Cooking Dictionary

essential for beginner cooks

Consider a cooking dictionary your best way to translate the language of cooking.  Especially if you feel like you've traveled to a foreign country when you step foot in your own kitchen. 

Knowing what some of the terms are will greatly increase your cooking skill and enjoyment. 

Below are a some common cooking dictionary terms you will find when looking at cookbooks or recipes on line.  Having a basic knowledge of some common culinary terms will help you enjoy cooking.

Cooking Dictionary

al dente In Italian the phrase means "to the tooth" and is a term used to describe pasta, risotto, and vegetables that are cooked until there is a slight resistance when biting into it

bake To cook in the oven.

Food is cooked slowly with gentle heat, causing the natural moisture to evaporate slowly, concentrating the flavor.

batter Cooking dictionary term referring to a mixture of flour, fat, and liquid that is thin enough in consistency to require a pan to encase it. Used in such preparations as cakes and some cookies. A batter is different from dough, which maintains its shape.

baste A cooking dictionary term referring to spoon, brush or pour drippings or liquid over a food before or during cooking in order to prevent drying, to add flavor, or to glaze it.

bind To thicken a sauce or hot liquid by stirring in ingredients such as eggs, flour, butter, or cream.

blackened A cooking technique where meat or fish is usually seasoned with a Cajun spice mixture and then cooked in a cast-iron skillet that has been preheated. This technique gives the food an extra crispy crust and sears in the juices. The end result will be very moist meat, poultry or fish.

blanch To boil briefly to loosen the skin of a fruit or a vegetable. After 30 seconds in boiling water, the fruit or vegetable should be plunged into ice water to stop the cooking action, and then the skin easily slices off. This method can also be used to cook vegetables "al dente"

braise A cooking dictionary term referring to a cooking technique that requires "browning" meat in oil or other fat and then cooking slowly in an additional liquid. The effect of braising is to sear flavor , and tenderize the meat.

bread To coat the food with crumbs (usually with soft or dry bread crumbs), sometimes seasoned.

brown A quick sautéing, pan/oven broiling, or grilling method done either at the beginning or end of meal preparation, often to enhance flavor, texture, or eye appeal.

butterfly To split food (usually meat, fish, or poultry) down the center, cutting almost, but not completely through. The two halves are then opened flat to resemble a butterfly. Often this is the first step when preparing a roast that is to be stuffed and rolled.

carmelize To slowly over low heat saute food to bring out the natural sugars while allowing the food to soften and sweeten. The food will brown due to the sugars being released.

chop To cut into irregular pieces.

clarify To clear a liquid of all solid particles using a special cooking process.

(1) To clarify butter: means to melt it and pour off the clear top layer from the milky residue at the bottom of the pan. The resulting clear liquid can be used at a higher cooking temperature and will not go rancid as quickly as unclarified butter.

(2) To clarify stock: egg whites and/or eggshells are commonly added and simmered for about 15 minutes. The egg whites attract and trap particles from the liquid. After cooling, strain the mixture through a cloth-lined sieve to remove residue.

(3) To clarify rendered fat: add hot water and boil for about 15 minutes. The mixture should then be strained through several layers of cheesecloth and chilled. The resulting layer of fat should be completely clear of residue.

devil or diablo Cooking dictionary term: to add hot or spicy ingredients such as cayenne pepper, crushed red pepper or Tabasco sauce to a food.

dice To cut into cubes. Approximately 1/8"-1/4" cubes

direct heat A cooking method that allows heat to meet food directly, such as grilling, broiling, or toasting.

dredge Cooking dictionary term:to coat meat or vegetables in a dry mixture such as flour or breadcrumbs, prior to cooking.

drippings Used for gravies and sauces, drippings are the liquids left in the bottom of a roasting or frying pan after meat is cooked.

egg wash A mixture of beaten eggs (yolks, whites, or whole eggs) with either milk or water. Used to coat cookies and other baked goods to give them a shine when baked.

emulsion A mixture of liquids such as oil and water whisk typically don't mix easily. An emulsion is done by slowly drizzling oil into the other liquid while at the same time mixing quickly.

fillet To remove the bones from meat or fish for cooking.

filter To remove lumps, excess liquid, or impurities by passing through paper or cheesecloth.

fold To gently incorporate light airy mixtures with heavier mixtures, usually with a scraper or spoon. Often used to blend whipped cream with other ingredients. Using a "folding" motion, bringing product from bottom of bowl to the top.

ganache A cooking dictionary term referring to a rich chocolate filling or coating made with chocolate, vegetable shortening, and possibly heavy cream. It can coat cakes or cookies, and be used as a filling for truffles.

glaze (n)A liquid that gives an item a shiny surface. Examples are fruit jams that have been heated or chocolate thinned with melted vegetable shortening. (v)to cover a food with sweet or savory liquid, which will set smooth or shiny.

gluten A protein formed when hard wheat flour is moistened and agitated. Gluten is what gives yeast dough its characteristic elasticity.

grate To cut down a food into fine pieces by rubbing it against a rough grater

gratin To bind together or combine food with a liquid such as cream, milk, béchamel sauce, or tomato sauce, in a shallow dish. The mixture is then baked until cooked and set.

grease To coat the inside of a pan or skillet with a thin layer of oil or butter.

infusion Extracting flavors by soaking them in liquid heated in a covered pan. The term also refers to the liquid resulting from this process.

jell (also gel) To cause a food to set or solidify, usually by adding gelatin.

jerk or Jamaican jerk seasoning A dry mixture of various spices such as chilies, thyme, garlic, onions, and cinnamon or cloves used to season meats such as chicken or pork.

julienne To cut into long, thin strips.

jus The natural juices released by roasting meats.

coat To cover food completely with a glaze, aspic, mayonnaise, sauce, or icing.

cream To mix together ingredients, such as butter and sugar, until light, fluffy, and thoroughly blended. This process traps in air bubbles, later used to create height in cookies and cakes.

cut in To work vegetable shortening, margarine, or butter into dry ingredients, by pressing with a fork or gently chopping with two knives. The end result should be small particles. Be sure not to overwork into a paste.

deglaze To pour a liquid (wine, stock, water) into a hot pan where meat has been cooked. The process loosens the browned particles in the pan. The resulting mixture is used for the base of a gravy or sauce.

knead Cooking dictionary term referring to working dough with the heels of your hands in a pressing and folding motion until it becomes smooth and elastic.

leavener An ingredient or process that produces air bubbles and causes the rising of baked goods such as cookies and cakes.

marinate To combine food with a seasoned liquid, letting the food soak in the marinade for a period of time. The purpose is for the food to take in the flavors of the marinade as well as to tenderize tough meat. Foods should be refrigerated while marinating. Fruits being soaked are referred to as macerated

medallion A small round or oval bit of meat.

mince To chop food into tiny, irregular pieces

moisten Adding enough liquid to dry ingredients to dampen but not soak them.

mull To slowly heat wine or cider with spices and sugar.

Cooking dictionary N-Z

parboil Cooking dictionary word that means to partially cook vegetables in boiling water, to be finished by another cooking method.

parchment A heavy, heat-resistant paper used in cooking.

poach To simmer a food in liquid at just below the boiling point -- usually eggs or fish.

proof To let yeast dough rise.

rolling boil When a liquid is boiling, and cannot be stirred down to below boiling point.

ramekin A small baking dish used for individual servings of sweet and savory dishes.

reconstitute To take a dehydrated food such as dried fruit back to its original state by adding liquid, and allowing it to sit in a hot liquid to become soft.

reduce To cook liquids down in volume by evaporation. The flavor will intensify and the liquid will thicken. The end result is called a reduction

render To melt down fat to make drippings.

roast To cook uncovered in the oven.

roux A mix of flour and butter, cooked together until the flour is browned. Used as a base for Cajun/Creole dishes such as gumbo, jambalaya and etouffé.

It can also be used for a thickener for sauces.

sauté To quickly cook vegetables or meat on the stove top at a high heat.

scald To heat milk or cream to just below the boiling point. Milk is scalded when steam rises from it.

score To tenderize meat by making a number of shallow (often diagonal) cuts across its surface. This technique is also useful in marinating, as it allows for better absorption of the marinade.

sear Cooking dictionary term, meaning to brown meat all over to create a crust. Sealing in a meat's juices by cooking it quickly under very high heat.

sift To remove large lumps from a dry ingredient such as flour or confectioners' sugar by passing it

through a fine mesh. This process also incorporates air into the ingredients, making them lighter.

simmer Cooking dictionary terms referring to cook food in a liquid at a low enough temperature that small bubble begin to break the surface.

To remove the top fat layer from stocks, soups, sauces, or other liquids such as cream from milk.

slurry A thin paste of cold water and corn starch or arrow root, which is stirred into hot preparations

(such as soups, stews and sauces) as a thickener. After the slurry is added, the mixture should be stirred and cooked for several minutes in order to thicken.

soft/stiff peaks When beating egg whites, a soft peak is reached when the beaters are pulled out of the whites and the peaks that form droop. Stiff peaks do not droop, but hold their shape.

steam To cook in a steamer basket or rack over boiling water in a covered pan, this method keeps foods' shape, texture, and nutritional value intact better than methods such as boiling.

steep To soak dry ingredients (tea leaves, ground coffee, herbs, spices, etc.) in liquid until the flavor is infused into the liquid.

stewing Browning small pieces of meat, poultry, or fish, then simmering them with vegetables or other ingredients in enough liquid to cover them, usually in a closed pot on the stove, in the oven, or with a slow cooker.

sweat To slowly cook vegetables in a covered pan until they are soft, but still hold their shape. This is often done with onions or garlic.

unleavened Baked goods that contain no agents to give them volume, such as baking powder, baking soda, or yeast.

water bath A gentle cooking technique in which a container(pan, bowl, etc ) is set in a pan of simmering watereither on the stove or in the oven. This method is used to cook delicate foods such as custards without breaking them.

whip To incorporate air into ingredients such as cream or egg whites by beating until light and fluffy, using a quick motion; also refers to the utensil used for this action.

whisk To mix or fluff by beating; also refers to the utensil used for this action.


The thin, brightly colored outer part of the rind of citrus fruits. It contains volatile oils, used as a flavoring. For larger size use a tool called a ZESTER or vegetable peeler.

For smaller pieces use a tool called a MICRO PLANE. Only the the colored part of the peel is considered the zest, not the white part.

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