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Culinary terms aren't just a chef's game. The vocabulary that's thrown around the kitchen has a purpose, and that's to speed things up and make sure everyone stays safe.
This comprehensive culinary dictionary will test your cooking mettle. Chefs, restaurateurs, and even servers should know these cooking terms and adapt to using them. Plus, what better way to impress your friends than to whip out these cooking definitions? While culinary terms are usually different from kitchen slang, they both fall under the category of kitchen lingo, which is a language you’ll need to speak to get by in the restaurant biz.
If you are part of the cohort of chefs and head cooks, growing faster than other careers at a rate of 6%, you’ll need to master these cooking terms, French, Italian, or otherwise in origin, to succeed.
What are common culinary terms?
Common culinary terms range from ways to prepare food and sauces to kitchen items to dishes themselves. These cooking definitions often come from other languages like French and Italian and can be challenging to understand. Learning the basics of cooking vocabulary will help you to interpret recipes, better understand the food you serve, and help customers with questions they have about unfamiliar terms.
Glossary of Cooking, Culinary and Fancy Food Terms from A to Z
Examples of Common Cooking and Chef Terms
Our list of 101 culinary terms includes cooking terminology, food prep terms, and beverage definitions that every restaurateur should know, from a la carte and au jus to yakitori and zest.
Culinary Terms: A-D
A la carte (adj.) - separately priced items from a menu, not as part of a set meal.
Al dente (adj.) - cooked so it's still tough when bitten, often referring to pasta
A la grecque (adj.) - served in the Greek style of cooking, with olive oil, lemon juice, and several seasonings, often referring to vegetables
A point (adj.) - cooking until the ideal degree of doneness, often referring to meat as medium rare
Acidulation (n.) - the process of making something acid or sour with lemon or lime juice
Aerate (v.) - the process when dry ingredients pass through a sifter and air is circulated through, changing the composition of the material, often referring to flour
Aspic (n.) - a dish in which ingredients are set into a gelatine made from a meat stock or consommé
Au gratin (adj.) - sprinkled with breadcrumbs and cheese, or both, and browned
Au jus (adj.) - with its own juices from cooking, often referring to steak or other meat
Au poivre (adj.) - coated with loosely cracked peppercorns and then cooked, often referring to steak
Au sec (adj.) - the descriptor for a liquid which has been reduced until it is nearly dry, a process often used in sauce making
Bain Marie (n.) - a container holding hot water into which a pan is placed for slow cooking, otherwise known as a "water bath" or "double boiler"
Barding (v.) - to cover a meat with a layer of fat, such as bacon, before cooking, effectively maintaining the moisture of the meat while it cooks to avoid overcooking
Baste (v.) - to pour juices or melted fat over meat or other food while cooking to keep it moist
Beurre blanc (n.) - a sauce made with butter, onions, and vinegar, usually served with seafood dishes
Bisque (n.) - a thick, creamy soup, with a base of strained broth (see coulis) of shellfish or game
Blanching (v.) - to plunge into boiling water, remove after moment, and then plunge into iced water to halt the cooking process, usually referring to vegetable or fruit
Braising (v.) - a combination-cooking method that first sears the food at high temperature, then finished it in a covered pot at low temperature while sitting in some amount of liquid
Brining (v.) - the process of soaking meat in a brine, or heavily salted water, before cooking, similar to marination
Chiffonade (n.) - shredded or finely cut vegetables and herbs, usually used as a garnish for soup
Concasse (n.) - to roughly chop raw or cooked food by peeling, seeding, and chopping to make it ready to be served or combined with other ingredients, usually referring to tomatoes
Consommé (n.) - a type of clear soup made from richly flavored stock that has been clarified, a process of using egg whites to remove fat
Confit (n.) - meat cooked slowly in its own fat, usually referring to duck
Coring (v.) - to remove the central section of some fruits, which contain seeds and tougher material that is not usually eaten
Coulis (n.) - a thick sauce made with fruit or vegetable puree, used as a base or garnish
Croquette (n.) - a small round roll of minced meat, fish, or vegetable coated with egg and breadcrumbs
Deglaze (v.) - to remove and dissolve the browned food residue, or "glaze", from a pan to flavor sauces, soups, and gravies
Degrease (v.) - to remove the fat from the surface of a hot liquid such as a sauce, soup, or stew, also known as defatting or fat trimming
Dredging (v.) - to coat wet or moist foods with a dry ingredient before cooking to provide an even coating
Dress (v.) - to put oil, vinegar, salt, or other toppings on a salad or other food
Culinary Terms: E-H
Effiler (n.) - to remove the string from a string bean or to thinly slice almonds
Emincer (n.) - to slice thinly, similar to julienne style, but not as long
Escabeche (n.) - a dish consisting of fish marinated for approximately one day in a sauce of olive oil, vinegar, herbs, vegetables, and spices, and then poached or fried and allowed to cool
Fillet (n.) - a boneless piece of meat, poultry, or fish; the French version, spelled as "filet," is also used when referencing a cut of beef that is boneless, such as filet mignon
Flambe (v.) - the process of adding alcohol such as brandy, cognac, or rum to a hot pan to create a burst of flames
Frenching (v.) - the process of removing all fat, meat, and cartilage from rib bones on a rack roast by cutting between the bones with a sharp paring knife, often referring to lamb, beef, or pork rib
Galantine (n.) - a Polish dish of de-boned stuffed meat that is poached in gelatin stock, pressed, and served cold with aspic or its own jelly
Galette (n.) - flat, round cakes of pastry, often topped with fruitor a food prepared in served in the shape of a flat round cake, such as "a galette of potatoes"
Gazpacho (n.) - a Spanish dish of cold, uncooked soup, which typically contain tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, garlic, oil, and vinegar
Harissa (n.) - a spicy, aromatic chile paste made from a variety of hot peppers and spices, often used in North African and Middle Eastern cooking
By learning a little bit of Spanish and practicing with your staff, you create an environment where they feel comfortable to practice their English.
Culinary Terms: I-L
Infusion (n.) - the process of extracting chemical compounds or flavors from a vegetable in water, oil, or alcohol, by allowing the material to remain suspended in the liquid over time, also known as steeping
Involtini (n.) - food such as meat, poultry, seafood, or vegetables, wrapped around a filling such as cheese, cured meats, or nuts
Irradiation (n.) - the process of exposing food to radiation, designed to eliminate disease-causing germs from foods
Isinglass (n.) - a pure, transparent form of gelatin, obtained from the bladders of certain fish, used in jellies as a clarifying agent
Jacquarding (v.) - the process of poking holes into the muscle of meat in order to tenderize it, also known as needling
Jeroboam (n.) - an oversize wine bottle holding about three liters
Jus lie (n.) - meat juice that has been lightly thickened with either arrowroot or cornstarch
Kipper (n.) - a whole herring that has been split into a butterfly fashion from tail to head, gutted, salted, or pickled
Kirsch (n.) - a fragrant, colorless, unaged brandy distilled from fermented cherries , used with fondue
Kissing Crust (n.) - the portion of an upper crust of a loaf of bread which has touched another loaf when baking
Lactobacillus (n.) - a bacterium usually found in fermenting products, such as yogurts
Larding (v.) - the process of inserting strips of fat into a piece of meat that doesn't have as much fat, to melt and keep the meat from drying out
Liaison (v.) - a binding agent of cream and egg yolks used to thicken soups or sauces
Culinary Terms: M-P
Macerate (v.) - the process of softening or breaking into pieces using liquid, often referring to fruit or vegetables, in order to absorb the flavor of the liquid
Marinate (v.) - the process of soaking foods in seasoned and acidic liquid before cooking for hours or days, adding flavor to the food
Mesclun (n.) - a salad consisting of tender mixed greens such as lettuce, arugula, and chicory, herbs, and edible flowers
Mignonette (n.) - roughly cracked or coarsely ground peppercorns, used for au poivre dishes or for mignonette sauce, which contains vinegar and shallots as well and is often used for oysters
Mince (v.) - to finely divide food into uniform pieces smaller than diced or chopped foods, prepared using a chef's knife or food processor
Mise en place (v.) -the preparation of ingredients, such as dicing onions or measuring spices, before starting cooking
Mother (n.) - the base sauce used to make other variations of the original sauce; there are five variations: brown or espagnole, velouté, béchamel, tomato sauce, and emulsions
Nappe (n.) - the ability of a liquid to coat the back of a spoon or the act of coating a food, such as a leg of lamb, with glaze
Needling (v.) - injecting fat or flavors into an ingredient to enhance its flavor
Nutraceutical (adj.) - used to describe food that provides health or medical benefits as well as nutritional value, also known as functional food
Oeuf (n.) - the French term for egg
Oignon brule (n.) - literally meaning "burnt onion," a culinary term for a half-peeled onion seared on a skillet
Ort (n.) - a scrap or morsel of food left over after a meal
Ouzo (n.) - an anise-flavored, strong, colorless liquor from Greece
Parboiling (v.) - the process of adding foods to boiling waters, cooking until they are softened, then removing before they are fully cooked, usually to partially cook an item which will then be cooked another way
Parcooking (v.) - the process of not fully cooking food, so that it can be finished or reheated later
Pâté (n.) - a mixture of seasoned ground meat and fat minced into a spreadable paste
Paupiette (n.) - a thin, flattened piece of meat, rolled with a stuffing of vegetables or fruits, which is then cooked before served
Persillade (n.) - a sauce or seasoning mixture of parsley chopped with seasonings, often used as part of a saute cook's mise en place
Polenta (n.) - a mush or porridge made from yellow or cornmeal which originated in Northern Italy
Praline (n.) - a confection of nuts cooked in boiling sugar until brown and crisp
The kitchen slang you’re guaranteed to hear working in a restaurant.
Culinary Terms: Q-T
Quadriller (v.) - to make criss-cross lines on the surface of food, as part of food presentation
Quatre-epices (n.) - literally meaning "four spices," a finely ground mixture of generally pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, or cloves, used to season vegetables, soups, and stews
Quenelle (n.) - a small quantity of a mixture of creamed fish or meat with a light egg binding, usually formed into a round shape, and then cooked
Remouillage (n.) - a stock made from bones that have already been used once to make a stock, making it weaker
Render (v.) - to cook the fat out of something, such as bacon
Rondeau (n.) - a wide, shallow pan with straight sides and two loop handles, often used for searing and poaching
Sautéing (v.) - to cook food quickly over relatively high heat, literally meaning "to jump" as the food does when placed in a hot pan
Scald (v.) - to heat a liquid so it's right about to reach the boiling point, where bubbles start to appear around the edges
Sear (v.) - a technique used in grilling, baking, or sautéing in which the surface of the food is cooked at high temperature until a crust forms
Staling (v.) - a chemical and physical process in which foods such as bread become hard, musty, or dry, also known as "going stale"
Steep (v.) - to allow dry ingredients to soak in a liquid until the liquid takes on its flavor, often referring to coffee, tea, or spices
Sweat (v.) - gently heating vegetables in a little oil, with frequent stirring and turning to ensure emitted liquid will evaporate; usually results in tender, or in some cases such as onions', translucent pieces
Tempering (v.) - raising the temperature of a cold or room-temperature ingredient by slowly adding hot or boiling liquid, often referring to eggs
Tourner (v.) -to cut ingredients such as carrots or potatoes into a barrel-like shape that form six or seven sides on the length of the item being cut, using a Tourner knife or a paring knife
Trussing (v.) - to tie meat or poultry, such as turkey with a string, woven through the bird parts by using a needle, in order to create a more compact shape before cooking
Culinary Terms: U-Z
Ultra-pasteurization (n.) - the process of heating up milk products to 280 degrees Fahrenheit for a few seconds and chilling it down rapidly, resulting in milk that's 99.9% free from bacteria and extending their shelf-life
Unleavened (adj.) - made without yeast or any other leavening agent, often referring to bread
Vandyke (v.) - to cut a zig-zag pattern around the circumference of a lemon to create decorative garnishes for food presentation
Velouté (n.) - a type of sauce in which a light stock, such as chicken of fish, is thickened with a flour that is cooked and then allowed to turn light brown
Victual (n.) - any food or provisions for humans; all food is a "victual"
Vol-au-Vent (n.) - a round pastry that is baked and then filled with meat or vegetables after the fact
Whip (v.) - to beat food with a mixer to incorporate air and produce volume, often used to create heavy or whipping cream, salad dressings, or sauces
Whisk (n.) - a cooking utensil used to blend ingredients in a process such as whipping
Xanthan gum (n.) - a food additive, commonly used to thicken salad dressings, that is water-soluble and produced by the fermentation of sugar with certain microorganisms
Xylitol (n.) - a naturally fulfilling alcohol found in most plants such as fruits and vegetables, widely used as a sugar substitute in sugar-free chewing gums, mints, and other candies
Yakitori (n.) - a Japanese dish of small pieces of boneless chicken that is marinated, skewered, and grilled
Zest (v.) - to cut the zest, or the colorful part of the skin that contains oils and provide aroma and flavor, away from the fruit
If you now feel comfortable with standard culinary terms are interested in learning about getting into the restaurant business, consider our resources below.
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