Basic Culinary Terms

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Learning these basic culinary terms and techniques will help improve your cooking skills and take away any fears you may have in the kitchen! Whether you are new to cooking or know your way around the kitchen, there is always a new technique to master.

Cooking 101: Basic Culinary Terms graphic image with a knife cutting a carrot and a grater with Swiss cheese.

Below you will find the most common terms that are used when creating recipes. There is an entire glossary of fancy French terms, but these are the basic terms that you should learn and practice.

Check out the Cooking 101 Archives for simple recipes using these basic techniques.

To Prep Ingredients

  • Crush – Press to extract juice with garlic press, mallet, or side of a chefs knife (garlic).
  • Press – To press garlic through a garlic crusher by forcing them through a grid of small holes.
  • Mince – Cut into very small pieces (garlic, onion).
  • Snip – Cut into very small pieces with kitchen scissors (parsley, chives/green onions).
  • Chop – Cut into pieces with a knife. Hold the end of the knife tip on the board with one hand and move the blade up and down with the other hand.
  • Dice – Cut into small cubes that are less than a half inch (celery, carrots).
  • Cube – Cut into cubes that are a half inch or larger (cheese).
  • Sliver – Cut into long, thin pieces (almonds, green onions).
  • Julienne – Cut into matchlike sticks (vegetables).
  • Zest – Cut into tiny particles using small holes on a grater (lemon, Parmesan cheese).
  • Shred – Cut into thin pieces using large holes on a grater (cheese, potatoes).
  • Pare – Cut off outer covering with a knife (apples, potatoes).
  • Peel – Strip off outer covering (oranges, apples, potatoes).

To combine ingredients

  • Toss – Tumble ingredients lightly with a lifting motion (salads).
  • Fold – Combine ingredients gently with a combination of two motions: one cuts vertically through the mixture, the other slides the spatula across the bottom of a bowl and then up the side, turning the mixture over (soufflés, chiffon cakes).
  • Cut in – Distribute solid fat in dry ingredients by chopping with knives or pastry blender (pie crust, biscuits).
  • Stir – Combine ingredients with a circular or figure-8 motion until mixture is uniform consistency.
  • Mix – Combine in any way that distributes all ingredients evenly.
  • Blend – Thoroughly combine all ingredients until very smooth and evenly distributed.
  • Cream – Beat just until smooth, light and fluffy (butter and sugar).
  • Beat – Make mixture smooth by a vigorous over and over motion with a whisk or mixer.
  • Whip – Beat rapidly in order to incorporate air (whipped cream).

For Cooking

  • Sauté – Cook in small amount of oil until tender, stirring occasionally (onion, garlic).
  • Caramelize – To cook food in a skillet over medium heat until sugars in the food brown.(steak, vegetables).
  • Brown – Cook until food changes color, usually in small amount of fat over moderate heat (meat).
  • Braise – To cook slowly with a small amount of liquid in a tightly covered pan.
  • Deglaze – To pour liquid into a hot pan that has been used to roast or sauté meat in order to absorb the flavors and remove the caramelized bits (usually with wine or broth).
  • Bake – To cook food in the oven.
  • Roast – To cook food, especially meat with prolonged exposure to heat in an oven or over a fire.
  • Broil – To cook by dry heat under a broiler.
  • Simmer – Cook in liquid just below the boiling point. Bubble form slowly and collapse below the surface.
  • Boil – Heat until bubbles rise continuously and break on the surface of the liquid.
  • Rolling boil – Bubbles form rapidly.
  • Steam – A moist-heat method of cooking that works by boiling water which vaporizes into steam. The food is not submerged in boiling water it is kept separate using in a steamer basket, and is cooked by the hot steam.
  • Blanch – To dip food briefly in boiling water, then submerge in ice water to stop the process.
  • Drain – To remove liquid from food using a colander, strainer, or by tilting the container or pan.

Additional culinary terms

  • Cool – Allow to come to room temperature.
  • Chill – Refrigerate to make cold.
  • Refrigerate – Place in the refrigerator to store.
  • Marinate – Let food stand in liquid that will add flavor and tenderize.
  • Butterfly – To split food horizontally in half without cutting all the way through.
  • Baste – Spoon or brush liquid over the food while cooking to keep food moist (chicken/turkey, steaks).
  • Toast – Brown in oven or toaster (bread, nuts).
  • Dredge – To coat food lightly with flour or dry breadcrumbs prior to cooking.
  • Dust – To sprinkle lightly with powdered sugar or flour (pastries, pizza dough).
  • Crimp – To pinch dough edges together to create a decorative edge on pie crust, or to seal two layers of dough together (pop tarts, calzone).

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