Time to demystify puzzling cooking terms

Q. I can cook, but sometimes am befuddled by exactly what some of the terms mean.

A. Here are the definitions for some of the more puzzling terms we commonly see in cookbooks and culinary magazines. Print this out or cut it out and keep it somewhere for quick reference.

Baste: To brush, spoon or squirt juices over (usually) meat while it’s cooking to keep it moist.

Blanch: To briefly boil or steam food or to do this to loosen skins for peeling. I do this (a la Julia) to my haricot verts or carrots in the morning and then lightning-quick reheat them in a skillet right before serving.

Braise: To cook slowly in a small amount of liquid on top of the stove or in the oven. I usually turn the food while braising, but I am not sure if that is the right thing to do!

Broil: To cook in the oven under the broiler. Be sure to crack your oven and not to get the food too close so it catches on fire! As I was growing up, my (awesome) mom broiled a lot. So I love to broil. But today’s grills are so sophisticated and wonderful, many people choose to grill all year long. I think of a broiler as a grill upside down, but you don’t have to clean the pan. There is a slight difference in flavor, though, between the two.

Caramelize: Cooking sugar over heat until it browns. You can do this also for toppings by using a kitchen blowtorch. This term lends itself to savories, such as onions, which gives onions a sweeter flavor.

Cream: Beating until all ingredients are smooth and mixed together well, such as creaming butter and sugar before adding anything else, usually the first step in baking. The end results should look … well, creamy.

Deglaze: To gather a pan of its small amount of juices and bits of meat, usually with wine, but can also be done with broth. You do this by adding the liquid (just a little) and scraping the pan to accumulate all the good stuff left over. You usually use it over meat, but sometimes you are just cleaning the pan before entering another ingredient.

Fry: To cook in hot fat.

Saute: I know this is out of order alphabetically, but many confuse the two. Not you, of course, but other people. When you saute, you use a small amount of fat, versus the times you use a larger amount of fat when frying. Also, when you fry, the fat is usually very, very hot; when you saute, it is not reaching those temperatures.

Glaze: To brush a food to give it a gloss. With meats, it’s generally the cooked-down pan juices, maybe with wine for sweetening and flavor. With sweets, it’s sugar, jelly or something like this to give it shine.

Poach: To cook carefully in hot liquid, but be careful so the food holds its shape. Fish and eggs come to mind.

Puree: To convert a food into a paste by using an immersion blender, food processor or blender.

Roast: This one gets me. To cook uncovered in an oven or on top of the stove. But when you make a roast, you usually are braising because you cover it. Yes, essplain that one, Lucy.

Scald: To bring to a temperature just below boiling. Tiny bubbles will form around the edge of the pan. You often scald milk when making something.

Score: To make shallow cuts in the top of a food before cooking.

Sear: To brown the edges of a meat to lock in the flavor. This is done in a hot pan and often adds a thin, interesting crust.

Steam: To cook your food by letting the steam rising from water or broth actually cook it. You would use a steamer basket in your pan and cover your pan. These can be bought at any grocery or cooking store and are inexpensive. This is a healthier way of cooking, as the water cannot leach out any vitamins.

Whip: To beat lightly and quickly by using a tool that has wires (a whisk) to incorporate air into the food and make it more voluminous. Many use the term whisk and whip interchangeably because you cannot do one without the other.

Next time, I’ll cover various cuts. This is tres important! I know you will be agonizingly counting the days until then.


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