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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A veal escalope or cutlet that is quickly sautéed and usually served with an accompanied pan sauce.
To cook (usually meat) uncovered in a hot fry pan (skillet), pouring off fat as it accumulates.
To coat in breadcrumbs.
A sauce made by deglazing the sauté pan used to cook meat, poultry, or fish, etc. with wine, stock or both and adding various ingredients including herbs, shallots, capers, etc. The liquid is then reduced to sauce consistency.
Paprika is a spice made from air-dried fruits of the chilli pepper family. Paprika is more than a garnish. The seasoning is also used to add colour and enhancer flavour to many types of dishes, including casseroles, baked potatoes, appetizers, rarebit, chicken, veal and salad dressings.
Parboil (or Leaching)
To boil a food, such as vegetables, until partially cooked; to blanch. Usually, this procedure is done to prepare food and is followed by final cooking by another method in a seasoned sauce. Often used to soften dense foods like carrots and potatoes before roasting them. Helps to speed up the cooking process. After being parboiled, these foods can be added at the last minute to quicker-cooking ingredients. Parboiling ensures that all ingredients will finish cooking at the same time. Since foods will continue to cook once they have been removed from the boiling water, they should be shocked in ice water briefly to preserve colour and texture. Cooking can then be completed by sauteeing or the parboiled vegetable can be added to simmering soups or stews.
The process of not fully cooking food, so that it can be finished or reheated later.
Grease and heat resistant paper used to line baking pans as a disposable non-stick surface, wrap foods in packets for baking, or make disposable pastry bags. It should not be confused with waxed paper, also known as wax paper or rarely as butter paper.
To remove the skin or thin outermost covering of a fruit or vegetable using a small knife (paring knife) or a vegetable peeler.
A French dessert made of layers of fruit and/or nuts, syrup, ice cream and custard or whipped cream or beaten egg whites.
A cow’s milk Italian cheese with a sharp, salty full flavour resulting from at least two years of aging. It is a hard, thick crusted cheese, most suitable for grating. Officially, only Parmigiano Reggiano from the Italian area of Emilia-Romagna may be called Parmesan. Asiago and Romano cheeses are good substitutes for Parmesan.
Parsley (or garden parsley)
A low growing member of the celery family widely cultivated as a herb, a spice, and a vegetable having finely divided aromatic leaves which are used in cookery and as a garnish. Available in two varieties: the curly leaf type, and the flat leaf, or Italian, type. Best when used fresh but can be used dry.
A white root vegetable that resembles a carrot. Parsnips have a mild, sweet flavour and can be cooked like potatoes.
Pastry Blender (or Pastry cutter)
A kitchen utensil, with rigid, curved wires, that is used for combining (cutting) fat (usually butter) into a flour mixture. It evenly distributes the tiny pieces of fat without warming the dough (as hand kneading does). A typical blender consists of 5-6 sturdy steel tines, parallel and U-shaped, both ends of which are attached to a wooden handle.
A tool fitted with a flat, rigid metal plate used to scrape dough from countertops and boards. Also made of more flexible plastic.
A mixture of seasoned cooked ground meat or fish and fat minced into a spreadable paste. Common additions include vegetables, herbs, spices, and either wine or brandy (often cognac or armagnac). Pâté can be served either hot or cold, but it is considered to develop its fullest flavour after a few days of chilling.
A thin, flattened piece of meat or fish, beaten thin, and rolled and filled with a stuffing of vegetables, fruits or sweetmeats, which is then cooked before served. French Cookery often featured in recipes from Normandy.
Australian dessert made of meringue shell filled with whipped cream and fruit.
The mounds made in a mixture when whipped. Peaks are “stiff” if they stay upright or “soft” if they curl over.
Subtlety sweet and aromatic and smooth to grainy in texture. A favourite fruit for eating or cooking year round.
Anjou pears – Rich in flavour with a hint of spice and smooth texture; among the largest and plumpest of pears, they have short necks and thin yellow-green skins.
Bartlett pears – Medium sized and shaped roughly like bells with creamy yellow skin, sometimes tinged in red; fine-textured, juicy and mild tasting, they are equally good for cooking or eating.
Comas pears – Sweet and juicy, large, round and short-necked, with greenish yellow skins tinged with red.
Royal Riveria pears – Favoured for eating or cooking, are among the most luxurious of all, large with red-tinged skins and juicy smooth sweet flesh.
A natural substance mainly extracted from citrus fruits, that makes fruit and sugar mixtures used in food as a gelling agent, particularly in jams and jellies. It is produced commercially as a white to light brown powder. It is also used in fillings, medicines, sweets, as a stabilizer in fruit juices and milk drinks, and as a source of dietary fibre.
The skin or outer covering of a vegetable or fruit (sometimes called the rind). Peel also refers to the process of removing the peels from vegetables or fruits using a knife or vegetable peeler.
Traditionally an uncooked Italian basil sauce made from crushed or finely chopped garlic, basil, and pine nuts, blended with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (Parmesan cheese), pecorino sardo (cheese made from sheep’s milk), olive oil and fresh basil to make a paste. Today’s pestos may call on other herbs or greens and may be homemade or purchased. Many variations of this sauce exist including different nut based pestos, different herb based pestos, sun-dried tomato pesto, and black olive pesto. Pesto adds a heady freshness to recipes. It is used on a variety of dishes, and a favourite on pasta.
Small, finger sized, decoratively iced cake.
A sauce or seasoning mixture of parsley chopped with seasonings including garlic, herbs, oil, and vinegar, often used as part of a sauté cook’s mise en place.
Prominent in Greek, Turkish, and Near Eastern dishes, phyllo consists of tissue-thin sheets of unleavened dough that, when layered and baked, resulting in a delicate, flaky pastry. The word phyllo (sometimes spelled filo) is Greek for “leaf.” Although phyllo can be made at home, a frozen commercial product is available and much handier to use. Allow frozen phyllo dough to thaw while it is still wrapped; once unwrapped, sheets of phyllo dough quickly dry out and become unusable. To preserve sheets of phyllo, keep the stack covered with plastic wrap while you prepare your recipe. Rewrap any remaining sheets and return them to the freezer. Filo-based pastries are made by layering many sheets of filo brushed with olive oil; the pastry is then baked.
The process of preserving food, such as meats, vegetables, and fruits in brine, which is a salt or vinegar solution.
A French culinary term describing the browning of vegetables and bones to be used in the production of stocks.
A small amount of a dry ingredient (the trifling amount that can be pinched between the forefinger and the thumb), usually salt, pepper, or spices. The quantity required of a pinch is equal to ¼ tsp. measured.
A high-fat, small, ivory-coloured seed that comes from the cones of certain varieties of pine trees, with a rich, slightly resinous flavour. Their flavour ranges from mild and sweet to pungent. They go rancid quickly; store in the refrigerator or freezer. In a pinch, substitute chopped almonds or, in cream sauces, walnuts. About 20 species of pine produce seeds large enough to be worth harvesting; in other pines the seeds are also edible but are too small to be of notable value as human food.
To squeeze a semisoft food, such as whipped cream or frosting, through a pastry bag or tube to make decorative shapes or borders.
To remove the seeds (or pits) from fruit.
Cooked on a thick hardwood plank.
To soak (until they swell) food, such as raisins or other dried fruits, in a liquid, which generally increases its volume.
Poach (or Poaching)
To very gently cook food over very low heat by partially or completely submerging (just to cover) it in a gently simmering (hot liquid kept just below the boiling point) liquid such as a stock or a broth. The amount of liquid used depends on the food being cooked.
Polenta is made from boiled cornmeal and can be served hot, like a porridge, or cooled until it solidifies into a loaf that you can bake, grill, or fry. Polenta can be made from any type of cornmeal. When you’re buying polenta at the store, keep in mind that some types of polenta are shelf-stable and others need to be refrigerated, so it might be stocked in different places.
The Italian and Spanish word for “chicken”.
The tiny kidney-shaped seeds are used, whole or ground, as an ingredient in many foods, and they are pressed to yield poppy seed oil. Used for fruit salads and salad dressings, sprinkled over yeast bread or rolls before baking, use in cottage cheese, cream cheese, scrambled eggs, pie crust, cheese sticks, fruit compotes, and noodles. Poppy seed is an oilseed obtained from the opium poppy.
A cut of pork popular in North American and Asian cuisines. The ribcage of a domestic pig, meat and bones together, is cut into usable pieces, prepared by smoking, grilling, or baking – usually with a sauce, often barbecue – and then served.
Porridge (or Porage or Porrige or Parritch)
A soft hot cereal of oats or wheat made by boiling ground, crushed, or chopped starchy plants – typically grain – in water and/or milk, often with flavourings. It is usually served hot in a bowl. It may be sweetened with sugar, honey etc. and served as a sweet dish, or mixed with spices, vegetables etc. to make a savoury dish.
A cut of meat from the rear end of the short loin. The name originates from the days when it was served in public alehouses that also served a dark beer called porter. It consists of a hefty chunk of tenderloin with an even heftier chunk of sirloin tip. Some folks like to remove the tenderloin to serve separately as filet mignon. The T-bone and porterhouse are steaks of beef cut from the short loin (called the sirloin in Commonwealth countries). Both steaks include a “T-shaped” bone with meat on each side. Porterhouse steaks are cut from the rear end of the short loin and thus include more tenderloin steak, along with (on the other side of the bone) a large strip steak. T-bone steaks are cut closer to the front and contain a smaller section of tenderloin.
A category of thick soups, stews, or porridges, in some of which meat and vegetables are boiled together with water until they form into a thick mush.
Potato ricer (or ricer)
A kitchen utensil resembling a big garlic press used to mash cooked food such as potatoes. A lever-operated plunger is pushed down against the food, forcing it out through tiny holes in the bottom of the container. The result is food that somewhat resembles grains of rice.
Pot Roasting (or Pot roast)
To cook meat slowly by moist heat in a covered pot. The meat is first browned in butter or some other fat, and then covered and braised either on top of the stove or in the oven. Pot roasting is good for tougher cuts of meat which require longer cooking times to break down connective tissue.
The French term for a large chicken or hen suitable for roasting.
A French term for a young spring chicken.
The generic term for any domesticated fowl, birds raised for the purpose of food, for their eggs or meat.
To strike a food with a heavy utensil to crush it. Or, in the case of meat or poultry, to break up connective tissue in order to tenderize or flatten it. Pounding thinner cuts of meat tenderizes it by breaking down muscle. Kitchen mallets are generally used for pounding, but it can be done using a small frying pan as well. First place the piece of meat between two pieces of plastic wrap or wax paper.
The French term for very young, small chicken.
A confection made from nuts covered with a sweet coating (such as chocolate, caramel, etc.) cooked until brown and crisp.
To partially or completely cook food before using it in a recipe. Cook beforehand, cook in advance.
To heat an oven or utensil to a specific temperature before using it. Heat beforehand, warm in advance.
A pressurized cooking pot in which food is cooked at temperatures above the boiling point by steam maintained under pressure. Since the food is cooked at a very high temperature, its cooking time is reduced by as much as two-thirds, without destroying its nutritional value. This reinforced metal pot has a locking airtight lid, a valve system to regulate internal pressure and a safety valve, which will automatically vent the steam should there be a malfunction.
The process of cooking food, using water or other cooking liquid, in a sealed vessel, known as a pressure cooker. Pressure cookers are used for cooking food faster than conventional cooking methods, which also saves energy.
To make small holes in the surface of a food, usually using the prongs of a fork.
A traditional Swedish layer cake or torte consisting of alternating layers of airy sponge cake, pastry cream, and a thick-domed layer of whipped cream. This is topped by marzipan, giving the cake a smooth rounded top. The marzipan overlay is usually green, sprinkled with powdered sugar, and often decorated with a pink marzipan rose.
To preserve food at home by canning, or to prepare food in a food processor.
Profiterole (or Cream puff)
A filled French choux pastry ball with a typically sweet filling of whipped cream, pastry cream, custard, or (particularly in the US) ice cream served as dessert. The puffs may be decorated or left plain or garnished with chocolate sauce, caramel, or a dusting of powdered sugar. Savoury profiterole is also made, filled with pureed meats, cheese, and so on, and served as hors d’oeuvre. These were formerly common garnishes for soups.
In baking, this term refers to testing yeast to make sure it is alive and capable of leavening bread dough or to allow a yeasted dough to rise before baking. Also, a term that indicates the amount of alcohol in a distilled liqueur.
Italian ham that has been seasoned, salt-cured, air-dried (not smoked), thinly sliced and served uncooked. Pressing the meat gives it a firm, dense texture. Parma ham from Italy is considered to be the best. This style is called prosciutto crudo in Italian and is distinguished from cooked ham, prosciutto cotto.
A southern Italian cheese made from cow’s milk. Provolone is firm light-coloured and creamy with a mild, smoky flavour. Because it melts so well, it is an excellent cooking cheese.
A butter-rich, multilayer pastry. When baked, the butter produces steam between the layers, causing the dough to puff up into many flaky layers. Because warm, softened puff pastry dough becomes sticky and unmanageable, roll out one sheet of dough at a time, keeping what you’re not using wrapped tightly in plastic wrap in the refrigerator. Piercing the dough will prevent excessive puffing, and crimping along the sides will prevent the layers from flaking all of the way to the edges.
The name given to a hen that is less than one year old.
Brief repeated on-off actions used with food processors and blenders.
Pumpkin pie spice
A blend of powdered cinnamon, ginger, allspice, nutmeg, and cloves in proper proportions. Used for pumpkin pie, gingerbread, cookies, fruits, squash, sweet potatoes, applesauce, and other apple dishes. It can also be used as a seasoning in general cooking. It’s similar to the British and Commonwealth mixed spice.
Purée (or Mash)
To process or mash or grind a food until it is perfectly and completely smooth. This can be done by hand, by rubbing through a sieve or food mill, or by whirling in a blender or a food processor. Also refers to the resulting mixture. A purée is cooked food, usually, vegetables or legumes, that have been mashed, ground, pressed, blended or sieved to the consistency of a soft creamy paste or thick liquid to form a paste-like consistency. Purées of specific foods are often known by specific names, e.g., mashed potatoes or apple sauce.
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