Aromatic Vegetables – A general term for vegetables that are often used as a flavor base in some dishes. These vegetables are usually sweated or sauteed to draw out the flavor before the recipe continues. The usual suspects are: onions, celery, and carrots (together these three are often called mirepoix), bell peppers (in Cajun or Creole cooking, mirepoix uses bell peppers and is called trinity) garlic, leeks, shallots, and other peppers.
Bechamel – a white sauce made by thickening milk with roux. Since this sauce can be altered for so many recipes, it’s a great technique for new cooks to master.
Helpful articles related to the cooking term Bechamel:
- How to Make Bechamel.
- Scalloped Turnips and Rutabaga -contains a bechamel tutorial
- How to Make Cream of Chicken Soup – cream of chicken soup is basically bechamel and chicken stock, you’ll never go back to cream of whatever soups again.
Blanch – a process by which foods, usually vegetables, are plunged briefly into boiling water and then into ice water to stop the cooking process. This method is often used to break down an enzyme that would negatively affect the texture of some frozen vegetables. Blanching also can be used to remove strong bitter flavors or to brighten the colors of some vegetables.
Boil- To cook in liquid, usually water or salted water at 212°F or 100°C at sea level. At higher altitudes the boiling temperature of water is lower and recipes must be adjusted to compensate. The boiling state is easily identified because the bubbles break the surface. If the bubbles do not break the surface, the liquid is simmering.
Helpful articles related to the cooking term boiling:
- What is the Difference Between Boiling and Simmering?
- The Gentle Boil Method for Cooking Rice
- How to Make Drop Dumplings
Braise – a method of cooking, usually meat, that involves first searing in fat over dry heat and then cooking slowly with moist heat in a dutch oven or crockpot. This method is utilized because the first step creates a deep flavor through the carmelization of sugars known as the Maillard reaction while the second step breaks down tough connective tissue. This makes braising the preferred method for tough cuts of meat. When this method is mentioned in reference to vegetables, the first step is usually omitted.
Helpful articles related to the cooking term braise:
Caramelization – a distinct process in cooking that produces a nutty flavor and a brown color. It’s very similar to the Maillard Reaction, but doesn’t need amino acids to occur.
Dice – to cut foods into cubes. Dicing ensures foods are of a uniform shape and size, which makes even cooking easier. A small dice is typically 1/4 inch or 6mm, medium dice is 1/2″ or 12mm, and a large dice is 3/4″ or 2cm on a side. When referring to onions the dice is assumed to be small.
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Dredge – to drag or roll a wet food through a dry topping. You’ll mostly see this term in reference to breading foods in preparation for frying. It can also refer to the flour or coating itself.
Dutch Oven – a type of heavy, lidded pot. Usually dutch ovens are made of a heavy material like cast iron, stainless steel, or enameled cast iron. These pots are used for recipes with long, slow cook times like stew. The thickness of the pot helps keep food from scorching. If a recipe calls for a dutch oven, it may easily be adapted to a slow cooker or crock pot.
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Evaporation – The process by which a liquid becomes a gas. In cooking the process of evaporation is sped up with the application of heat. Evaporation is closely related to the terms reducing and reduction.
Herb – The flavorful leaves of certain plants. If you’re American you drop the h, while our friends across the pond pronounce it. Both are acceptable. Someone please tell Tim
Maillard Reaction - A reaction in cooking that is partially responsible for the browning of cooked foods. The Maillard Reaction and caramelization are very similar but distinct, when it comes down to the actual chemistry involved. The main difference is that the Maillard Reaction involves amino acids while caramelizing does not. The Maillard reaction can only occur at high temperatures in the presence of reducing sugars, glucose and fructose for example.
Helpful articles related to the cooking term Maillard Reaction:
Mince – To chop into fine, pieces of similar shape and size. This is much smaller than a dice. Garlic, onions, shallots and some herbs are often minced or processed.
Render – refers to the point at which fat separates from other organic materials. Many times this term is used when cooking a product like bacon ex: Cook until the bacon begins to render. It simply means the point at which the fat melts away from the bacon. It has little to do with the meat itself, although bacon will not become crisp until some of the fat has rendered, at which point it will fry in its own fat.
Sear – to brown the surface of a food, quickly at a high temperature. This does not seal in the juices of meat, but it does create flavor through the Maillard Reaction.
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Simmer – To cook in liquid just below the boiling point. The bubbles formed should not break the surface. If the bubbles do break the surface of the liquid, it has reached its boiling point. Simmering is most often the desired state for cooking food in liquid, with the exception of starches like pasta and some vegetables.
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Skillet – Another term for a frying pan. When used on this site the term skillet generally applies to a straight sided saute pan. This pan is used for sauteing, browning, pan or shallow frying, and reducing sauces. Skillets have wide bottoms and short sides. Cast iron skillets should be used when even heating is especially desirable.
Stock - A clear, unthickened liquid flavored by substances extracted from meat, poultry, or fish and their bones. Vegetables and seasoning also flavor stock. Vegetable stocks lack the gelatin found in non-vegetarian stocks and have a slightly different feel and less protein.
Helpful articles related to the cooking term stock:
- How to Make Poultry Stock with the Asian Method
- How to Make Poultry Stock with the French Method
- Questions About Making Stock
Sugar -In cooking, the term sugar most often refers to sucrose or table sugar. Sucrose is a molecule of glucose and fructose, both simple sugars, linked. Digestion breaks sucrose down into its components. Recent developments have also given us sucraolse aka Splenda which is chemically close enough to react similarly in baked goods, but is not processed by the human body in the same way.
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Sweat- a method of cooking that involves low heat and a little fat. The pan is often covered and the method is used to extract as much flavor as possible, usually from aromatic vegetables.