Cooking Terms and Methods


BASTE - The technique of brushing, spooning, or pouring liquids over food, usually meat and poultry, as it cooks. It helps preserve moistness, adds flavor, and gives foods and attractive appearance. Melted butter, pan dripping's, broth, or a combination of these ingredients are frequently used. Sometimes seasonings or flavorings are added. A bulb baster is an inexpensive specialized utensil that will efficiently suction liquid and allow you to squeeze it onto food.


BEAT - The method of stirring or mixing vigorously. It serves several purposes. Beating introduces air into egg whites, egg yolks, and whipping cream; mixes two or more ingredients to form a homogeneous mixture; or makes a mixture smoother, lighter, and creamier. Beating can be done with a variety of tools including a spoon, fork, wire whisk, rotary egg beater, or electric mixer.


BLANCH - Cooking foods, most often vegetables, briefly in boiling water and then quickly cooling them in cold water. Food is blanched for one or more of the following reasons: to loosen and remove skin (tomatoes, peaches, almonds); to enhance color and reduce bitterness (raw vegetables for crudities); and to extend storage life (raw vegetables to be frozen).


BRAISE - A moist-heat cooking method used to tenderize tough cuts of meat or fibrous vegetables. Food is first browned in fat and then gently simmered in a small amount of liquid in a tightly covered skillet until tender. This can be done on the range top or in the oven. The liquid, such as water, stock, wine, or beer, often has finely chopped vegetable and herbs added for flavor.


BROWN - The method of cooking food quickly until the surface is brown. This gives food an appetizing appearance and adds flavor and aroma. Browning may be done in a skillet on a range top, in an oven, under a broiler, on a grill, or in a toaster.


CARAMELIZE - The technique of cooking sugar, sometimes with a small amount of water, to a very high temperature (between 310° and 360°F) so tat it melts into a clear brown liquid and develops a characteristic flavor. The color can vary from light golden brown to dark brown. Caramelized sugar, sometimes called "burnt sugar," is used in a variety of desserts and sauces. Care should be taken when caramelizing sugar because the melted sugar can cause serious burns if spilled or spattered.


CREAM - The technique of mixing ingredients (usually solid fat, such as butter, margarine, or shortening, and sugar) until light and fluffy. The purpose is both to blend the ingredients and to incorporate air into the mixture. Shortened cakes rely on the air incorporated during the creaming process for a part of their leavening.


CRISP - A term meaning to refresh or to make firm and brittle. To crisp vegetables that have lost their snap, such as carrots or celery, soak them in ice water until they become crisp again. Other foods that have lost their freshness, such as pretzels or crackers, may be crisped by being heated in a 300°F oven until they are brittle again and have regained their flavor.


CUT IN - The method used to combine solid, cold fats such as shortening or butter with dry ingredients such as flour so that the resulting mixture is in small coarse pieces. This process is used to make scones, biscuits, pie pastry, and some cookies.


DEGLAZE - The technique of adding liquid, usually water, wine, or broth, to a pan to loosen browned food particles. The resulting liquid is used as a base for sauces and gravies.


DICE - To cut food into small, uniform, square pieces. A diced piece of food can range in size from 1/8 to 1/2 of an inch.


DUST - A technique used to lightly coat food, before or after cooking, with a powdery ingredient, such as flour or powdered sugar.


FOLD - To gently incorporate one food or mixture into another. It is most often used with two mixtures, one of which has been aerated, such as whipped cream or egg whites. The airy mixture is placed on top of the other mixture. With a rubber spatula, gently but quickly cut through to the bottom, then the ingredients are turned over with a rolling motion. The bowl is rotated, a quarter turn each time and the process repeated until the mixtures are combined, with as little loss in volume as possible.


JULIENNE - To cut food, most often vegetables, into thin, four-sided strips, sometimes called match sticks. it is done by first slicing the vegetable into thin slices (about 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick). The slices are then stacked and cut again into strips of the same thickness. A julienne salad consists of julienne strips of cheese, meat, or vegetable arranged over a bed of lettuce.


MINCE - To cut food, such as onions and garlic, into very fine pieces.


PARE - The technique used to remove the thin outer covering or skin of a food, usually a fruit or vegetable. A paring knife or vegetable peeler may be used.


PLUMP - To soak foods in a warmed liquid, allowing them to swell and soften by absorbing some of the liquid. Dried fruits are often plumped.


POACH - The method of cooking food, slowly and gently in a simmering, but not boiling, liquid that just covers the food. The poaching liquid may be flavored or seasoned. This flavor will transfer to the food during cooking.


PUREE - To mash or strain a soft or cooked food until it has smooth consistency. This can be done with a food processor, sieve, blender, or food mill. For best results, the food must be naturally soft, such as raspberries or ripe pears, or cooked until it is completely tender. Puréed foods are used as sauces and as ingredients in sweet or savory dishes. The term also refers to the foods that result from the process.


SAUTÉ - The method of rapidly cooking or browning food in a small amount of fat in a skillet or sauté pan. The food is constantly stirred, turned, or tossed to keep it from sticking or burning. The objective is to brown the food on the outside in the time needed to cook the interior. This requires medium to high heat. Oil can withstand the higher heat needed for sauteing. For flavor, a little butter can be added to the oil, but do not use only butter or margarine, because the food will burn before it browns.


SCALD - The technique of heating milk to just below boiling point. The best indicator of this stage is when tiny bubbles begin to form around the edge of the pan. it is a useful technique to improve flavor and to shorten cooking time (for example, when making custard).


SEAR - The technique of exposing meat to a very high heat to quickly brown the outside while sealing the juices inside. It can be done in a skillet, under a broiler, on a grill, or in a very hot oven. Searing is often the first step in the braising or roasting process.


SIMMER - The method of cooking a liquid - or a food in a liquid - with gentle heat just below the boiling point. Simmering is indicated by small bubbles slowly rising to the surface of the liquid.


STEEP - The method of soaking a dry ingredient in a liquid that is usually hot in order to transfer its flavor and color to the liquid. The food is often discarded after steeping, and the liquid is consumed or used as an ingredient to flavor other foods. Examples of ingredients that are steeped are tea leaves, ground coffee beans, herbs, and spices.


WHIP - The technique of beating ingredients, such as egg whites or whipping cream, with a wire whisk or electric mixer in order to incorporate air and increase volume. This process results in a light, fluffy texture.


Source: Debby Ward's cookbook