What Does it Mean?

This is a growing list.  I will add new terms and definitions periodically, often linking a word to one of my recipes.

If you'd rather go straight to a well-stocked list of culinary words and terms, the folks at epicurious.com have a wonderful dictionary.  Try it out for all those exotic cooking terms.
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al dente:  Italian for "to the tooth" and used primarily to describe perfectly cooked pasta.  In this case, it refers to the pasta pushing back on the tooth when you bite it.  It should be neither soft or tough, but tender with a little push against the tooth.  Sometimes, lightly cooked vegetables are described this way.  FYI, my stepdaughter Emme's favourite pasta dishes are Burned Butter Pasta and Mushroom Cream Linguine.

all-purpose flour:  As opposed to self-rising flour, which is mixed with leavening agents such as baking soda, this is just flour.  It's used to dredge or dust fish, pork chops, chicken and even vegetables prior to frying.  It can also be used for baking, but you'll have to add the leavening, according to your recipe.  FYI, a lot of older community or church cookbook recipes call for flour; in most cases, this means all-purpose flour.

Amatriciana:  Also all' amatriciana is a classic Italian pasta sauce from Amatrice, Italy, simple but not so much if your local grocery store doesn't carry Pecorino cheese or smoked hog jowls/pork cheeks, a.k.a. guanciale. Search for my Pizza Pasta recipe for an updated #FastFoodFriday version of this sauce.

baste:  When roasting meats, you will often pull out the pan and spoon the pan liquids over the meat, to keep it moist.  A bulb baster is an easy way to do this, but be careful not to splash the hot liquids.

braise:  To cook on the stove over a medium-low heat or in the oven.  Usually, tougher and less expensive cuts of meat are braised.  This helps to break down the tough connective tissue.  First you brown the meat in a heavy pot, sometimes after coating lightly with all-purpose flour, then add vegetables and liquid like stock and wine.  Bring the liquids to a boil, reduce heat so that liquids simmer, cover with lid and continue to cook for 2-3 hours or longer.  This type of cooking will require periodic checking to be sure that there is always enough liquid in the pot.

brulee: To burn, although I prefer to say it's caramelized and hardened. To burn sugar on top of a gorgeously light and creamy custard, as in creme brulee.  You can brulee the sugar by using a fancy torch or you can set your broiler to the highest setting and place your custard-filled and sugar-topped ramekins on a sheet pan on the closest rack to the broiler burner and stay put. Stay. Watch. Remove as soon as the sugar has caramelized. Not too difficult, right? TIP: Buy a really good cheesecake, cover the top with white sugar and brulee it. A few raspberries on top and there's your showstopping dessert!

compote:  A really old-fashioned and really easy dessert. This is something that you cannot mess up. You can have almost any peeled fruit (whole but cored, halved or quartered) that you cook very slowly in juice, wine or a sugar/water mixture. Dried fruit can be used also as the cooking in liquid rehydrates. With wine or juice, a few whole spices can be added to the liquid (think cinnamon stick, cloves, vanilla pod) or even the peel of citrus fruits. Can be made ahead and served warm or cold over ice-cream or a simple cake. I like it best on its own with a dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream. My favorite is halved and cored pears poached in sugar, red wine, and the peel of a lemon, orange or grapefruit. TIP: If there's too much cooking liquid left when the fruit is fully cooked, remove the fruit and cook the liquid until it's reduced to the consistency that you want.

confit:  A French word (many cooking words are) meaning to preserve by cooking something in fat or in a high sugar content syrup and then storing it in the same cooking liquid by keeping it completely submerged to keep out any bacterial growth. Aha! I think of my ancestors who preserved fruit in heavy syrup and meat slowly cooked until the rendered fat covered the meat completely. Before everyone had a refrigerator or an icebox, this was a popular method for preserving food to use later. Duck most often comes to mind with the word confit, and it's what is often seen as an entree at fine restaurants. Typically, the duck legs are removed from the fat and reheated in the oven until the skin is extra crispy. This is served with a potato side and a sauce of the chef's choosing.

coulis:  This is a simple fruit sauce that has been strained. Although it can be made with vegetables, today it refers primarily a fruit sauce sweetened with sugar, pureed and strained to serve over ice-cream, panna cotta or angel-food cake, among other desserts. I cook the fruit with sugar and lemon or lime zest and cool it a bit before straining into a container or sauce bottle.My favorite is a raspberry coulis, which I serve with angel food cake and a creme anglaise.

creme anglaise:  A custard prepared as a sauce for pouring. No cornstarch or flour--only eggs are used to thicken this silky, simple but elegant and delicious sauce. A wonderful complement to angel food cake (and a great way to use the yolks which are set aside in the making of the cake) and so good over fresh berries. This is a recipe by Martha Stewart.

haricot vert/haricots verts:  Relax, it's just green beans, baby!  It's the French way of saying, hey, go get some really young green beans (before you have to string them and cut off the ends and so on). Those French folk--so smart! Biggest issue home cooks have with these beans is, "How do I trim them?" It's easy: keep those pretty, wispy ends and just trim off the stem ends (because they are tough and yucky to eat). Want an easy recipe using haricot vert? Try this from the good folks at epicurious. Or do what I do: after you've cooked the beans (can be hot or cold), place in a large bowl or platter and top off with the following mix: 6 diced Campari tomatoes, 1/2 cup of finely chopped red or sweet yellow onion, 1/4 cup Italian parsley or cilantro, big pinch of sea salt, 1 T. balsamic vinegar and 3 T. extra-virgin olive oil. Crack black pepper over the entire thing and, presto, a gorgeous side dish or salad.

non-reactive cookware/pan/pot:  This just means to 'use stainless steel to keep things simple.' It also means don't use tin-lined copper pots because the tin will react with acidic foods or ingredients and impart a metallic taste. You can also use anodized aluminum or enamel-lined cookware. For a more thorough explanation, you may want to visit this post by David Lebovitz, a well-known pastry chef and cookbook author.


© 2016 Despina Panagakos Yeargin

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