Cooking Terms every Aspiring Cook needs to know

Any beginning cook looking at a cookery book might wonder whether they have suddenly forgotten how to read. Cookery, like many other things has its own terminology. Cookery books use particular terms to describe cookery methods, measurements, and other cookery concepts. This should not worry the novice cook, these terms are easy to decipher.

Cookery follows basic standard methods. These are baking, steaming, grilling (broiling) roasting, boiling stewing, steaming, and frying.

When you bake, you put pastry, bread, cakes, or biscuits or vegetables into the oven, and cook by using dry heat. Whilst you might brush a potato, for example, with a little oil, you do not usually add any cooking medium to other baked items.

When you roast food, such as meat, you also cook it in the oven using dry heat, surrounding the food with heat, but use fat to cook the food. Roasting makes good quality meat tender and succulent. Our ancestors roasted meat on a spit, basting, spooning, and the meat with fat as it cooked. You can cook meat, fish, and vegetables this way. Surround your joint of meat or poultry with potatoes or other vegetables. You can also roast fruit such as apples, pears or tomatoes.

Grilling (or broiling as Americans insist on calling it) is a cooking method using dry fast heat, applied from above or below, using the grill (or broil) on your stove, or a barbecue. Cooks use this method to cook steaks, chops, beef or other meat patties, toasted bread, Welsh rarebit, and many other items. You cook on a rack.

The word braise originates, as many cooking terms do, from a French word, “braiser”. Meat or poultry typically is seared at a high heat on top of the cooker before being placed in a covered dish with liquid covering the food, you then place the food in the oven usually on a low heat setting and cooked for a long time. Heat, time, and moisture combine in braising to cook the food until tender and means that braising helps to render cheaper, tougher, cuts of meat into delicious meals. Coq au Vin is a famous French chicken dish cooked using the braising method. Like so many peasant dishes, Coq au Vin was originally a way to make an old boiling fowl into a delicious tasty meal for peasant families.

Stewing is another ‘wet’ method of cooking. One cuts meat or into small pieces, searing them before placing in a saucepan or pot with a tight fitting lid, covering the meat completely in liquid such as gravy, and cooking over a low heat for a long time on the top of the stove.

Steaming is a method used for sweet and savoury puddings and for vegetables. In this method, the food cooks in steam without touching the water. For example, to make a steamed treacle pudding, one places the pudding in a basin, and the basin into a saucepan or pot with a tightly fitting lid, putting boiling water into the pot around the basin. You then make sure that the water is boiling before covering the pot turning down the heat and cooking for the appropriate time. The food cooks because of the transferred heat and steam from the water through the basin.

There are several ways to fry food. You shallow fry food in a shallow pan using a little fat or oil. To sauté is another French term originating from the verb “to jump”. One uses a sauté, or frying, pan to cook small pieces of meat, vegetables or other food, and keeps shaking the pan so the food jumps about. Deep-frying, for chips (or French Fries), fried chicken or fish, is done in deep very hot oil either in a pan or deep fat fryer.

Measurements are important in cookery especially when baking cakes, bread, biscuits, and pastry and when using spices. Recipes often call for level, rounded, or heaped teaspoons or tablespoons of an ingredient and this can confuse novice cooks. To measure a level teaspoon of any ingredient, take a measuring teaspoon; fill it with the ingredient, then run a flat bladed knife across the edge of the teaspoon pushing off any excess back into the container that is a level teaspoon, which you can now add to the food. A rounded teaspoon is a spoonful with the same amount above the teaspoons edge as there is in the spoon’s bowl. A heaped teaspoon is a teaspoon containing as much as you can get on the spoon without any falling off it.

There are other miscellaneous cookery terms, which you might come across in cookery books. A recipe may ask you to take flour, or corn flour (maize flour), and butter, or margarine, to make roux. A roux is the base for a sauce. You take the specified amount of butter, or margarine, and put it in a pan and melt it over a low flame. You then add the flour or corn flour, stirring all the time until you have a smooth paste, then add the liquid, a little at a time stirring constantly. This is the base for many sauces, including the basic white sauce.

Creaming is a method that cooks use when making a cake batter. You usually cream butter, take your softened butter and put it into a large mixing bowl, then beat it with a wooden spoon, when it is soft beat the sugar into the butter. For a cake batter, it is ready to add more ingredients when the mixture looks white and feels creamy.

There are several cookery dictionaries on the internet. These can be very helpful for cooks, of all abilities, when they come across an unfamiliar term. For the novice cook they are indispensible. Beginning cooks should get a good basic cookery book; those aimed at students are usually very good. There are some recommended ones for American or British novice cooks. Cookery is both an art and a science, which has its own terminology. This terminology can seem confusing at first but when you become familiar with their meaning these term will be as natural as the words you use everyday. Knowing these meanings will help you to cook wonderful food to feed and please your friends and family and give you great satisfaction.

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