
A French term used to describe foods that are prepared by “smoking”.
Fumet (or Fish stock)
A concentrated stock made from fish bones and heads, slowly cooked with aromatic vegetables. It is used to poach fish and seafood or to add flavour to sauces. Ready-to-use fumet is available in concentrated powder or cubes.
Did we leave any out? What would you add to this list of culinary terms? Comment below!
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