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Culinary Terms


If you’re going to be a chef or any kind of professional in the food world, you need to know the terminology of cooking and baking. Here is a glossary of common cooking terms. Familiarity with the lingo and how to use these words gives you instant credibility in every restaurant kitchen. How many of the definitions in this dictionary of culinary terms do you already know?


al dente
Literally, “to the tooth”; refers to an item, such as pasta or vegetables, cooked until it is tender but still firm, not soft.

angel food cake
A type of sponge cake made with egg whites that are beaten until stiff.

Literally, “before the pasta.” Typically, a platter of cold hors-d’oeuvre that includes meats, olives, cheese, and vegetables.

Light foods served before a meal. These may be hot or cold, plated or served as finger food.

The farm-raising of fish or shellfish.

A high-starch, short-grain rice traditionally used in the preparation of risotto.

Ingredients, such as herbs, spices, vegetables, citrus fruits, wines, and vinegar, used to enhance the flavor and fragrance of food.


Microscopic organisms. Some have beneficial properties; others can cause food-borne illnesses when contaminated foods are ingested.

A loaf of bread shaped into a long cylinder.

To cook food by surrounding it with dry heat, as in an oven.

To cook food by grilling it over a wood or charcoal fire. Usually, some sort of marinade or sauce is brushed on the item during cooking.

To moisten food during cooking with pan drippings, sauce, or other liquid. Basting prevents food from drying out.

A mixture of flour and liquid, sometimes with the inclusion of other ingredients. Batters vary in thickness but are generally semiliquid and thinner than doughs. Used in such preparations as cakes, quick breads, pancakes, and crepes.

Mix, usually with a spoon, whisk or electric mixer, until very smooth and well-blended.

To cook an item briefly in boiling water or hot fat before finishing or storing it.

Mix two or more ingredients, usually with a blender, food processor or mixer, until smooth.

A cooking method in which items are immersed in liquid at or above the boiling point (212°F/ 100°C).


Cook until the outside is brown.

A mixture of butter, sugar, and eggs or custard. Used to garnish cakes and pastries.

A dairy beverage with a slightly sour flavor similar to that of yogurt. Traditionally, the liquid
by-product of butter churning, now usually made by culturing skim milk.


A hearty cuisine based on French and southern influences; signature ingredients include spices, dark roux, pork fat, file powder, green peppers, onions, and celery. Jambalaya is a traditional Cajun dish.

A sweet product containing flour, sugar, salt, egg, milk, liquid, flavoring, shortening, and leavening agent.

A unit used to measure food energy. It is the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1°C.

A pizza that is stuffed with meats, vegetables, or cheese, folded over to resemble a large turnover, then baked or deep-fried. Canadian bacon Smoked pork loin.

An hors-d’oeuvre consisting of a small piece of bread or toast, often cut in a decorative shape, garnished with a savory spread or topping.

The process of browning sugar in the presence of heat. The temperature range in which sugar caramelizes is approximately 320° to 360°F/ 160° to 182°C.

A lidded cooking vessel that is used in the oven; usually round with two handles. Also, food cooked in a casserole.

chafing dish
A metal dish with a heating unit (flame or electric) used to keep foods warm and to cook foods at tableside or during buffet service.

A sparkling white wine produced in the Champagne region of France. The term is sometimes incorrectly applied to other sparkling wines.

The preparation of pork and other meat items, such as hams, terrines, sausages, pates, and other forcemeats.

A light, fine mesh gauze used for straining liquids and making sachets.

chef’s knife
An all-purpose knife used for chopping, slicing, and mincing; its blade is usually between 8 and 14 inches/20 and 36 cm long.

A cake made by the foaming method that contains a high percentage of eggs and sugar and little if any fat.

The fruit of certain types of capsicum peppers (not related to black pepper), used fresh or dry as a seasoning. Chiles come in many types (for example, jalapeno, serrano, poblano) and varying degrees of spiciness.

A mixture such as chili powder, or a dish of the same name.

chili powder
Dried chiles that have been ground or crushed, often with other ground spices and herbs added.

To cut into pieces of roughly the same size.

Place food on a rack, after cooking or baking, until it feels cool.

An aromatic mixture, such as pickles, chutney, and some sauces and relishes, that accompanies food. Usually kept on the table throughout service.

Take the middle core out of a piece of fruit, usually an apple.

Mix or beat ingredients until soft, smooth and creamy; often a solid fat (usually butter) and sugar are creamed together.

Smash with a spoon or press, then chop finely.

cube or dice
Cut into squares the same size.

deep fry
To cook food by immersion in hot fat; deep-fried foods are often coated with bread crumbs or batter before being cooked.

Meat, poultry, or other food seasoned with mustard, vinegar, and possibly other seasonings, coated with bread crumbs, and grilled.

To cut ingredients into small cubes (% inch/6 mm for small, V2 inch/ 12 mm for medium, and % inch/ 19 mm for large is the standard).

The plate in a meat grinder through which foods pass just before a blade cuts them. The size of the die’s opening deter-mines the fineness of the grind.

To coat food with a dry ingredient such as flour or bread crumbs.

Prepared for cooking. A dressed fish is gutted and scaled, and its head, tail, and fins are removed (same as pan -dressed). Dressed poultry is plucked, drawn, singed, trimmed, and trussed. Also, coated with dressing, as in a salad.

Lightly coating with a powdery ingredient such as flour or confectioners’ (powdered) sugar.

Dutch oven
A kettle, usually of cast iron, used for stewing and braising on the stovetop or in the oven.

egg wash
A mixture of beaten eggs (whole eggs, yolks, or whites) and a liquid, usually milk or water, used to coat baked goods to give them a sheen.

A concentrated flavoring extracted from an item, usually by infusion or distillation. Includes items such as vanilla and other extracts, concentrated stocks, and fumets.

evaporated milk
Unsweetened canned milk from which water has been removed before canning.

extrusion/extruding machine
A machine used to shape pasta. The dough is pushed out through perforated plates rather than being rolled.

The butchering, cutting, and trimming of meat, poultry, fish, and game (large pieces or whole) into a variety of smaller cuts to prepare them to be cooked.

Flour or fine meal of wheat.

fillet mignon
The expensive, boneless cut of beef from the small end of the tenderloin.

fish poacher
A long, narrow pot with straight sides and possibly a perforated rack, used for poaching whole fish.

five-spice powder
A mixture of equal parts ground cinnamon, clove, fennel seed, star anise, and Szechwan peppercorns.

florentine, a la
Dishes prepared in the style of Florence, Italy; denotes the use of spinach and sometimes cheese.

Gently combine a light, airy mixture with a heavier mixture by using a spatula, moving down-across-up-and-over.

An icing made with sugar, water, and glucose; used primarily for pastry and confectionery.

food mill
A type of strainer with a crank-operated, curved blade. It is used to puree soft foods.

food processor
A machine with interchangeable blades and disks and a removable bowl and lid separate from the motor housing. It can be used for a variety of tasks, including chop-ping, grinding, pureeing, emulsifying, kneading, slicing, shredding, and cutting into julienne.

A filling made of heavy cream, chocolate, and/or other flavorings; may be used as a sauce, a glaze, or to make confections. Can range from soft to hard, depending on the amount of butter and cream.

garde manger
Pantry chef/station. The position responsible for cold-food preparation, including salads, cold appetizers, pates, etc.

A cold soup made from vegetables, typically tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and onions.

To give an item a shiny surface by brushing it with sauce, aspic, icing, or another appareil. For meat, to coat with sauce and then brown in an oven or salamander.

Rub against a rough surface with tiny holes, usually a grater, into small pieces

Oil a surface lightly with butter, oil or shortening.

A heavy metal surface, which may be either fitted with handles, built into a stove, or heated by its own gas or electric element. Cooking is done directly on the griddle.

A cooking technique in which foods are cooked by a radiant heat source placed below the food. Also, the piece of equipment on which grilling is done. Grills may be fueled by gas, electricity, charcoal, or wood.

grill pan
A skillet with ridges that is used to simulate grilling on the stovetop.

A Creole soup/stew thickened with file or okra.

Chopped, cooked meat, usually with potatoes and/or other vegetables, which is seasoned, bound with a sauce, and sautéed. Also, to chop.

Heimlich maneuver
First aid for choking, involving the application of sudden, upward pressure on the upper abdomen to force a foreign object from the windpipe.

A classic emulsion sauce made with a vinegar reduction, egg yolks, and melted butter flavored with lemon juice. It is one of the grand sauces.

Literally, “outside the work.” An appetizer.

Conditions and practices followed to maintain health, including Kitchen Clean Up and personal cleanliness.

Steeping an aromatic or other item in liquid to extract its flavor. Also, the liquid resulting from this process.

instant-reading thermometer
A thermometer used to measure the internal temperature of foods. The stem is inserted in the food, producing an instant temperature read-out.

Vegetables, potatoes, or other items cut into thin strips; 1/8 inch by 1/8 inch by 1 to 2 inches/3 mm by 3 mm by 25 to 50 mm is standard. Fine julienne is 1/16 inch by 1/16 a inch by 1 to 2 inches/ 1.5

Buckwheat groats that have been hulled and crushed; usually prepared by boiling.

Mix or work a dough until it stays together and is smooth and elastic. To knead, dust flour where you are working and on your hands. Add more if needed, while you work. Make a ball out of the
dough and press down once on it with the heels of your hands. Turn the dough about a quarter of the way around and fold it in half towards you. Press again with the heels of your hands. Keep turning, folding and pressing (about 10 minutes) until the dough does not stick.

Prepared in accordance with Jewish dietary laws.

kosher salt
Pure, refined salt used for pickling because it does not contain magnesium carbonate and thus does not cloud brine solutions. Also used to prepare kosher items. Also known as coarse salt or pickling salt.

Rendered pork fat used for pastry and frying. Also, to insert small strips of fatback into naturally lean meats before roasting or braising. The process is done using a larding needle.

The seeds of certain plants, including beans and peas, which are eaten for their earthy flavors and high nutritional value. Also, the French word for vegetable.

Small, hard-shell clams often eaten raw on the half shell; smaller than a cherrystone clam.

low-fat milk
Milk containing less than 2 percent fat.

Salt-cured salmon.

lozenge cut
A knife cut in which foods are cut into small diamond shapes.

Small cookies of nut paste (usually almond), sugar, and egg white.

maître d’ hôtel
Dining room manager or food and beverage manager, informally called maitre d’. This position oversees the dining-room or front-of-the-house staff. Also, a compound butter flavored with chopped parsley and lemon juice.

An appareil used before cooking to flavor and moisten foods; may be liquid or dry. Liquid marinades are usually based on an acidic ingredient, such as wine or vinegar; dry marinades are usually salt-based.

A paste of ground almonds, sugar, and egg whites that is used to fill and decorate pastries.

A small, round scallop of meat.

Egg whites beaten until they are stiff, then sweetened and possibly baked until stiff. Types include regular or common, Italian, and Swiss.

Heat slowly in a pan until the ingredient becomes a liquid.

Chop very fine.

A vegetable soup that typically includes dried beans and pasta.

mise en place
Literally, “put in place.” The preparation and assembly of ingredients, pans, utensils, and plates or serving pieces needed for a particular dish or service period.

Combine ingredients, usually with a spoon or electric mixer, so they are all evenly blended.

mode, á la
Literally, “in the style of”. Boeuf a la mode is braised beef; pie a la mode is served with ice cream.

A dish made with beaten egg whites and/or whipped cream folded into a flavored base appareil. May be sweet or savory.

A pastry made of layered puff pastry rectangles filled with pastry cream and glazed with fondant.

new potato
A small, waxy potato that is usually prepared by boiling or steaming and is often eaten with its skin.

The processes by which an organism takes in and uses food.

offset spatula
A hand tool with a wide, bent blade set in a short handle, used to turn or lift foods from grills, broilers, or griddles.

Beaten egg that is cooked in butter in a specialized pan or skillet and then rolled or folded into an oval. Omelets may be filled with a variety of ingredients before or after rolling.

A dish of rice cooked with onion, tomato, garlic, vegetables, and various meats, including chicken, chorizo, shellfish, and possibly other types. A paella pan is a specialized pan for cooking paella; it is wide and shallow and usually has two loop handles.

A cooking method similar to dry sautéing that simulates broiling by cooking an item in a hot pan with little or no fat.

Portion-size whole fish, dressed.

pan frying
A cooking method in which items are cooked in deep fat in a skillet; this generally involves more fat than sautéing or stir frying but less than deep frying.

pan gravy
A sauce made by deglazing pan drippings from a roast and combining them with a roux or other starch and additional stock.

A method of cooking foods in a very small amount of liquid in a covered pan over direct heat.

Heat-resistant paper used in cooking for such preparations as lining baking pans, cooking items en papillote, and covering items during shallow poaching.

To partially cook an item before storing or finishing by another method; may be the same as blanching.

Literally, “dough” or “paste.” Noodles made from a dough of flour (often semolina) and water or eggs that is kneaded, rolled, and cut or extruded, then cooked by boiling.

A process in which milk products are heated to kill microorganisms that could contaminate the milk.

pastry bag
A bag-usually made of plastic, canvas, or nylon-that can be fitted with plain or decorative tips and used to pipe out icings and pureed foods.

A rich forcemeat of meat, game, poultry, seafood, and/or vegetables, baked in pastry or in a mold or dish.

Pastry chef. This station is responsible for baked items, pastries, and desserts. This is often a separate area of the kitchen.

Use a knife of peeler to take off the rind or skin from a fruit or vegetable.

A thick, pureed mixture of an herb, traditionally basil, and oil. Used as a sauce for pasta and other foods and as garnish for soup. Pesto may also contain grated cheese, nuts or seeds, and other seasonings.

petit four
A bite-sized, iced and decorated cake.

phyllo dough
Pastry made with very thin sheets of a flour–and-water dough layered with butter and/or bread or cake crumbs; similar to strudel. Also called filo.

pickling spice
A mixture of herbs and spices used to season pickles. Often includes dill weed and/or seed, coriander seed, cinnamon stick, peppercorns, bay leaves, and others.

A technique for cooking grains in which the grain is sautéed briefly in butter, then simmered in stock or water with various seasonings. Also called pilau, plilaw, pullao, pilav.

To cook gently in simmering liquid that is 160° to 185°F/70° to 82°C.

Cornmeal mush.

To process food by mashing, straining, or chopping it very finely in order to make it a smooth paste. Also, a product produced using this technique.

A hard-shell clam larger than 3 inches/7.5 mm in diam-eter, usually used for chowder or fritters. Also called quahaug.

A light, poached dumpling based on a forcemeat (usually chicken, veal, seafood, or game) bound with eggs that is shaped in an oval by using two spoons.

quick bread
Bread made with chemical leaveners, which work more quickly than yeast. Also called batter bread.


A small, ovenproof dish, usually ceramic. Also ramequin.

reach-in refrigerator
A refrigeration unit, or set of units, with pass-through doors. They are often used in the pantry area for storage of salads, cold hors-d’oeuvre, and other frequently used items.

To decrease the volume of a liquid by simmering or boiling; used to provide a thicker consistency and/or concentrated flavors.

The product that results when a liquid is reduced.

To plunge an item into, or run it under, cold water after blanching to prevent further cooking. Also known as shock.

Rice that is sauteed briefly in butter with onions and possibly other aromatics, then combined with stock, which is added in several additions and stirred constantly, producing a creamy texture with grains that are still al dente.

To cook in an oven or on a spit over a fire.

Fish or shellfish eggs.

Use a rolling pin to flatten.

A combination of spices and herbs applied to foods as a marinade or flavorful crust. Dry rubs are generally based upon spices; wet rubs (sometimes known as mops) may include most ingredients such as fresh herbs, vegetables, and fruit juice or broth if necessary to make a pasty consistency.

The maintenance of a clean food-preparation environment by healthy food workers.

To kill pathogenic organisms by chemicals and/or moist heat.

Sliced raw fish that is served with such condiments as a julienne of daikon radish, pickled ginger, wasabi, and soy sauce.

A liquid accompaniment to food.

Sauté chef/station. The chef de partie responsible for all sautéed items and their sauces.

A forcemeat mixture shaped into patties or links, typically highly seasoned.

To cook quickly in a small amount of fat in a pan on the range top.

Not sweet. Also, the name of a course (savory) served after dessert and before port in traditional British meals. Also, a family of herbs (including summer and winter savory).

To heat a liquid, usually milk or cream, to just below the boiling point. May also refer to blanching fruits and vegetables.

To measure ingredients by weighing, or to divide dough or batter into portions by weight. Also, to remove the scales from fish.

Tool used to scrape fish scales from fish. Used by scraping against direction in which scales lie flat, working from tail to head.

A bivalve whose adductor muscle (the muscle that keeps its shells closed) and roe are eaten. Also, a thin slice of meat.

To cut the surface of an item at regular intervals to allow it to cook evenly.

A boiled mixture of pork trimmings, buckwheat, and cornmeal.

To brown the surface of food in fat over high heat before finishing by another method (for example, braising or roasting) in order to add flavor.

sea salt
Salt produced by evaporating seawater. Available refined or unrefined, crystallized or ground. Also known as sel gris (French for “gray salt”).

Adding an ingredient to give foods a particular flavor. Also, the process by which a protective coating is built up on the interior of a pan.

A frozen dessert made with fruit juice or another flavoring, a sweetener (usually sugar), and beaten egg whites, which prevent the formation of large ice crystals.

Rub against a rough surface with medium to large holes or slits into strips.

To maintain the temperature of a liquid just below boiling. Also, to cook in simmering liquid. The temperature range for simmering is 185° to 200°F/82° to 85°C.

Cut into thin pieces which are the same size.

The french word for sherbert. A frozen dessert made with fruit juice or another flavoring, a sweetener (usually sugar), and beaten egg whites, which prevent the formation of large ice crystals.

Literally, “puffed.” A preparation made with a sauce base (usually béchamel for savory souffles, pastry cream for sweet ones), whipped egg whites, and flavorings. The egg whites cause the soufflé to puff during cooking.

Yeast dough leavened with a fermented starter instead of, or in addition to, fresh yeast. Some starters are kept alive by “feeding” them with additional flour and water.

sous chef
Literally, “underchef.” The chef who is second in command in a kitchen; usually responsible for scheduling, filling in for the chef, and assisting the chefs de partie as necessary.

A soft noodle or small dumpling made by dropping bits of a prepared batter into simmering liquid.

An aromatic vegetable substance, usually dried.

sponge cake
A sweet batter product that is leavened with beaten egg foam. Also called génoise.

springform pan
A round, straight-sided pan whose sides are formed by a hoop that can be unclamped and detached from its base.

A cooking method nearly identical to braising but generally involving smaller pieces of meat and hence a shorter cooking time. Stewed items also may be blanched, rather than seared, to give the finished product a pale color. Also, a dish prepared by using the stewing method.

stir frying
A cooking method similar to sautéing in which items are cooked over very high heat, using little fat. Usually this is done in a wok, and the food is kept moving constantly.

A flavorful liquid prepared by simmering meat, poultry, seafood, and/or vegetables in water with aromatics until their flavor is extracted. It is used as a base for soups, sauces, and other preparations.

A large, straight-sided pot that is taller than it is wide. Used for making stocks and soups. Some have spigots. Also called marmite.

Use a colander to let juices or liquids drain out.

A pie without a top crust. May be sweet or savory. A tartlet is a small, single-serving tart.

Seafood and/or vegetables that are coated with a light batter and deep-fried.

A boneless cut of meat, usually beef or pork, from the loin. Usually the most tender and expensive cut.

A loaf of forcemeat, similar to a pate, but cooked in a covered mold in a bain-marie. Also, the mold used to cook such items, usually an oval shape made of ceramic.

Lightly brown in the oven or toaster.

Mix lightly and gently.

A single-shelled mollusk, such as abalone and sea urchin.

A crisp, pancake-like batter product that is cooked in a specialized griddle that gives the finished product a textured pattern, usually a grid. Also a special vegetable cut that produces a grid or basket-weave pattern. Also known as gaufretre.

walk-in refrigerator
A refrigeration unit large enough to walk into. It is occasionally large enough to maintain zones of varying temperature and humidity to store a variety of foods properly. Some have reach-in doors as well. Some are large enough to accommodate rolling carts as well as many shelves of goods.

Japanese version of Horseradish.

whisk or whip
Looped wires are formed into a teardrop shape, joined together with a long handle and used to mix ingredients; to whip, you beat the ingredients, letting air into them, until they are fluffy.

white chocolate
Cocoa butter flavored with sugar and milk solids. It does not contain any cocoa solids, so it does not have the characteristic brown color of regular chocolate.

whole-wheat flour
Flour milled from the whole grain, including the bran and germ. Graham flour is a whole-wheat flour named after Sylvester Graham, a nineteenth-century American dietary reformer.

A large tuber that grows in tropical and subtropical climates; it has starchy, pale-yellow flesh. The name yam is also given to the (botanically unrelated) sweet potato.

Microscopic fungus whose metabolic processes are responsible for fermentation. It is used for leavening bread and in the making of cheese, beer, and wine.

Milk cultured with bacteria to give it a slightly thick consistency and sour flavor.

The thin, brightly colored outer part of citrus rind. It contains volatile oils, making it ideal for use as a flavoring.


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