When it comes to serving up some family fun, there's no such thing as having too many cooks in the kitchen. Preparing and enjoying recipes with your kids is a great way to introduce new foods, inspire a little culinary creativity, and build vocabulary. That's right, build vocabulary. Not only does the world of cooking lend new meaning to familiar words — such as dash, dust, fold, and pinch, for starters — it also stirs some new ones into the pot. How exactly do you cook pasta al dente? Or julienne carrots?
What follows is a list of typical cooking terms and their definitions. Everything you need to know to cook up a feast of FamilyFun recipes. So grab your aprons, start cooking, and enjoy your meal. In other words, bon appétit!
A to F
1. Al Dente — This Italian term describes pastas and vegetables that are still firm, rather than soft or mushy, after you've cooked them. Foods cooked al dente tend to be more flavorful than ones that are cooked longer.
2. Baste — Roasted foods stay moister when you baste them by drizzling or spreading on pan drippings or sauce while they cook. Basting can be done with a spoon, a brush, or a kitchen tool called a bulb baster, which allows you to draw liquid from the pan and then squirt it back out.
3. Beat — This mixing method uses a spoon, whisk, or electric mixer to rigorously whip or stir batter until it is uniformly smooth.
4. Blanch — Prior to storing fresh vegetables in the freezer, they are routinely blanched by dropping them into boiling water, cooking them very briefly, and then plunging them into cold water. This process slows the action of enzymes that cause frozen produce to lose nutrients. It also helps to preserve color, flavor, and texture.
5. Braise — Foods that are braised are first browned in fat and then slowly cooked with a little bit of liquid in a tightly covered pan.
6. Broil — Broiling is a method of oven cooking in which food is placed directly under the heat source, be it a gas flame or an electric element.
7. Caramelize — Sugar is caramelized by heating it to its melting point, causing it to turn into caramel syrup. Likewise, when onions and other vegetables are grilled or roasted long enough, their natural sugars caramelize, resulting in a distinctive sweet flavor.
8. Cream — Butter or vegetable shortening is creamed by beating it until light and fluffy. This traps air bubbles that make cakes and other baked goods rise. Oftentimes, sugar is added to the butter or shortening before creaming.
9. Dash — A dash is a scant amount of a liquid ingredient, such as lemon juice or Worcestershire sauce. Generally, it measures between 1/16 and 1/8 teaspoon and is added to a recipe directly from the bottle with a quick flick of the wrist.
10. Deep-fry — With this cooking method, foods are completely submerged in hot oil. The key is heating the oil to the proper temperature so that the food cooks through but absorbs very little fat in the process.
11. Dice — Diced foods are cut into uniform cubes as opposed to chopped foods, which are sliced into irregular pieces.
12. Dredge — Fried foods are often lightly coated, or dredged, with bread crumbs, cornmeal, or flour before cooking both to add flavor and to turn the outside golden brown.
13. Dust — This term refers to the practice of lightly sprinkling a powdery ingredient, such as confectioners' sugar or flour on cooked or uncooked foods. Rolling pins are also routinely dusted with flour to keep them from sticking to piecrust and other foods that are rolled out.
14. Emulsify — The process of combining liquids that tend not to mix easily, such as vinegar and oil, is called emulsifying. Typically these liquids are added together a little at a time (sometimes drop by drop) while beating rapidly. This causes mini droplets of one liquid to become suspended in the other.
15. Fillet — The word fillet is used to describe the process of cutting the bones from a piece of fish or meat (usually a cut from the lions or ribs).
16. Flake — To check for doneness, fish is typically flaked, meaning small bits are broken off from the larger piece with a fork. The same word also applies to the process of grating a food such as chocolate or coconut so that it can be evenly mixed with other ingredients or sprinkled onto a prepared dish or baked good.
17. Fold — This method of mixing uses a spatula to gently cut through and turn over ingredients while keeping as much air in the mixture as possible. When called for in a recipe, stiff beaten egg whites are generally folded into the batter.
18. Garnish — Before serving, many dishes are decorated, or garnished, with an herb, fruit, or another edible ingredient that lends color and/or texture.
19. Glaze — To give foods a glossy finish, they are glazed, or coated, with a savory or sweet liquid mixture, such as broth or melted jelly.
20. Grate — Foods such as coconut, carrots, cheese, chocolate, and whole spices are cut into bits or flakes, or ground into powder, by rubbing them against a grater. Graters come in a variety of styles, ranging from a metal box grater to a crank-style cheese grater.
21. Grind – This process uses a mechanical device to break foods, such as coffee beans, into small particles. Beef and pork are also commonly ground or minced into burger or sausage meat.
22. Julienne — With this method of cutting, vegetables and other foods are sliced into thin, short strips.
23. Knead — Kneading is a manner of working bread dough to stretch the gluten (one of the proteins in wheat flour), thereby trapping gas bubbles generated by added yeast and causing the dough to rise. To knead dough by hand, you fold it in half, press it down with the heels of your hands, turn it, and repeat the process until the dough is smooth and elastic (generally between 5 and 15 minutes).
24. Leaven — Leavening dough or batter is the act of making it rise. Typical leavening ingredients include baking powder, baking soda, and yeast. Occasionally, steam or air (beaten into eggs) is used to make a recipe rise.
25. Marinate — Foods are tenderized and flavored by soaking, or marinating, them in a seasoned liquid before cooking.
26. Mince — Minced ingredients are chopped very, very fine so the flavor will be distributed evenly. Garlic and ginger root are often minced, as are fresh herbs.
27. Pan Fry — Pan fried foods are cooked in a hot, lightly oiled or buttered pan, and turned once or twice to heat them evenly on both sides.
28. Pare — This term describes the method of using a small, sharp kitchen knife to strip the peel or rind from fresh fruits and vegetables.
29. Parboil — Sometimes foods are briefly boiled to soften them before combining them with other ingredients in a recipe. For example, bell peppers are typically parboiled before stuffing them.
30. Pinch — A pinch is a scant amount of a dry ingredient, such as salt or a ground spice. Generally, it measures between 1/16 and 1/8 teaspoon and is added to a recipe with your fingertips.
31. Pit — Recipes that include cherries, peaches, apricots, plums, or other fruits and vegetables with a center stone usually call for pitting the fruit by using a sharp knife to cut the flesh away. Another option is to use a tool called a pitter to push out the stone or seed.
32. Poach — This method of cooking involves simmering foods, such as eggs, meat, or fish, in water, broth, or another liquid. Generally the food being simmered is just covered with the liquid.
33. Proof — Proofing is a method used to determine if yeast is still active before you use it. The yeast is dissolved in a warm liquid (such as water or milk) mixed with a sprinkling of sugar. Within 5 to 10 minutes, the mixture should form small bubbles and thereby prove the yeast is capable of leavening bread.
34. Purée — To purée foods, you can either push them through a strainer or blend them until smooth.
35. Reduce — When soup stocks and sauces are boiled or simmered, they reduce in volume through evaporation, becoming thicker and more flavorful in the process.
36. Sauté — Foods are sautéed by cooking them quickly in a lightly oiled skillet on the stovetop.
37. Scald — To scald a liquid, you heat it to just below its boiling point. Fruits and vegetables are scalded by briefly immersing them in boiling hot water, a method that makes the skins easier to remove.
38. Score — Pieces of meat or fish are scored by making shallow crisscross cuts in the surface. This both tenderizes the food and allows it to better absorb marinades and other seasonings. Bread recipes occasionally call for scoring the dough as well, but in those cases it is primarily decorative.
39. Sear — Searing is a method of using high dry heat to quickly brown meat in a skillet, under a broiler, or in an oven prior to cooking it longer at a lower temperature. This caramelizes the sugars in the meat and creates a thin flavorful outer crust.
40. Sift — Powdery ingredients such as flour and confectioners' sugar are sifted by putting them through a sieve to break up clumps. Sifting also adds air to dry ingredients, making them lighter.
41. Simmer — Simmering is a gentle form of cooking in liquid heated just to the point that small bubbles break the surface.
42. Skim — Foam and fat are typically skimmed from the surface of sauces and soups with a large spoon and then discarded.
43. Steam — To keep vegetables from losing their flavor and texture, they are often steamed instead of cooked directly in boiling water. To do this, they are placed in a perforated pot or steamer basket set over a pan of simmering water and cooked by the rising steam. Other foods that are frequently steamed include fish, rice, dumplings, and puddings.
44. Steep — This technique is typically used to release the distinctive taste of a dried herb or spice. The dry ingredient is soaked, or steeped, in water or oil until the flavor is absorbed into the liquid.
45. Stew — With this cooking method, foods are scantly covered with water or broth and allowed to simmer at length in a covered pot. Stewing is a great way to tenderize meat as well as blend the flavors of different ingredients.
46. Stir-fry — This Chinese technique calls for stirring vegetables and bits of meat or shellfish in hot oil just until cooked.
47. Strain — Liquids and solids are separated from one another by straining them through a metal sieve or cheesecloth. The liquid passes through the sieve and the solids are retained.
48. Truss — Trussing or tying up a roast or the wings and drumsticks of a chicken or turkey before roasting ensures the meat will hold a compact shape and cook evenly. This is an especially helpful step when using a rotisserie or when the recipe involves flipping the meat over during cooking. To truss meat, you generally need a piece of cotton kitchen twine three or four times the length of the bird or roast.
49. Whip — Whipping an ingredient, such as cream or egg whites, with a whisk or whip is a means of incorporating air to make the ingredient(s) light and fluffy.