Every now and then you will be reading a recipe and come upon an instruction or technique that you have never heard of. We hope this list will clarify any terms you don't know, and aid you in preparing simple, fast and healthy meals.
Al Dente: Italian, meaning "to the teeth." Al Dente does not mean that the pasta should be as hard as teeth enamel, rather it should be "to the taste," i.e. offering just enough resistance when bitten into. Traditionally, pasta has been cooked so that it is just a little tough in the center. However, many people prefer a soft pasta. When cooking pasta, keep in mind that the pasta continues to cook after you turn off the stove. Therefore, when you are testing pasta for done- ness, remember to drain it a little bit before it is cooked the way you like it.
Bake: To cook in an oven.
Barbecue: There are several different meanings for the word barbecue. The first is to roast or broil meat or vegetables on a rack over hot coals or heat source. The second would be to cook the food on a revolving spit close to a heat source. The last usage of barbecue is to cook food in a "barbecue sauce," normally a spicy tomato based sauce with vinegar in it. All of these preparations include frequent basting to be considered true barbecues.
Blanching: The process of plunging food into very hot boiling water for a very short period of time and then quickly placing it in very cold water to halt the cooking process. There are many purposes to blanching fruit and vegetables:
- Blanching provides an easy way to remove the skin (i.e. tomatoes, peaches).
- Blanching green beans, broccoli, carrots, and other brightly colored vegetables before using in recipes such as salads makes for brilliant color and crisp taste.
- Blanching also parcooks vegetables for freezing or for use in other recipes.
Boiling: Cooking food in a liquid that has been heated until it bubbles.
Braising: The first step in braising is to brown the item that you are cooking in a small amount of fat. Cover the food with a small amount of liquid or smother with a sauce and simmer until finished cooking. Braising can either be done on the stove top or oven.
Broil: Cooking food by exposing it directly to extreme heat. Normally this is done with an oven broiler.
Browning: Meat is browned to produce a more appealing flavor and color. Another important benefit to browning meat is that it "seals" the meat and locks in flavorful juices. The meat can be browned by itself or can be dredged in flour beforehand. To brown meat, use a very hot large skillet over medium high heat. Because the heat needed to brown most meats is relatively high, use an even mixture of oil and butter in the pan. The oil and butter should be very hot before you add the meat. Brown the meat in batches so as not to crowd the meat (packing the pan tightly or using low heat cooks the meat rather than browning it). Normally meat is browned before being used in another slower cooking process such as stewing, baking or cooking in a soup. Many cooks also prefer to brown their meat before cooking it in a crock pot or microwave. Other items such as onions are often browned.
Candying: Boiling foods with sugar to conserve, preserve, or flavor. Also, simply coating food with sugar.
Carmelize: Heating sugar until it melts and turns a light brown color. Also heating meats or vegetables until the natural sugars in them break down and turn light brown. Most commonly, onions are caramelized.
Coddling: Coddling is cooking an object just below the boiling point. The most common usage of coddling is when cooking eggs--done by cooking them in a pot of water just below a boil, or by pouring boiling water over the eggs and letting them sit for 10 minutes.
Deep-frying: Cooking food in large quantity of hot fat, normally enough to completely cover the food.
Deglazing: It is absolutely essential to deglaze a pan when making a good gravy. After something has been browned or cooked in a pan, little bits of browned food remain in the pan. This is the good stuff! Deglazing is removing all of these browned bits by boiling a little water, broth, wine, or other liquid in the pot and scraping the pan surface with a wooden spoon or whisk. If there is a large amount of fat in the pot, remove some of it before deglazing. Oftentimes cream, broth, wine or juice is then added to make a sauce.
Developing: When a recipe tells you to let a dish develop, it simply means to let the dish rest for a period of time. The purpose of this is to let the flavors blend or intensify.
Double boil or bain-marie: The most common applications of using a bain-marie or double boiler is making custardy dishes, delicate sauces, cheesecakes or slowly melting items. A double boiler is a two-part pot. The bottom pot is filled with water and then heated. The top pot has the item that needs to be cooked or heated in it. The hot water cooks the item while buffering it from direct heat. A bain-marie works under a similar principle. The item that you are cooking should be placed in an appropriate dish. Place this dish in a pot or baking dish large enough to hold it. Pour very hot water in the larger pot, being careful not to get any water into the food dish. Cook as directed.
Fricassee: Cooking small pieces of meat or poultry by braising.
Frying: Very basic term meaning to cook food in fat. Normally associated with shallow-frying which means cooking in a substantial amount of fat, but not enough to cover the amount of food that is being cooked. See deep-frying, saute and stir-fry.
Grill: To cook with direct intense heat on a grill or griddle.
Melting: Turning a solid or semi-solid into a liquid by heating.
Pan broiling: Cooking food in an uncovered skillet, turning frequently, and pouring the fat off during cooking.
Parboiling: To boil in water until partially cooked. This is usually a first step in recipes, particularly those with ingredients that take different times to cook.
Poaching: Normally fish, meat or eggs are poached. It is a very straightforward process: The liquid, usually water, is warmed to just below a simmer and the food is slowly cooked in the warm water. The liquid should not be boiling at all.
Reducing or cooking down: Boiling a liquid or sauce over high heat until some of the liquid evaporates, leaving a more intensely flavored mixture. Usually liquids are reduced by half. Sauces are normally reduced to get the proper thickness as well as more intense flavor. When reducing sauces, make sure that they do not stick to the bottom of the pot.
Rendering: The purpose of rendering is to release the fat in meat. This is done by heating the meat until the fat from the connective tissues melts. The fat is then drained off. Normally rendering is done as a preliminary cooking step and is used with fatty meats or for those trying to reduce the fat in their diets.
Roasting: Roasting is cooking food by using dry heat, normally in an oven.
Saute: Saute is derived from a French word meaning "to jump." When an item is sauteed it should be done in a very hot pan, with the smallest amount of fat that will just coat the food to be cooked. Do not stir, but rather shake the food, making it "jump." This causes more even cooking than stirring.
Scalding: This term is used most often in reference to milk. It basically means heating a liquid up to a point just before boiling.
Scalloping: Normally associated with potatoes, scalloping is baking food in layers with a cream sauce. Frequently the dish is topped with crumbs or cheese.
Searing: Quickly browning food with direct intense heat.
Shocking: Placing hot food in very cold water to halt the cooking process.
Simmering: Cooking a liquid over low heat so that it heats to just below the boiling point.
Smothering: Adding a small amount of liquid to a dish after sauteing, and slowly cooking in a covered pot or skillet.
Steaming: Cooking food with the steam of boiling water. Usually this is done in the microwave, with an electric steamer, in a double boiler, in a traditional bamboo steamer, or on wire rack placed above the water level.
Stewing: Slowly cooking vegetables, meat, poultry or fish together in a seasoned liquid using low heat for a long period of time.
Stir-fry: To cook rapidly over high heat (fire) with a little oil and stirring all the while; similar to sauteing. Using a wok makes this process easier, but it can also be done in a skillet. The most important part of stir-frying is to use a very hot pan and a small amount of oil. Heat the pan and oil over medium high or high heat until hot. Quickly cook small pieces of food individually until perfectly cooked, stirring constantly. Remove from the pan, or place on the sides of the wok. Cook each item in this manner until everything is cooked. Mix everything together. If you are sure about the cooking times for each item, you can cook them all together. Start with the item that takes the longest to cook and add the remaining ingredients in the descending order of cooking length.
Sweating: Cooking food by covering it with liquid and barely simmering in order to bring out a more intense flavor.
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