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Cookbooks, websites, magazine articles, television shows, etc., often use culinary terms that may not be familiar to the casual cook or food enthusiast. There are many great food dictionary books and websites, but I decided to include a short glossary of some of my favorite terms.

Cooking is an international language so many of the terms are based on French, Italian and Spanish as well as English. More recently, Japanese terms have entered the cooking vocabulary. Some of the foreign words are are intuitive and some not so much. Just click on one of the letters below to go to that section of the glossary. Of course this is a work in process, please look for additions and changes everytime you visit. Enjoy!



a la (French)
Literally "in the manner of" or "in the style of" sometimes "according to". Indicates the preparation and style of a dish. Often, but not Not necessarially followed by a French word.

aioli (French)
A garlic flavored mayonnaise

agar-agar (Asian)
Processed seaweed found as a powder or as sheets. Modern gastronomy uses this in place of gelatin.

al (Italian)
Used similarly to the French "a la".

Processed seaweed found as a powder or as sheets. Modern gastronomy uses this in place of gelatin.

au (French)
Similar to "a la", "au" is used to indicate the inclusion of a minor ingredient or a granish.


To tie fat around lean meats or fowl to keep them from drying out during roasting. The fat bastes the meat while it cooks, keeping it moist and adding flavor. The fat is removed a few minutes before the meat is finished, allowing the meat to brown. Barding is necessary only when there is no natural fat present.

To cook food, tightly covered, in a small amount of liquid at low heat for a long period of time. Sometimes, the food is first browned in fat. The long, slow cooking tenderizes meats by gently breaking down their fibers. The braising liquid keeps meats moist and can be used as a basis for sauce. Use wine, stocks or water as components in braising liquid.


To slice into very thin strips or shreds. Literally translated, the term means "made of rags".


To remove browned bits of food (Frond) from the bottom of a pan after sauteing, usually meat. After the food and excess fat have been removed from the pan, a small amount of liquid is heated with the cooking juices in the pan and stirred to remove browned bits of food from the bottom. The resulting mixture often becomes the base for a sauce.






To steep an aromatic ingredient in hot liquid until the flavor has been extracted and absorbed by the liquid. Teas are infusions. Milk or cream can also be infused with flavor before being used in custards or sauces.


To cut meat and poultry into large pieces at the joints using a very sharp knife.

To cut food into thin sticks. Food is cut with a knife or mandoline into even slices, then into strips.



To insert strips of fat (lardons) or bacon into a dry cut of meat using a utensil called a larding needle. Larding makes the cooked meat more succulent and tender.


To soak foods, usually fruit, in liquid so they absorb the liquid's flavor. The macerating liquid is usually alcohol, liqueur, wine, brandy or sugar syrup. Macerate is also frequently applied to fruits sprinkled with sugar, which intensifies natural flavor of the fruit by drawing out its juices.

To soak food in a seasoned liquid mixture for a certain length of time. The purpose of marinating is to add flavor and/or tenderize the food. Due to the acidic ingredients in many marinades, foods should be marinated in glass, ceramic or stainless steel containers. Foods should also be covered and refrigerated while they are marinating. When fruits are soaked in this same manner, the process is called macerating.

To cut food into very tiny pieces. Minced food is cut into smaller, finer pieces than diced food.

To whisk cold butter, piece by piece, into a warm sauce for smooth texture, flavor and sheen. Each piece of butter must be thoroughly incorporated before a new piece is added so that the sauce does not break (or separate into liquid and fat).


To completely coat food with a light, thin, even layer of sauce.



To boil food briefly in water, cooking it only partially. Parboiling is used for dense food like carrots and potatoes. After being parboiled, these foods can be added at the last minute to quicker-cooking ingredients. Parboiling insures that all ingredients will finish cooking at the same time.

To cook food by gently simmering in liquid at or just below the boiling point. The amount of the liquid and poaching temperature depends on the food being poached.

To grind or mash food until completely smooth. This can be done using a food processor or blender or by pressing the food through a sieve.


To mark the surface of grilled or broiled food with a crisscross pattern of lines. The scorings are produced by contact with very hot single grill bars which brown the surface of the food. Very hot skewers may also be used to mark the surface.

To quickly place a heated object in cold water.  This is usually done to either stop the cooking process or to separate the skin of an object from the meat. This process is sometimes referred to as "shocking."


To thicken or concentrate a liquid by boiling rapidly. The volume of the liquid is reduced as the water evaporates, thereby thickening the consistency and intensifying the flavor.


To cook food quickly in a small amount of fat or oil, until brown, in a skillet or saute pan over direct heat. The saute pan and fat must be hot before the food is added, otherwise the food will absorb oil and become soggy.

To dip fruits or vegetables in boiling water in order to loosen their skins and simplify peeling. The produce should be left in the water for only 30 seconds to prohibit cooking, and should be shocked in an ice water bath before the skin is removed

To brown meat or fish quickly over very high heat either in a fry pan, under a broiler or in a hot oven. Searing seals in the food's juices and provides a crisp tasty exterior. Seared food can then be eaten rare or roasted or braised to desired degree of doneness.

To remove the flesh sections of citrus fruit from the membranes. Using a sharp knife, cut away all of the skin and pith from the outside of the fruit. Place the knife between the membrane and the flesh of one section and slice down. Turn the knife catching the middle of the fruit. Slice up, removing each section sans membrane.

To cook vegetables in fat over gentle heat so they become soft but not brown, and their juices are concentrated in the cooking fat. If the pan is covered during cooking, the ingredients will keep a certain amount of their natural moisture. If the pan is not covered, the ingredients will remain relatively dry.


To slowly bring up the temperature of a cold or room temperature ingredient by adding small amounts of a hot or boiling liquid. Adding the hot liquid gradually prevents the cool ingredient, such as eggs, from cooking or setting. The tempered mixture can then be added back to hot liquid for further cooking. This process is used most in making pastry cream and the like.

To make meat more tender by pounding with a mallet, marinating for varying periods of time, or storing at lower temperatures. Fat may also be placed into a piece of meat to make it more tender during cooking.


The word which describes any baked good that has no leavener, such as yeast, baking powder or baking soda.


To cut zigzags in edges of fruit and vegetables halves, usually oranges, tomatoes or lemons. The food is usually used as a garnish to decorate a dish.



XXX, XXXX, 10X An indicator on a box of confectioners sugar of how many times it has been ground. The higher the number of X's the finer the grind.


A Japanese term meaning "grilled."


To remove the outermost skin layers of citrus fruit using a knife, peeler or zester. When zesting, be careful not to remove the pith, the white layer between the zest and the flesh, which is bitter.

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Created March 2013