Learning

Basic Cooking Terms

By Judith Amondi 3/26/2019 4 minutes

Did you know that knowledge of basic cooking terms can affect the outcome of your dish? No? For instance, dicing and slicing may sound similar but they are completely different! These two processes can alter the texture and aesthetic appeal of your dish.

You don’t need to be a culinary expert to understand an entire list of cooking terms. The basic knowledge of these terms will help you fully understand a recipe.  

No more shunning away a recipe because you don’t understand the terms used. This list of cooking terms will expand on your knowledge of recipes and help you make mouthwatering meals.

15 Common Culinary Terms and Definitions

  1. basic cooking termsSlice

This is a very common cooking term in a number of recipes. You will hear and read phrases like, “slice the onions”, “and slice the tomatoes” etc.

To slice means to neatly cut up food in even pieces. Slicing is the act of dividing a food or ingredient in equal portions.

So let’s say you are slicing steak, the pieces must be even and done at a consistent angle. 

  1. Dice

Dicing is among the list of cooking terms commonly mistaken for slicing. However, they are very different.

Dicing involves chopping the food small cubes. The dices must be similar in size so as to give an appealing appearance whether cooked or raw.

Dicing mainly applies to vegetables and fruits although it can also be used on meat and fish.

  1. Al Dente

“Al Dente” is an Italian cooking terminology which means “to the tooth”. It is associated with pasta to mean firmness when bitten. The pasta is cooked with care to ensure it remains moderately firm and chewy.

The purpose of al dente cooking it to avoid having soggy and overcooked pasta.

  1. Blanch

Blanching means to dip foods in boiling water for a few seconds to minutes. Later you transfer the food to ice cold water to prevent further cooking. Blanching helps you easily remove the skin from vegetables as well as enable their beautiful colors to pop.

Blanching is NOT meant to cook food all the way through. Rather, it gives crispiness to the texture. Blanching is also a method of food preservation that prevents food from spoiling faster.

Some of the foods you can blanch include asparagus, carrots, and tomatoes.

  1. Marinate

This is a process of soaking meat, fish or any other foods in a sauce for hours or days in the fridge.

This popular culinary term has been used in countless meat and fish recipes. The “marinade” is the sauce in which is soaked. The sauces are well seasoned to allow the food to soak in all the flavors.

Marinating foods also tenderizes meat dishes slowing down the cooking time.

  1. Sear

How many times have you seen this cooking term especially in meat recipes? I’m guessing many!

Searing involves browning the surface of food through grilling, baking, pan frying, sautéing, braising etc. Searing is purely done to enhance the flavor of the dish. When the meat is placed on a hot pan in hot oil, it immediately caramelizes. The crispiness also adds flavor.

You can sear the meat with ingredients like garlic, butter, and rosemary to add more spice.

  1. Simmer

Boiling and simmering should never be mixed up. Simmering means cooking food at a temperature lower than the boiling point. The bubbles should be gentle and normally rise to the top.  

The temperature must be regulated i.e. 180°F - 250°F to prevent food from falling apart. Simmering works best on rice, fish and poultry dishes.   

  1. Season

Seasoning is one of the most basic cooking terms. You will find this term in almost every recipe.

Seasoning mostly involves adding salt and pepper to your food to give it taste. Some recipes will give you additional seasonings such as herbs, vinegar and spices.

  1. Purée

Purée is a French cooking term meaning “purified”.

Purée is a process of making a thick creamy liquid using fruits or vegetables. Some of the most popular puree dishes include the butternut squash.

You can use a food processor or sieve to make a purée for dishes like fish or steak.

  1. Sauté

Sometimes the difference between sautéing and searing is not well understood. Searing involves browning the surface of meat as a whole.

Sautéing involves cutting up vegetables, meat or fish into small pieces. The food is cooked on moderate heat to avoid burning at the bottom. 

You can add onions, garlic and mushrooms to your sauté to enhance the flavor.

  1. Caramelize

This is a cooking term mainly associated with sugar. The golden brown color gives it a thick and sweet taste. The sugar is cooked on moderately low heat until it melts.

The liquid is perfect as a topping on dessert dishes.

Onions can also be caramelized in sugar on low heat to make them sweet and golden brown.

  1. basic cooking termsFillet

Fillet is a process of removing the bones from fish, poultry or meat. The boneless piece of meat or fish is what is referred to as “fillet”.

Filleting requires skill to avoid ending up with pieces of bones or hurting yourself. When filleting a fish, cut open the stomach from head to tail. Rinse the insides with cold water. Remove the head by cutting around on both sides of the gills.

  1. Garnish

Garnish is used as a decorative feature in foods. It adds to making a meal or beverage look more attractive and delicious.

Common garnishes include parsley, lemons, cilantro, mint, sesame seeds, and raw vegetables.

  1. Julienne

This entails cutting vegetables, cheese or fruits into small thin slices. Some recipes use this cooking term to emphasize the appearance of food.

Julienne is also referred to as a “matchstick cut” because the strips are long and thin.

You can make julienne cuts for foods like French fries or zucchini.

  1. Beat

Beating involves mixing rapidly to incorporate air and create a smooth consistency.

This is normally associated with eggs and batters. You can use a whisk or electric mixture to combine all the ingredients evenly.

Better understood now?

I hope this cooking terminology list has helped you understand your recipes better.

Which other culinary terms would you like to know about? Talk to us below…



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Judith Amondi

Judith has over ten 10 years of experience working as a writer. She has written numerous articles, profiles, and reports for academic, corporate, and nonprofit organizations. Her byline has appeared in the Harvard Business Review with several of her articles being published by the Harvard Business School

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