Learning the Language of the Culinary Arts
At some point, we all need a little refresher when it comes to all the various types of culinary terms out there. Most of them happen to be French, as much of today’s cuisines are based on traditional French cooking.
Whether you are a chef, cook, restauranteur, or home cook you would benefit in having a reference for all the terms out there. While we cover over 100 in this page, we have not even begun to touch the surface of what is out there.
Larousse Gastronomique Encyclopedia
If you are serious about taking your cooking skill to the next level, I highly recommend picking up Larousse Gastronomique. Not only will it provide you with an amazing reference, but it is incredibly inexpensive for the value it provides. You can check out the price and pick it up off Amazon by clicking here.
A La Carte: Menu in which items and beverages are priced individually
A la grecque: A preparation style where vegetables are marinated in olive oil, lemon juice, and herbs and served cold.
A Point: French term for cooking until the ideal degree of doneness. When referred to meat, it means medium rare.
Acid: A substance that neutralizes a base (alkaline) in a liquid solution. Foods like citrus juice, vinegar, and wine that have a sour or sharp flavor. Acids have a PH of less than 7.
Acidulation: The process of adding citric or acetic acid to water, used to preserve color, to clean aluminum or to soak kidneys and game.
Additives: Substances added to many foods to prevent spoilage or to improve appearance, texture, flavor or nutrition. They might be synthetic materials copied from nature or naturally occurring substances.
Aerate: To incorporate air into a mixture by sifting or mixing.
Aerobic Bacteria: Those that thrive on oxygen.
Aging: The period where freshly killed meat is allowed to rest so that the effects of rigor mortis dissipate, or the period during with freshly milled flour is allowed to rest so it whitens and produces less sticky dough.
Airline Breast: Boneless chicken breast with the first wing bone still attached.
Al Dente: Italian term meaning “to the tooth”. Used to describe mainly pasta (Learn more with our article on homemade pasta) that is cooked until a slight resistance when bitten into.
Albumen: Primary protein found in egg whites.
Alkali: Also known as a base, any substance with a pH higher than a 7.
Alkaloid: A number of bitter organic substances with alkaline properties found often in plants and sometimes in drugs.
Allemande: Sauce made by adding lemon juice and liaison to veloute made from veal stock. (Check out more info with our posts on allemande and veloute sauces here)
Allumette: A matchstick cut 3 mm x 3mm x 5 to 6 cm (1/8 in x 1/8 in x 2 to 2-1/2 in) long and usually for potatoes. (More on the types of cuts in our post here)
American Service: Restaurant service in which the waiter takes the orders and brings the food to the table.
Amino Acid: The base molecular component of proteins.
Anaerobic Bacteria: Those that are able to live and grow without the presence of oxygen.
Angus Beef. Certified: A brand created in 1978 to distinguish the highest-quality beef produced from descendants of the black hornless Angus cattle of Scotland
Anterior: At or toward the front of an object.
Appetizers: Also known as first courses, small portioned hot or cold foods.
Aroma: The sensations as interpreted by the brain.
Aspic; aspic jelly: A clear jelly usually made from a clarified butter stock thickened with gelatine, used to coat foods with a strong reflective glaze.
Au gratin: Food cooked with a browned or crusted top, often made with bread crumbs, cheese and/or sauce topping and cooked under a salamander/broiler.
Au Jus: Roasted meat, poultry or game served with their natural unthickened juices.
Au Sec: Cooked until nearly dry
Bain Marie: Hot water bath used to gently cook food or keep food hot. Container for holding food in a hot water bath.
Baked Alaska: Ice cream set on a layer of sponge cake and encased in meringue then baked until the meringue is warm and golden.
Baking Powder: A mixture of sodium bicarbonate and one or more acids, generally the cream of tartar or sodium aluminum sulfate, used to leaven baked goods. It releases carbon dioxide gases if moisture is present. Single-acting baking powder released CO2 in the presence of moisture only. Double-acting baking powder releases CO2 upon contact with moisture and more gas is released when the heat is applied.
Baking: Dry-heat cooking method in which foods are surrounded by hot, dry air in a closed environment similar to roasting.
Ballantine: Boneless poultry leg stuffed with forcemeat and gently roasted/braised, traditionally shaped into a ball.
Barding: Tying thin slices of fat such as pork or bacon, over meats or poultry that have little fat to help keep moist. (Learn more about poultry in our post here)
Base: A substance the neutralizes acid in a liquid solution.
Basic Sauces: Also known as leading or mother sauces, the foundation for the entire classic repertoire of hot sauces. The five mother sauces – Bechamel, veloute, espagnole, tomato, and hollandaise.
Baste: To moisten foods using their natural juices periodically during cooking.
Bechamel: A basic sauce made by thickening milk with a white roux and adding seasonings.
Beer: An alcoholic beverage made from water, hops and malted barley.
Beurre Blanc: French for white butter, an emulsified butter sauce made from shallots white wine and butter.
Beurre Manie: A combination of equal amounts by weight of flour and soft whole butter. Whisked into a simmering sauce at the end of the cooking process for quick thickening and added sheen and flavor
Beurre noir: French for black butter, whole butter cooked until dark brown (Not black) sometimes flavored with vinegar or lemon juice.
Beurre Rouge: French for red butter, an emulsified butter sauce made from shallots, red wine, and butter
Bisque: A pureed soup made from crustacean shells, classic versions are thickened with rice.
Bloom: A white powdery layer that sometimes appears on chocolate if the cocoa butter separates.
Bombe: Two or more flavors of ice cream or ice cream and sherbet, shaped in a spherical mold, each flavor a separate layer that forms the shell for the next flavor.
Bordelaise: A brown sauce flavored with a reduction of red wine, shallots, pepper, and herbs garnished with bone marrow.
Bound Salad: A salad comprising of cooked meats, poultry, fish, shellfish, pasta or potatoes combined with a dressing.
Blanching: To briefly submerge in simmering water, boiling water, or fat to assist in the preparation of foods.
Bouquet Garni: Fresh herbs and vegetables tied into a cheesecloth bundle and used to flavor sauces, soups, stocks, stews.
Brine: A mixture of salt, water, and seasoning used to preserve foods.
Brochette: Skewered hors d’oeuvres using meats, fish, shellfish, vegetables and grilled or broiled.
Canape: A tiny open-faced sandwich served as an hors d’ouevre.
Capon: Class of surgically castrated male chickens.
Capsaicin: Alkaloid found in chili pepper’s placental ribs that provides the pepper’s heat.
Carotenoid: A naturally occurring pigment that predominates in red and yellow vegetables such as carrots and red peppers.
Cellulose: A complex carbohydrate found in the cell wall of plants. It is edible but indigestible by humans.
Chiffonade: A preparation of finely sliced or shredded leafy vegetables or herbs.
Coagulation: The irreversible transformation of proteins from a liquid or semi-liquid state to a drier, solid state.
Coenzyme: Any of the various small substances of which contain a B vitamin that promotes or assist an enzyme’s activities.
China cap/Chinois: A conically shaped strainer.
Concasse: Peeled, seeded and diced tomato made with blanching. Learn more in our article here.
Confit: Lightly cured meat, usually duck or goose, stewed in its own fat. Pieces are packed in the fat and chilled for later use.
Coring: The process of removing the seeds or pit from fruit or fruit vegetable.
Coulis: A sauce made from a puree of vegetables and/or fruit.
Court bouillon: Water simmered with vegetables, seasonings and an acidic product such as vinegar or wine. Used for simmering or poaching fish, shellfish or vegetables.
Couverture: A high-quality chocolate containing at least 32% cocoa butter.
Croquette: A food that has been pureed or bound with a thick sauce.
Deglaze: To swirl or stir in a liquid into a hot pan to lift away caramelized food particles.
Degrease: To remove fat from the surface of a liquid such as a stock or sauce by skimming the surface.
Dredging: To coat a food item in flour or ground crumbs prior to frying or sauteing.
Dress: To trim or clean an animal for cooking
Duxelles: a Coarse paste made from finely chopped mushrooms sauteed with shallots in butter
Egg Wash: A mixture of beaten eggs (whole eggs, yolks or whites) and a liquid, usually water or milk, used to coat dough before baking.
Emince: A small thing boneless piece of meat.
Emulsion: A uniform mixture of two unmixable liquids, such as oil and water, are forced into a uniform distribution.
Espagnole: Also known as brown sauce, a basic sauce made of brown stock, mirepoix, and tomatoes thickened with brown roux.
Essence: A sauce made from a concentrated vegetable juice.
Evaporation: Heated water that is turned into a gas a vaporizes.
Fabricated Cuts: Individual portions of meat cut from a subprimal.
FIFO: First In First Out. Inventory management system
Fillet: Removing the side of fish intact while removing all bones.
Flambe: Food flamed by the use of alcohol for flavor.
Flash Frozen: Food that has been frozen very rapidly using metal plates, extremely low temperatures or chemical solutions.
Flavonoids: Plant pigments that dissolve readily in water, found in red, purple and white vegetables such as blueberries, red cabbage, and beats.
Foie Gras: Liver os specially fattened geese or ducks.
Fond: French for stock or base. Drippings and bits of food left in a pan after foods are roasted.
Fondant: Sweet, thick opaque sugar paste used for glazing pastries such as napoleons or making candies.
Frenching: Trimming racks of rib or poultry so the bone is cleaned and prominent.
Glace de viande: Dark, syrupy meat glaze made by reducing beef stock.
Jacquard: The process of poking holes into the muscle of meat in order to tenderize.
Jus lie: Can be called fond lie, a sauce made by thickening brown stock using corn starch or similar starch.
Larding: Inserting thin slices of fat directly into meat product to infuse moisture.
Mince: To cut into very small pieces where uniformity or shape is not important.
Mise en Place: Meaning “Everything in place”, refers to the preparation and organization of ingredients and equipment.
Nappe: A certain consistency in a liquid that coats the back of a spoon.
Needling: Injecting fat or flavors into an ingredient to enhance moisture or flavor.
Oignon Brule: French for burnt onion, made by charring onion halves. Used to flavor and color stocks & sauces.
Oignon Pique: Studding an onion with a bay leaf and cloves. Used in bechamel sauce.
Parboiling: To partial cook a portion of food in simmering/boiling water. Similar to blanching, but cooked for longer.
Parcooking: Partially cooking food by any cooking method.
Paupiette: Thin slice of meat, poultry or fish spread with savory stuffing and rolled and braised or poached.
Professional Cooking: System of cooking that appreciates the proper techniques of ingredients and knowledge.
Raft: Crust formed during the production of consomme.
Remouillage: The process of reusing bones for a second stock. French meaning “rewetting”.
Render: To transform solid fat into liquid form by use of heat.
Refreshing: Submerging a hot food item in cold water to quickly stop the cooking process. Also known as an ice bath.
Ricer: a Sievelike tool used to force soft foods through to evenly break up the product, such as potatoes.
Rondeau: Shallow, wide, straight-sided pot with loop handles.
Roulade: Slice of meat, poultry or fish rolled around a stuffing.
Sachet: Containing herbs and spices used to flavor stocks, soups, and sauces. Easily removable.
Sauteuse: Basic sauteing pan with sloped sides and single long handle.
Sautoir: A variation of a saute pan with straight sides and long handle.
Savory: Spied or seasoned foods, as opposed to sweet.
Scald: To heat a liquid, usually milk to just below boiling.
Sear: Brown food quickly over high heat, done as a preparatory step for further methods such as braising or roasting.
Silverskin: Tough connective tissue that surrounds certain muscles.
Staling: Known as starch retrogradation, change in moisture within starch that causes products to turn firm, drier and more crumbly.
Steep: Soaking food in a hot liquid in order to extract flavor or remove impurities.
Sweat: To cook food in a pan, usually covered, without browning over low heat to encourage flavors to be extracted from vegetables and spices.
Sweetbreads: Thymus gland of calf or lamb.
Tempering: To slowly add hot liquid to eggs while stirring vigorously to slowly bring the mixture up to temperature without curdling the eggs.
Tourner: To shape vegetables while peeling. The procedure is to peel, then shape.
Truss: Tying whole poultry or meat to encourage even cooking.
Water Bath: See Bain Marie
Whetstone: A special dense, grained stone used to sharpen or hone knives.
Zushi: The seasoned rice used in preparing sushi.