Talk like a Chef- terms

hpolekitchenThe past few days I have been all about sharing my recipes with all you foodies out there. That’s when I realized, there are probably quite a few people who have never cooked a day in their life, they want to learn, and/or just aren’t familiar with some of the terms I may use. And that is totally fine. We all start somewhere. Whatever your reason, I hope you find this helpful.

In the culinary world, just like photography, there is sooooo much to learn. When I first started culinary school last year, I thought I knew just about all there is to know about cooking. I walked into class thinking that I was just going into the program to learn proper techniques, knife skills, and how to get a business started. What else, besides that, was there to possibly cram into my brain? After my first day, I quickly learned that there is much more to attain than I had anticipated. Every day we will learn new things, be it in the kitchen or life in general.

So, for all of you, I picked through tons (and if you know my professor, you should know this is not an understatement) of Culinary terminology, I put together a small list of basic terms that the everyday cook uses in the kitchen. You will be surprised at how much you already know without knowing the technical term. I know I was.

Culinary Terms:

  • Al dente (al-DEN-tay)- Cooked as to not be too soft; firm to the bite.  In Italian, this means “to the tooth”. It’s used to describe the degree of doneness of pasta and vegetables.
  •  Baste- to moisten (meat or other food) while cooking, with drippings, butter,etc. It’s also used to help flavor the foods while cooking.
  • Chiffonade-  a French term for a particular knife cut where herbs and leafy greens are cut into thin strips.
  • Cut in- this simply means to take a solid fat (like butter) and mix it with a dry ingredient (flour) until they form small particles. This can be achieved by using a fork or pastry cutter.
  • dredge- When you lightly coat food to be pan fried or sautéed typically with flour, cornmeal, or breadcrumbs. (Think of fried chicken)
  • Knead- to mix and work the dough into a uniform mixture by pressing, folding,and stretching.
  • Leavening- Also called leavening agent. a substance used to produce fermentation in dough or batter; leaven. Baking soda and baking powder are great leavening agents and you will use those a lot in baking.
  • Mirepoix (mirh-pwah)- A mixture of diced carrots, onions, celery (and sometimes, herbs) that has been sautéed in butter or oil and used to season soups and stews. (if you think about it, if you made my Chicken Pot Pie Soup, you made a mirepoix 😉 )
  • Mise en place (meez-an-plahs)- this term is french for “everything in it’s place”, and that is exactly what it means when in the kitchen. Mise en place is having all your ingredients prepped and ready to go before you start cooking to ensure everything runs smoothly. That means everything is cleaned, peeled, chopped, diced, measured out, whatever’s necessary to get the ingredients ready prior to preparing your dish. I find this to be VERY important. (This term is literally one of my favorites. So much that I am considering a tat of it when I graduate this spring)
  • Puree- Any food that is mashed to a thick, smooth consistency. Also, the action of mashing a food until it has a thick, smooth consistency usually done by a blender or food processor.
  • Resting- removing meat or poultry from heat before reaching ideal internal temperatures to allow the redistribution of juices in the meat. This helps keep the meat retain its juices, evens out temperature and doneness and easier to carve. (Another important term when cooking meats)
  • Roux (roo)- A mixture of equal parrts flour and fat that is cooked over low heat and used to thicken soups and sauces. There are three types of roux…white, blond, and brown. White and blond roux are both made with butter and used in cream sauces while brown roux can be made with either butter or the drippings from what you are cooking and is used for darker soups and sauces. (We use a roux quite often in the Commercial Kitchen at school)
  • Saute- cooked or browned in a pan containing a small quantity of butter, oil, orother fat.
  • Score- (no, this isn’t to make a goal in soccer or basketball) To make shallow cuts into the surface of foods such as fish, meat, or chicken breasts to aid in the absorption of a marinade, to help tenderize, and/or to decorate.
  • Simmer- To cook food in liquid gently over low heat. You should see tiny bubbles just breaking the surface of the liquid.
  • Sweat-To cook slowly over low heat in butter, usually covered, without browning.

So, as I said… this is a SMALL list of basic terms that I feel everyone who steps foot in a kitchen, should know.

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