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Glossary of Cooking Techniques
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It doesn't always occur to those of us who have cooked for a long time that we put terminology in our recipes with which others might not be familiar, so I have decided to create a glossary. These are not typical "dictionary" definitions. I have tried to include tips and explanations that even the novice cook will comprehend.



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Sauté - Literally means "to jump", as to jump in the pan. To quickly fry foods in a little fat, usually oil or butter, in an open skillet over medium-high to high heat, turning or tossing often, until tender and lightly browned, as dictated by the recipe.

Scald - To heat milk or cream to a temperature just before it boils without allowing it to boil. Tiny bubbles will form around the outer edge when it is ready.

Score - To cut slits into foods before cooking for various purposes, including decoration, ease of cutting after cooking, tenderization or to allow flavors to penetrate the surface. Additionally, the fat layer of a large cut of meat, as well as smaller cuts with a fatty outer layer, such as duck breasts, is often scored so that some of the fat melts out during roasting.

Sear - To cook meats quickly on all sides over high heat to brown and seal in the juices. The meat should not be turned until it is well browned on each side or it will stick to the pan.

Shallow fry - To fry with a lesser amount of oil than what is required for deep frying. The food is partially submerged in the oil and must be turned halfway through cooking. This is especially useful with thinner cuts of meat and seafood, such as cutlets and fish fillets.

Shred - To cut, slice or tear into thin strips. Also, to pull apart very tender cooked meats, usually with a fork.

Sift - To pass a dry ingredient through a sifter or fine mesh screen to loosen the particles, incorporate air, and lighten the resulting product. Also used to combine several ingredients that are passed through at the same time. The same result can be accomplished by using a wire whisk to stir the ingredients in a bowl. If a recipe calls for presifted ingredients, sift first and then measure. If it calls for a certain amount of the ingredient, sifted, measure first. Presifted flour out of the bag must still be sifted if the recipe calls for it.

Simmer - To cook gently just below the boiling point. If the food starts boiling, the heat is too high and should be reduced.

Skim - To remove an undesirable substance that forms on the top surface of a liquid, usually fat, foam or scum. This is normally done by passing a flat spoon over the surface, just underneath the substance to discard. In the case of fat, if you have the time, chill the liquid first so that the fat congeals, making it very easy to remove.

Steam - A method of cooking foods over, not in, hot liquid, usually water. The heat cooks the food while the vapors keep it moist. Steaming is a good alternative to boiling because none of the nutrients or flavor is lost in the liquid. Food can also be steamed in a microwave.

Steep - To soak a food in liquid for a given amount of time. Sometimes, the liquid is hot, as in tea. Other times, as with macerated fruit, the liquid is cold or room temperature.

Stew - To cook foods slowly in a specified amount of liquid in a covered pot or pan.

Stir - To move foods around with a spoon in a circular motion. Stirring is done to move foods when cooking. It is also used to cool foods after cooking. Most importantly, if a recipes calls for stirring to combine foods, such as a batter, before cooking, it usually means to gently mix just until well combined, as opposed to beating, which takes more strokes.

Stir-fry - To quickly cook foods over high or medium-high heat in a lightly oiled skillet or wok, stirring or tossing constantly, until desired or specified doneness.

Strain - To pass a liquid or moist mixture through a colander, sieve or cheese cloth to remove solid particles.

Sweat - To cook foods, usually chopped vegetables, over medium heat until they exude some of their moisture which, in turn, steams and softens the food without browning.


Temper - Technically, to moderate. In cooking, tempering most often refers to slightly warm beaten eggs by rapidly stirring a little of the hot ingredients into them before adding the eggs to the hot mixture so that they will combine, stirring rapidly again, without solidifying. It also refers to the softening of a heavy mixture before folding in a whipped mixture, so that incorporation occurs without deflation.

Toast - Most commonly, to brown using a dry heat source such as an oven or toaster. However, many recipes call for toasting seeds, nuts, grains or spices before mixing with other ingredients to add flavor. They can be toasted in an oven or in a skillet, with or without oil, using a low heat, stirring or tossing often, until nicely browned, being very careful not to burn.

Toss - To combine ingredients by gently turning over until blended. Most commonly refers to a salad, but is used for many other preparations. The easiest and most efficient way to toss is with a good pair of tongs. Alternately, two spoons, forks or one of each may be used. And nothing tosses food as well as a clean pair of hands.

Truss - To shape food into a desired form and secure with butcher's twine or skewers. Most commonly used with poultry or meats. In the case of poultry, it is questionable whether or not it should be trussed because, although it gives a nice look to the bird after roasting, the breast tends to cook faster than the legs, thighs and wings, so always truss lightly.



Whip - To beat briskly with a wire whisk or electric mixer to incorporate air, which adds volume and an airy texture. Usually used in reference to cream or egg whites. To whip cream, which has fat, always chill the bowl, beaters and cream first. Egg whites, which are mostly water, should be whipped at room temperature in a very clean bowl so as not to add any fat to the whites.

Whisk - To mix to the specified state with a wire beater, also called a whisk. Whisking can refer to blending, beating, emulsifying, or whipping, depending on the recipe. Flour can also be whisked to achieve the same texture as sifting.


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