Cooking is one of my favorite pastimes. Playing around in the kitchen coming up with new recipes and improving old ones not only allows for creativity, but it provides good food in the process. It can be great fun to try out new recipes and discover new foods we enjoy. Whether you are someone who enjoys cooking or not, most of us find it necessary to gain some level of proficiency in the kitchen to sustain ourselves. For those with little experience in food preparation, learning how to cook can provide some unique challenges. One of those challenges can be basic terminology. To help with that, here’s a list of common and not so common cooking terms along with their definitions.
This term is used to refer to the appropriate level of firmness for cooked pasta. Pasta that is al dente is cooked until tender, but not so long that it turns to mush.
Blanching refers to a technique for preparing vegetables. It can be used to preserve the texture and color of veggies or to prep veggies for freezing. The process of blanching involves boiling vegetables for a short time and then immediately immersing them in ice water to cool them. Doing this removes organisms and dirt as well as helps to slow the loss of vitamins.
Caramelization is what happens when sugar is heated. Most of the time, when the term is used, it is in reference to fruits, roasted vegetables, and marinated meat. You can caramelize actual sugar (this is how you make caramel sauce), but it is primarily done with the natural sugars found in foods. Caramelization causes food to turn brown and enhances the flavors. Caramelized foods aren’t just sweet, though; they also develop a nutty, buttery creaminess.
Recipes sometimes call for butter to be creamed. Creaming is when fats (usually butter) is beat at room temperature to soften it. Sometimes sugar and butter are creamed together, which creates a soft paste.
Deglazing is a common technique used for enhancing the flavor of dishes. Most recipes require you to brown meat or saute vegetables. If not done in a non-stick pan, this process will leave behind little caramelized or browned bits in the pan. Adding liquid to the brown bits can create a highly flavorful sauce. To deglaze a pan, you can add water, cream, wine, or broth and scrape up the caramelized leftover pieces.
This is a French cooking term that refers to a style of cutting up vegetables, fruits, and sometimes even meat that allows the items to cook more quickly. Julienned foods are cut into matchstick-size pieces.
This term refers to a cooking technique in which an item is cooked in a liquid between 140 F to 180 F. Constant steady temperature is the key here. This is a slow cooking process due to the relatively low heat involved. For reference, boiling occurs at 212 F. Poaching is mainly used with fragile or delicate foods. Due to the low temperature, there is little agitation in the liquid during the cooking process. Typical poached items are eggs and fish, though chicken and some vegetables can be poached as well.
Roux (pronounced “roo”)
Roux is a thickening agent consisting of cooked fats (or oils) and flour. It is used in soups, stews, gravies, and sauces. Roux is typically made with equal parts flour and butter, but bacon grease and other rendered fats or oils can also be used. There are three to four different types of roux, depending on color. You can find recipes for the various kinds of roux here.