A-Z Cooking Terms & Meanings

A-Z Cooking Terms & Meanings

Many culinary terms are unique to the realm of cooking. Familiarizing yourself with their meanings is essential for grasping even the most basic recipes. Here is an A-Z outline of definitions for some of the most common (and some uncommon) cooking terms you may encounter.

al dente pasta


  • Acidulate– to make something somewhat acidic, by adding an acidic substance such as vinegar or lemon juice. Commonly used to enhance flavors and add balance.

  • Aerate– to add air into an ingredient, such as dough or batter, to achieve a light and fluffy texture. This is commonly achieved by whisking or beating.

  • Al dente- an Italian term that translates as ‘to the tooth’ in English. This term is used to describe pasta or rice when cooked to the ideal consistency- firm but not chalky or mushy.

  • Aromatics– ingredients such as herbs, spices, and vegetables sauteed in oil to enhance the flavor and aroma of a dish. Common aromatics include garlic, onion, ginger, leeks, bay leaves, thyme, rosemary, cinnamon, and cumin.

  • Au gratin– a French term that refers to topping a dish with breadcrumbs and cheese then baking until golden brown and crispy.
boiling water


  • Bake– to prepare (food) using dry heat without direct contact with a flame, usually done in an oven or on a heated surface.

  • Baste– to moisten meat or other food with liquid during the cooking process. This technique is often used to keep meat moist and flavorful during roasting or grilling.

  • Barbeque– (or BBQ) to slow cook meat or other foods over low, indirect heat- usually by burning charcoal or wood. This slow cook method helps tenderize meat and allows flavors to fully develop.

  • Beat– to vigorously stir or mix ingredients with a whisk, fork, or hand mixer until thoroughly combined. This technique incorporates air into the mixture, helping it to aerate, and create a light, fluffy texture.

  • Blanch– to briefly immerse food in boiling water, then transfer to an ice bath to stop the cooking process. This method if often used with vegetables such as green beans. (See: Shock)

  • Blind Bake– to bake a pastry shell before adding filling.

  • Bloom– to enhance the flavor of ground spices or herbs by cooking them in fat.

  • Bloom (Yeast)- to activate yeast by soaking it in warm water or another liquid with a source of sugar, which initiates fermentation and encourages yeast growth.

  • Boil- to immerse and cook foods in water that has been heated to it’s boiling point. (212 °F/100 °C at sea level) (See: Simmer)
  • Braise– to cook food slowly in a small amount of liquid, typically after browning or frying it first. This method involves simmering the food in a covered pot or pan, allowing it to become tender and flavorful through gentle, moist heat.

  • Brine– to soak food in heavily salted water as a method of seasoning, tenderizing, and/or preserving. This method is often used with meat, poultry, and seafood.

  • Broil– exposing food directly to high heat, typically from above. The food is placed on a rack or a pan positioned under the heat source. The intense heat quickly cooks the food, creating a crispy exterior while sealing in juices and flavors. This method is often used in cooking fish or browning the tops of casseroles.

  • Butterfly– a method of cutting meat, poultry, and seafood, where it is cut horizontally through it’s thickness but the two halves are left connected. This creates a thinner, more uniform piece of protein that slightly resembles a butterfly when flattened out.


  • Caramelize– the process of breaking down a food’s natural sugars with heat, creating a characteristic browning and new complex flavor compounds. This method is commonly applied to onions and crème brûlée (recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction).

  • Chiffonade– a technique of cutting leafy green vegetables into thin, long strips.

  • Chop– to cut food, generally with a knife, into small bite-size pieces.

  • Churn- to vigorously shake or stir a liquid to incorporate air and achieve a certain texture. This term is commonly associated with the production of butter and ice cream.

  • Clarify– to remove the the solids or impurities from a liquid or mixture, such as butter or stock, to obtain a clear and pure liquid.

  • Coat– to evenly cover the surface of a food item in another ingredient such as flour, sauce, or breadcrumbs to add texture and/or flavor.

  • Confit– a French method of slow-cooking meat in it’s own fat at a low temperature (200°F to 300°F/ 93°C to 149°C), as a method of preservation. The meat is then allowed to cool and stored in it’s own fat.

  • Cream– the process of mixing one or more ingredients together, usually with a mixer, until smooth and fluffy. This term is often used in baking recipes in reference to mixing butter and sugar.

  • Crush– the process of breaking food items down into smaller pieces or a course texture.

  • Cube– to cut food items into uniform cube shaped pieces. This technique is most commonly used for vegetables, fruits, and cheeses.

  • Cut- to slice food into smaller pieces using a knife or similar cutting tool.


  • Deep-Fry- to submerge food completely in very hot oil or fat. The food is cooked quickly at a high temperature, resulting in a crispy exterior while retaining internal moisture. This method is commonly used for foods such as fried chicken, french fries, and donuts.

  • Deglaze- a technique of adding liquid ,such as wine or broth, to a hot pan to release any caramelized bits of food that have stuck to the bottom of the pan after searing or sauteing. This process is often used to create flavorful sauces and gravies. (See: Fond)

  • Dice– the process of cutting food into small, 1/4 in- 1/2 in, uniform pieces.

  • Dollop- a small rounded portion of a semi-liquid or soft ingredient, such as sour cream or whipped cream.

  • Dredge- lightly coating a food item such as meat, poultry, or fish in a dry ingredient such as flour or breadcrumbs before cooking. This light coating gives a crispy texture to the exterior as well as locks in moisture.

  • Dress- the process of adding flavor elements such as sauces or seasonings to a dish. This term is commonly used with salads.

  • Drizzle– to pour a thin, controlled stream of liquid over a dish. This technique is commonly used with olive oil, sauce, syrups, and glazes as a finishing touch.

  • Dust- to lightly coat a food item in a powdery substance such as flour or powdered sugar.


  • Egg wash– eggs beaten with a small amount of milk or water that is brushed on to the surface of a pastry before baking for the purpose of a glaze or sealant.

  • Emulsion– a mixture of two or more liquids that would not normally stay combined, such as oil and water. In this process, one of the liquids (usually the fat) is broken up into tiny droplets and evenly dispersed throughout the other, forming a stable mixture. This technique is used for sauces such as mayonnaise or hollandaise (recipe from Downshiftology).

  • En croûte– a French term meaning “in the crust”, describes a dish that is wrapped in pastry and then baked. Some common examples are Beef Wellington or pasties.

  • En Papillote: (French for ‘enveloped in paper’) a method of cooking where food, often fish and vegetables, is enclosed in a pouch made of parchment paper or foil. When put to heat, this folded packet allows food to steam in it’s own juices, trapping in moisture and flavor.

  • Enrich– to enhance the flavor or nutritional content of a dish.

  • Escabeche– a Latin American technique that involves marinating cooked seafood or meat in a vinegar based sauce with herbs, spices, and sugar.

  • Evaporate– the process of turning liquid into gas (steam) generally through heating.

  • Extract– the process of obtaining flavor or essence of an ingredient through steeping, often in a mixture of water and alcohol, or simmering. This process is commonly used to make herb and spice extracts, such as vanilla extract (recipe from Natasha’s kitchen), fruit extracts, or vegetable extracts.


  • Ferment- the process of using microorganisms, such as yeast, to turn sugars into gases, acids, or alcohol. This process is often used to make foods such as bread, yogurt, kimchi, and pickles.

  • Fillet- a trimmed and de-boned cut or slice of meat, poultry, or fish.

  • Flambe– a technique of adding alcohol, such as rum or brandy, to a hot pan with food. The alcohol is ignited causing a burst of flames that cook off the alcohol and leave behind a rich depth of flavor. This technique is used in dishes such as Bananas Fosters and Steak Diane (recipe from Food & Wine).

  • Florentine– commonly associated with the cuisine of Florence, Italy, this term often refers to a dish featuring spinach, cheese, and/or cream. A popular example is Eggs Florentine, made with spinach, poached eggs, and Hollandaise sauce.

  • Fond- the browned, caramelized bits of food that stick to the bottom of a pan after searing or sauteing meats or vegetables. Fond is often used to create flavorful sauces and gravies. (See: Deglaze)

  • Fold– to gently incorporate delicate or aerated ingredients to maintain lightness and airiness. This method is often used in baking and to create a fluffy, delicate texture in dishes such as souffles (recipe from Once Upon a Chef) and mousse.

  • Fricassee– a stew made of meat, poultry, or seafood sauteed in butter and then simmered until tender in a sauce flavored with cooking stock.

  • Frittata– an Italian dish, similar to an omelette or crust-less quiche. Whisked eggs are combined with various vegetables, cheeses, herbs, and meats and then cooked in a skillet on a stove top until set.
grilled steak with garnish


  • Garnish– a decorative or flavorful addition to a finished dish just before serving. Garnishes are used to enhance the appearance, flavor, and sometimes texture of a dish and include ingredients such as herbs, sliced green onions, chopped nuts, grated cheese, citrus zest, and drizzles of sauce.

  • Glaze- a glossy coating that is brushed or poured onto the exterior of a dish, during or after cooking. Glazes add flavor, lock in moisture, and add shine. Glazes are used in both sweet and savory dishes such as donuts or Christmas ham (recipe from Dinner at the Zoo).

  • Grate-the process of shredding food into small, fine pieces by rubbing against a tool called a Grater- a utensil made of metal with sharp perforated holes or blades. Graters are typically used to break down foods such as cheese, vegetables, and spices.

  • Grease– to coat a pan with a light layer of fat such as vegetable oil or butter. This method prevents sticking, promotes even cooking, and makes for easier clean-up.

  • Grill– a method of cooking food over dry, direct heat produced by flames or hot coals.

  • Griddle-a flat metal cooking surface, typically made of cast iron, used to cook foods such as pancakes, eggs, bacon, vegetables, and sandwiches.


  • Hard-boil– the process of cooking eggs in their shell, typically in boiling water, until the egg white and yolk are completely set and firm.

  • Hash– a dish made of chopped or diced ingredients such as meat, vegetables, and potatoes that are fried together in a skillet or frying pan.

  • Hull– the process of removing the outer covering from foods such as fruits and seeds to prepare for consumption.


  • Ice bath- also referred to as ‘shocking’, and ice bath is used to rapidly cool down or stop the cooking process of a food. (See: Blanch, Shock)


  • Julienne– the culinary knife technique of cutting food into long, thin strips similar in appearance to matchsticks.
kneading dough


  • Knead- a term primarily used in baking and refers to working dough by hand or with a machine to develop the gluten structure in flour.


  • Lattice– a decorative pattern created by criss-crossing strips of dough, often used to top pies.

  • Leaven– a substance that causes dough or batter to rise and become light and fluffy by producing gas bubbles, typically carbon dioxide, during fermentation or a chemical reaction.


  • Macerate- to soak food items such as fruit, vegetables, herbs, or spices in a liquid, such as wine, liqueur, vinegar, or syrup, to soften them and infuse them with flavor. A common example is macerated cherries (recipe from Savory Simple), often used in cocktails and desserts, and appetizers.

  • Marinate– a process of soaking food, such as steak or poultry, in a flavored liquid also known as a marinade. Marinades are typically made of a balance of oil, acid, herbs and spices. The purpose is to tenderize, add flavor, and improve texture.

  • Melt– to apply heat to a solid substance to transform it into a liquid, or semi-liquid state. This process is often used on ingredients such as butter and chocolate.

  • Mince- to chop ingredients, such as garlic or herbs, into very small, finely divided pieces.


  • Nouvelle- a French style of cooking that emphasizes ‘new’ and ‘modern’, incorporating fresh ingredients, innovative techniques, and artistic presentation.


  • Off-Heat– to remove a pot or pan from heat source.
pan fried fish


  • Pan-Fry- a method of cooking food in a small amount of hot fat or oil in a fry-pan or skillet. This method is popular for foods such as steak, chicken breasts, sausages, and fish.

  • Par-Boil– a technique where food is partially boiled in water, with the intent to soften, before finishing with a different technique such as frying, roasting, or grilling. This technique is often used on vegetables before stir-frying.

  • Peel-to remove the outer layer of skin from food items such as fruits and vegetables.

  • Pickle-preserving fruits, vegetables, or other foods in a vinegar-based solution or brine, often with salt, sugar, and spices added for flavor. The most popular example is ‘Pickles’ or pickled cucumbers (recipe from Love and Lemons).

  • Poach– a method of cooking where food is submerged in gently simmering liquid, such as water or broth, until cooked through. (Typically around 160-180°F or 71-82°C) This technique helps to preserve the delicate textures of the foods being cooked, such as eggs for Eggs Benedict (recipe from Tastes Better from Scratch) or fish fillets.

  • Pre-Heat- to allow a cooking appliance such an oven, grill, or other cooking appliance to come to a specific temperature before placing food inside or on for cooking. This method promotes even cooking and prevents sticking.

  • Proof– a term often used in baking, proofing is to allow yeast dough to ferment or ‘rise’ in a warm, humid environment before baking. This process activates the yeast, causing the dough to increase in volume and develop a light, airy texture.

  • Purée: a process of blending food into a smooth, creamy, uniform consistency using a blender, food processor, or immersion blender. This method is often used in dishes such as soups, sauces (such as for Cheesy Pumpkin & Sage Sausage Stuffed Pasta Shells), dips, and baby food.


  • Quick Pickling – a method of quickly preserving food by submerging it in a mixture of vinegar, water, sugar, and salt, often with additional herbs and spices.

  • Quatre-épices – a French term meaning “four spices,” referring to a blend typically containing pepper, cloves, nutmeg, and ginger.


  • Reduce– the process of simmering liquid such as a sauce, soup, or broth until it has begun to thicken and decreases in volume due to evaporation. This method concentrates and intensifies the flavors.

  • Render – the process of melting fat from meat or other fatty substances through heating. Extracted liquid fat is typically used for cooking or preservation.

  • Rest- removing cooked meat from heat and allowing to sit undisturbed for a short period of time. This allows the meats internal juices to redistribute, resulting in a juicer and more tender cut.

  • Roast- a method of cooking food with dry, high heat in an oven. (300°F to 450°F/150°C to 230°C) During roasting, dry heat surrounds food, cooking it evenly and creating a crispy exterior while preserving interior moisture.

  • Roux – a paste-like mixture of flour and fat (usually butter) used as a thickening agent for gravies (such as in Salisbury Steak with Mushroom & Shallot Gravy), soups, and sauces.


  • Salt– to use salt to season food.

  • Saute– to quickly fry food in a little hot oil or fat.

  • Score– to make shallow cuts into the surface of food, usually meat, poultry, or fish, before cooking. This technique helps to tenderize the food and as well as allow flavors to penetrate deeper.

  • Sear– to cook the surface of a food at a very high temperature until browned. This method is often used to develop a flavorful crust on foods such as meat and vegetables and can be done in a hot frying pan or on a grill.

  • Shock– to quickly halt the cooking process of food. In a recipe, this term typically means to transfer hot food items from boiling water or a hot skillet to a bowl of ice water. (See: Blanch, Ice Bath)

  • Sift – to pass dry ingredients, such as flour or powdered sugar, through a sifter to remove lumps, and impurities as well as aerate them, resulting in a lighter texture.

  • Simmer- to cook food in a liquid that is heated just below it’s boiling point. (See: Boil)

  • Skim– to use a spoon, ladle, or skimmer to remove impurities such as foam or fat from the surface of a liquid. This term is often used in recipes for soup and broth.

  • Slice – to cut food with a knife or other cutting utensil into thin, flat pieces.

  • Slurry – a mixture of a liquid, such as water or broth, and a thickening agent, such as cornstarch, used to thicken soups, sauces, or gravies. (See: Roux)

  • Smash – to press or flatten food, such as potatoes or garlic cloves, with a heavy object or utensil to release flavors and/or achieve a specific texture. (See: Crush)

  • Smoke – exposing food to smoke produced by burning wood chips, herbs, or spices, usually done in a smoker or grill, to infuse a smoky flavor.

  • Sous Vide – a cooking method of placing food in a vacuum sealed bag and cooking it submerged in a water bath at a precisely controlled temperature. This method ensures even cooking and tender food.

  • Steam- a technique of using gentle, moist heat to cook food. This method frequently involves a steaming basket positioned above simmering water, typically chosen for cooking seafood and vegetables.

  • Stock – a flavorful liquid made by simmering vegetables, aromatics, and sometimes meat and bones in water. This liquid is used as a base for soups, sauces, and other dishes.

  • Stir – to mix and evenly combine ingredients together in a circular motion using a spoon or other kitchen utensil. (See: Fold)

  • Stir-Fry- to quickly fry and continuously stir food over high-heat in a lightly oiled pan (such as a wok).
toast in a toaster


  • Tear – to pull or rip food apart into smaller pieces.

  • Temper – to gradually adjust the temperature of an ingredient by adding a hot liquid to it. This process is usually done to prevent curdling or separation, and is commonly used with foods such as eggs.

  • Tenderize – to break down the fibers in meat or poultry using techniques or tools such as pounding, marinating, or a meat tenderizer to result in a more tender texture.

  • Thicken – to increase the thickness or viscosity of a liquid, such as a soup or sauce, by adding a thickening agent such as flour, cornstarch, or a reduction. (See: Roux, Slurry)

  • Toast- to brown the surface of a food, such as bread or nuts, by exposing it to dry heat.

  • Toss – to mix ingredients together, typically with utensils such as tongs or a salad fork, by gently lifting and rotating them with a tossing motion.

  • Truss – to tie or bind meat or poultry using butcher’s twine to maintain its shape during cooking and promote even cooking.


  • Umami– one of the 5 taste sensations. Umami is described as meaty, savory, or brothy and is found in foods such as soy sauce and mushrooms.


  • Velouté – a classic French sauce made by combining a white stock—commonly chicken or fish—with a roux (a blend of flour and fat), then simmering until achieving a velvety texture. It serves as a base for a variety of sauces and soups.

  • Vichyssoise – a classic French chilled soup made from puréed leeks, potatoes, cream, and chicken or vegetable stock, typically garnished with chives.

  • Vinaigrette – a mixture of olive oil, vinegar, and seasonings ,such as salt, pepper, and herbs, typically used as a dressing for salads or as a marinade for meats and vegetables.
homemade whipped cream


  • Whip- to vigorously beat a mixture to incorporate air, resulting in a light and fluffy texture. This technique is often done with ingredients such as cream or egg whites to create whipped cream or meringue.

  • Whisk – to mix ingredients using a whisk- a kitchen utensil consisting of wire loops attached to a handle.


  • Yakiniku – a Japanese style of barbecue where bite-sized pieces of meat, such as beef, pork, or chicken, are grilled over an open flame or charcoal grill. It is often served with dipping sauces, rice, and/or vegetables.

  • Yolk – the yellow or orange, spherical part of an egg, enclosed within the egg white (albumen). The yolk contains the embryo of the egg and is abundant in nutrients such as proteins, fats, and vitamins.


  • Zest- obtained by grating the colorful, outermost layer of a citrus fruit peel. Zest contains fragrant oils and adds a potent tangy flavor to dishes.

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