Fancy Food and Cooking Terms Decoded: What Things Like Aioli and Deconstructed Really Mean

You’re paging through your well-worn copy of the Joy of Cooking or Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and you see a cooking term you’ve never heard before. Or maybe you’re glancing through the menu of a hot new bistro and you have no idea how their signature dish is prepared. Fear not, because we’ve got a list of common food and cooking terms explained. Next time you’re watching Masterchef or reading a menu, you’ll know exactly what they’re saying.

Aioli – Many restaurants are now describing their burgers as having “aioli” but what does it mean? It’s sometimes used as a replacement for mayonnaise and is typically used to describe a mayo flavored with garlic. However, the mayo may also have other ingredients such as ginger or black garlic.

Al dente – This simply means that pasta has been cooked so it’s soft but still firm when bitten.

Aperitif – You may see this term listed on menus for cocktail parties or other social function. Aperitif is simple a drink served pre-dinner. It’s meant to stimulate your palate. The opposite of an Aperitif is digestif, a drink served after dinner to help you digest.

  • Aperitifs: gin, champagne, dry vermouth, dry white wine, and other lower-alcohol drinks
  • Digestif: Cognac, Old Fashioned, Amaretto Sour and other cocktails

Au Naturel – Just as it sounds, au naturel refers to food that is simple or uncooked, aka served in a natural state.

Bain-Marie – A bain-marie means a hot water bath. You will place a dish of food in a shallow dish full of hot water, then cook it in the oven. It’s a type of cooking equipment you can purchase for home or hospitality use.

Baste – When you baste meat, you pour juices or fat (melted) over the dish to retain the moisture when roasting or grilling.

Blanch – Commonly used for produce, blanching is a process where you briefly boil a vegetable or fruit, then stick it into ice water. It halts the cooking process, keeps vitamins intact, and helps remove bitterness. It also preserves the produce’s bright colors.

Bouquet Garni – It sounds fancy, but a bouquet garni is just a bundle of herbs used for flavofring in stews, soups, and casseroles. The herbs are usually gathered in a cheesecloth bag. Most recipes will use thyme, bay leaf, and parsley in the bouquet garni, however, there is

Braise – Braising means to cook in a little fat and liquid in a covered dish, First you sear on high, then place it in a covered dish with a small amount of liquid.

Brulee- Brulee is French for “to burn” and involves cooking with a blow torch. It isn’t relegated to just creme either. You can brûlée eggs, fruit, oatmeal, and more.

Caramelized – Caramelized is used for onions but caramelization is the process of introducing sugar to heat. The sugar darkens and becomes a lovely brown. Hence why meat and vegetables can be caramelized.

Core – If a fruit must be cored, it means you have to remove the core of the fruit or vegetable. This is often done to prepare the produce for pies and other dishes.

Deglaze – Deglazing means adding liquid like wine or broth to to a pan or skillet to remove the little caramelized browned bits. The liquid and brown bits become a flavorful sauce.

Deconstructed – If a dish is deconstructed, that means that its the traditional components of a dish have been separated. They are then presented together as a meal.

Emulsify – An emulsion is a mixture of liquids that can’t be blended completely together, such as oil and water. You can see this term when making sauces, dressings, and other liquids. Emulsifying is mixing the ingredients thoroughly so they’re blended

Marinade – A marinade is a sauce made of oil, vinegar, spices, and herbs. The meat or seafood is soaked in the sauce then cooked.

Marinate – To marinate means to actually soak the meat or seafood.

Molecular gastronomy – If you see a restaurant described as involved in molecular gastronomy, that means the chefs are concerned with how the food transforms physically and chemically during cooking. It’s food science that uses chemistry, physics, and biology to create dishes by incorporating interactions of ingredients.

Pomodoro – Pomodoro is a thick sauce made from tomatoes and often served on pasta. You’ll see this on Italian restaurant menus and it often uses the same ingredients: tomatoes, olive oil, basil, salt, and garlic.

Render – If a dish is described as “rendered,” it means to “cook the fat out of it.” You’re melting and turning the fat into grease in dry or wet heat.

Sauté – Sauté originates from the word sauter, French for “to jump.” Sauté means cook quickly in a hot over high heat with only a little fat.

Sous Vide – This term has come up more lately as sous vide machines gain popularity in homes. Sous Vide (pronounced ‘sue veed’ ) means “under vacuum.” It’s done by cooking by sealing food in a container that’s airtight. With the new sous vide machines, the container is often a vacuum sealed bag. Then the bagged food is cooked in water that’s set for a certain temperature for a gradual and consistent process.

Spatchcock – Spatchcock is used for poultry, but it’s most common with chicken. Some grocery stores like Trader Joes even sell spatchcocked birds. The term means to prepare the chicken for cooking by removing the backbone and then pressing on the bird to fallen it.

Tartare – If it’s “tartare,” it means it’s raw and finely chopped. Common dishes include steak tartare.

Tempura – Tempura is a Japanese term that describes battered and deep-fried seafood or vegetables. The batter is made from chilled water, flour, and eggs to achieve a perfect crunch.

Truss – To truss poultry means to fasten its legs and wings tightly against the body with a string. Trussing will help preserve the bird’s shape and ensure it cooks evenly. You can also truss a bird with a skewer.

Whip – Whip means to use a mixer or a hand beater to add air and increase the frothiness of it. You will often whip egg whites or heavy cream in recipes.

Whisk – Like whipping, whisk means to beat but here you’ll doing a quick light motion. You can also use the kitchen tool known as a whisk to do this.


More Recipes
3 Easy No-Bake Treats: Banana Nut Snack Bars, Sweet & Salty Cheerios Bars and Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars