What Does That Mean?! Cooking Terms Defined

What Does That Mean?! Cooking Terms Defined

When you’re reading through a recipe, do you ever stop, scratch your head and ask, “What does that mean?” When I first ventured into the world of cooking, I often found myself a bit confused and, oftentimes, guessing on how to perform a certain task.

The more I cooked, the more I began to realize that cooking terms popped up everywhere in recipes. Thankfully, over time I’ve learned what they mean.

To beginners, and maybe even some veterans out there, a few cooking terms found in recipes might leave cooks a bit puzzled.

In an effort to lessen the confusion, I’ve compiled a list of basic cooking terms that you should be familiar with when you scope out and begin to tackle new recipes.

Basic Cooking Terms Defined

Al dente: Italian term to describe pasta and rice that are cooked until tender but still firm to the bite

Bain-marie: A pan of water that is used to help mixtures, such as custards, bake evenly and to protect them from the direct heat of the oven or stove

Bake: To cook in the oven – the terms baking and roasting are often used interchangeably, but roasting involves cooking at a higher temperature (at least in the beginning) to brown the surface of the food

Baste: To spoon, ladle or moisten with a filled baster hot cooking liquid over food at intervals during cooking to moisten and flavor the food

Beat: To make a mixture smooth with rapid and regular motions using a spatula, wire whisk or electric mixer; to make a mixture light and smooth by enclosing air

Bind: To add egg or a thick sauce to hold ingredients together when they are cooked

Blanch: To plunge some foods into boiling water for less than a minute and then immediately plunge into iced water – this is often used to brighten the color of some vegetables; to remove skin from tomatoes and nuts; or performed to halt deterioration prior to freezing

Blend: To mix two ore more ingredients thoroughly together; not to be confused with blending in an electric blender

Boil: To cook in a liquid brought to a boiling point and kept there

Braise: To cook in a small amount of liquid (also called stewing or pot roasting); not to be confused with poaching, in which the food is completely submerged in simmering liquid; braised dishes use a small amount of liquid

Bread: To coat foods to be sauteed or deep-fried with flour or a breadcrumb mixture to create a crust

Broil: To cook with a direct heat source, usually a gas flame or an electric coil above the hood

Clarify: To make a liquid clear by removing sediments and impurities; to melt far and remove any sediment

Corned: To salt and cure a meat

Coat: To dust or roll food items in flour to cover the surface before the food is cooked; also, to coat in flour, egg and breadcrumbs

Cream: To make creamy and fluffy by working the mixture with the back of a wooden spoon; usually refers to creaming butter or margarine with sugar (can also be done with an electric mixer)

Cube: To cut uniformly into small pieces with six even sides (e.g., cube of meat)

Deglaze: To dissolve dried-out cooking juices left on the base and sides of a roasting dish or frying pan; add a little water, wine, or stock, or stock and scrape and stir over heat until dissolved (resulting liquid is used to make a gravy or added to a sauce or casserole for additional full-bodied flavor)

Degrease: To skim fat from the surface of cooking liquids (e.g., stocks, soups, casseroles, sauces)

Dice: To cut food into tiny cubes (1/8 to 1/4 inch)

Dilute: To reduce a mixture’s strength by adding liquid (usually water)

Dollop: A small gob of soft food, such as whipped cream

Dredge: To heavily coat with icing sugar, flour or corn flour

Drizzle: To pour in a fine, thread-like stream moving over a surface

Dust: Lightly coating a food with a powdery substance, such as flour or powdered sugar

Egg wash: Beaten egg with milk or water used to brush over pastry, bread dough or biscuits to give a sheen and golden-brown color

Flake: To separate cooked fish into flakes, removing bones and skin, using two forks

Fold in: To combine a light, whisked or creamed mixture with other ingredients – this is accomplished by adding a portion of the other ingredients at a time and mix using a gentle circular motion, over and under the mixture so that air will not be lost (it’s always best to use a spatula)

Fry: To cook a food in a hot fat

Glaze: To brush or coat food with a liquid that will give the finished product a glossy or shiny appearance, and on baked products, a golden-brown color

Grind: To pass meats or nuts through a grinder or a food processor to reduce to small pieces

Infuse: To steep food in a liquid until the liquid absorbs the flavor

Julienne: To slice food (e.g., vegetables and processed meats) into fine strips the approximate length of matchsticks

Knead: To work a yeast dough in a pressing, stretching and folding motion with the heel of the hand until it is smooth and elastic so as to develop the gluten strands

Macerate: To soften fruit in a syrup, liqueur or spirit to give added flavor

Marinate: To combine foods, usually meat or fish, with aromatic ingredients for some time to tenderize and add flavor

Mask: To evenly cover cooked food portions with sauce, mayonnaise or savory jelly

Pan-fry: To fry foods in a small amount of fat or oil, sufficient to coat the base of the pan

Pare: To peel the skim from vegetables and fruit

Pinch: The amount of dry ingredients you can hold in a pinch (between your thumb and forefinger). It’s equivalent to 1/16 teaspoon

Poach: To simmer gently in enough hot liquid to almost cover the food so shape will be retained

Puree: To work or strain foods until they are completely smooth

Saute: To cook over high heat on the stove in a small amount of fat in a saute pan or skillet

Scald: To heat milk just below the boiling point (or, to immerse a vegetable or fruit in boiling water in order to remove its skin easily)

Sear: To brown the surface of pieces of meats and/or fish by submitting them to intense initial heat

Simmer: To cook in liquid just below the boiling point (approximately 205 degrees F), with small bubbles rising gently to the surface

Skim: To remove fat or froth from the surface of simmering food

Stew: To cook in a manner similar to braising, but generally involving smaller pieces of meat, and therefore, a shorter cooking time

Stir-fry: To quickly fry small pieces of food in a large pan over very high heat while stirring

Stock: The naturally flavorful liquid produced when meat, poultry, fish or vegetables have been simmered in water to extract the flavor

Sweat: To cook sliced onions or vegetables in a small amount of butter in a covered pan over low heat to soften them and release flavor without browning

Whip: To beat a preparation with the goal of introducing air into it; also, the balloon-shaped wire whisk often used to do so

Whisk: A utensil with looped wires in the shape of a teardrop, used for whipping ingredients like batters, sauces, eggs and creams (the whisk helps air get into the batter)

Zester: A utensil with tiny cutting holes on one end that creates threadlike strips of peel when pulled over the surface of a lemon lime or orange (it removes only the colored outer portion of the peel)

What are some terms that have stopped you in your tracks when preparing a recipe?

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  1. i have a recipe for a custard type of cream and at the end of the recipe it says to strain and then place in the fridge…do i actually pour it through like a pasta strainer? I have never heard of this before!

  2. I would like to know what is meant by a few hours. I know a couple is 2 but a few can be 3 or more. I'm marinating a piece of beef.

  3. A "few" hours generally means at least 3, but up to 5 or 6 hrs. For marinating beef, you can even marinate over night, it's not going to hurt it, it'll make it taste even better! Just my thoughts!

  4. i am in need of knwoing what the term in baking of 'alousie is. something to do with a piping bag and making into a 'alousie?

  5. I have an old English recipe book that in a recipe for pastry calls for 'cooking fat'. What is this? It is not butter as the recipe includes that too. Also what is 'castor sugar'? English cooking terminology seems to differ quite a bit.

    • I think that cooking fat would refer to lard, like crisco. Caster sugar is a very fine sugar, finer than granulated but not like confectioners sugar, which is more powdery. Caster sugar can be found in some grocery stores, but I live in a very small town so I buy it online from Amazon. It’s a bit expensive that way but I don’t use it that often, so it lasts a long time.

    • What type of a cookie recipe is it? It could mean flip the cookies or turn the cookie sheet. But, I would love to know what cookies you’re trying to make. Thanks!

    • What type of recipe is it? Usually, when using metal cookie cutters for cookies, you should flour the cookie cutters so that the dough doesn’t stick to the cookie cutters. That’s just an example. But, I would love to have a recipe reference to help you. Thanks!

  6. What does # mean? I am very confused and it is after a number. I am guessing it means some kind of measurement but what kind?

  7. After many s3arches, I am still unable to define “tap it”.

    My recipe says:
    Boil the water, mix in the cinnamon, “TAP IT” and let it cool before adding the honey.

    Does TAP IT mean to literally tap the glass after you stir it…. or perhaps to carefully pour off the cinnamon water to separate from the slimey slush at the bottom?

  8. What does do. mean in a recipe. I found it in a recipe for cupcakes. An old recipe from the American Cookery – Amelia Simmons. 1796?
    Any idea, anybody?
    The word [ glass ] is writ ten just like this next beside do.. Does it mean glass. I am so troubled, puzzled, stuck, and confuzzled.

    Thanks for any body’s time! :)

  9. What does the phrase “liquid to taste mean? Exactly how much liquid do you put in the recipe? It is a recipe for a protein shake.

    • I know this was awhile ago now but I’m from the Philadelphia area and some Italiansive known call pasta, macaroni. So it’s possible it means any type that you like. I personally only call elbows macaroni but to each his own.

  10. Hi. I’m going to make corned beef and cabbage. I’ve made it before but I’m wondering about when it says “add water just to cover the meat” if I’ve been doing this right. Where do you bring it up to? Just to cover the bottom? Or middle? Or to the top? but not over?

  11. I have a recipe that’s over 100 yrs. old for Egg Nog…
    It say to pour into bottles and store in cool place until it mellows… Can some tell me what that means ? I know I’m to put in fridge and chill in this day and age.

    • If it is ground sausage, cook the sausage until it is no longer pink. The key is to maintain a constant source of heat and to turn the meat frequently to prevent burning. If it is a sausage link, then place the sausages links on a grill or skillet on medium-high heat (NOTE: If you are cooking thick sausages, then poach the sausages in water for 5 to 10 minutes and then add to the grill or pan). Place the sausages away from direct heat if you are grilling them and cover the grill. Turn the sausage as needed with tongs to allow the sausage to brown without burning.

  12. what does it mean by “let stand” I am cooking something in the oven, does it mean turn off the oven and leave it there or does it mean take out and let is stand

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