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Food Glossary - Some common & not-so-common kitchen terms


Al Dente
Cooking pasta (or vegetables) to a perfect doneness; not too firm nor too soft. In Italian, means "to the tooth."

A thickening agent similar to cornstarch, which can be frozen after mixing with other ingredients, but should not be paired with dairy products or used in heavy sauces.

Baking Powder
A blend of cream of tartar, sodium aluminum sulfate, and/or baking soda, which acts as a rising agent but does not add a yeast flavor. Cannot be a substitute for baking soda.

Baking Soda
A single alkaline agent that must be combined with "wet" acids such as lime juice, vinegar, or yogurt, to create a rise in baked goods. Can then be a substitute for baking powder.

A brief and precise steaming or boiling process to enhance the color of some fresh vegetables and fruits; also used to prepare foods for freezing, removing skins, and canning.

The process of tenderizing tougher, larger cuts of meats, including vegetables, through slow covered cooking with a liquid to create moist heat.

A salt bath for marinating poultry, fish, and meats that can enhance moisture content and flavor.

Often used interchangeably with stock, but is technically a more fluid, reduced fat reduction from meaty parts, sometimes with vegetables added, and strained after approximately three hours of simmering. Produced from, but cannot be used to make, stock.

The browning and thickening of sugar. In the cases of some vegetables, such as onions, the release of natural sugars when cooked in heated oil or butter.

A method for obtaining a clearer liquid by turning impurities or fats into solids that rise to the surface for skimming.

Releasing the cooked remaining juices and bits that remain in a pan after cooking for use in gravies and sauces, usually by adding wine.

Coating food with a dry mixture such as flour, cornmeal, and breadcrumb bases before adding to an egg or milk wash.

The blending of two incompatible liquids, typically by using an emulsifying agent. Oil and water can be blended by careful mixing with the introduction of an agent such as mustard. Mayonnaise and Béarnaise sauces are two examples of the emulsification process.

(flam-BAY) Flaming a dish containing alcohol, which enriches the flavor but leaves no inebriating qualities behind.

A protein combination found in many flours that is activated with water and kneading to produce the sticky threads that trap yeast and cause dough to rise. Gluten is also found in many other products including hot chocolate, packaged grated cheese, and roasted nuts.

Mainly native to the Northern Hemisphere and derived from flowers, leaves, roots, and seeds.

Indirect Heat
The art of safely cooking with a heat source that is some distance from the food, including smoking in which a firebox funnels heat into the chamber or placing charcoal briquettes to one side of a grill with food on the opposite end.

The extraction of flavor from a substance by immersing it in a hot or cold liquid. Some herbs, for instance are added to cold oils for dressings, while tea combined with hot water creates an infusion.

Thinly sliced food, typically vegetables, cut to about the size of matchsticks but may vary in length.

A thin juice accompanying foods such as roast beef that is often created by deglazing the cooking pan. The term "au jus" means "served with juice" while a "jus lie" is a thickened version.

Kosher Salt
Crystal-sized or flaked salt; not kosher in itself, but used to brine or cook kosher foods and a popular ingredient in many recipes.

A liquid mix that is used to tenderize and flavor uncooked food; typically contains oils, acids, spices, and herbs.

(meer-PWAH) A classic blend of specific diced ingredients used as a base for soups and solid foods; namely, 1 part carrots, 1 part celery, and 2 parts onions sauteed in butter or oil; can add herbs if desired.

Mise en place
(MEEZ-awn-plaws) A frequently used French term for the food preparation process, meaning all ingredients are cleaned, chopped, and measured before the start of cooking a dish or meal, which also adds efficiency and speed.

Mother Sauces
The original five sauces from which all other sauces are made, including Bechamel (pale), Espagnole (brown), Hollandaise (emulsified), tomato (red), and Veloute (blond). Mayonnaise and vinaigrette were later added and labeled "contemporary" mother sauces.

Cooking utensils and containers, including stainless steel, that won't interact with acids, alkalines, and sulfuric compounds in foods such as tomato bases, dairy, fruits, alcohol, and some vegetables.

Olive Oils
Heart-healthy oils derived from green olives and produced from single or multiple extractions with virgin and extra-virgin varieties being best for table use while "pure" oil is the lowest quality, but recommended for cooking with its high smoke point.

Meaning "paper" in French, referring to handmade parchment or foil packets in which food is placed for steaming and is a healthy alternative that is also quick to prepare.

Cooking foods to about a fifty percent doneness before transferring immediately to a second phase of cooking to complete the process.

(paw-TAY) A paste of any type, generally referring to animal and vegetable bases and may be smooth for spreading or firmer for slicing or baking.

Grilling or oven cooking with wooden boards, such as Western red cedar, on which food is placed to add smoky flavors.

A cooking method in which food is immersed in liquid and maintained at a low boil until done.

Boiling liquids such as soups and sauces, usually uncovered, until volume has thickened and become reduced through moisture evaporation.

A thickener made from a fat and flour mixture with liquid slowly added to create sauces and soups. White and blond roux often use a butter base while a brown roux includes drippings or lard and is cooked longer.

A dry seasoning mixture of spices, herbs, and often sugars that enhance the flavors of meats and other foods. Sometimes applied ahead of time or added just before grilling, frying, or baking.

A cheesecloth pouch that holds various herbs and is dropped into simmering liquids to add flavor without dispersing the ingredients.

Quickly browning foods in a skillet of hot oil or butter without absorbing the grease.

A fat or oil base, in either liquid or solid form, that's derived from animal or vegetable products and typically has a high smoke point, but also adds flavor to baked goods.

Smoke point
The hottest temperature any oil can reach before it begins to smoke and starts to become dangerously combustible.

Almost always native to the Southern Hemisphere and produced from bark, fruits, nuts, and seeds.

A thicker reduction of liquid from meaty and bony parts with vegetables added and skimmed after about six hours of simmering. Used to create broths with the addition of water. Can also be vegetarian-based.

Referring to the raw fish itself, although a side ingredient may accompany the serving.

In general terms, this means the presentation of raw fish in its bed of rice or a combination of ingredients.

A technique to avoid setting or overcooking some foods by removing a portion of the warmed mixture, cooling it, and slowing adding it back in before blending with other ingredients.

A product that is prepared without the use of yeast, including tortillas and many breads from ethnic cuisines.

Vegetable Oils
Generally refined for use in high heat frying, with many featuring healthful properties such as high ratios of monounsaturated/polyunsaturated fats and Omega-6 fatty acids. Unrefined versions are used as salad dressings and often in sauces.

White Pepper
A slightly milder form of black pepper that is often used in lighter-colored sauces and soups to eliminate the appearance of specks. It is a matured version of peppercorn, while black pepper is the unripened stage.

Xanthan Gum
An additive that works to bind ingredients and create elasticity when using gluten-free flours; also found in toothpaste, ice cream, and a host of other products.

The organism that creates the rise in foods after mixing by releasing carbon dioxide. "Active dry yeast" is most commonly used for hand-kneading, while "rapid rise" produces less flavor, but can be used in bread machines.

The shavings from a fruit's outer colored layer, or rind, that provides stronger flavoring in foods due to the high oil content.

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