We've all been there: you pick out a recipe to make for dinner but don't know half of the cooking terms used.
What the heck is a bain-marie? How do I deglaze a pan? A bouquet garni what?
Although we wish otherwise, knowing how to cook isn't something we're born with -- we all have to start at the beginning and pick things up as we go. Whether you're just starting out, keen to cook more or just need a refresher, this simple glossary is for you.
Once you know these basic terms, cooking becomes 100 times more easier and accessible because, really, most are just fancy words for things like 'pour water into a pan' or 'just chuck it in boiling water for 20 seconds'. Seriously.
Here's your go-to glossary of cooking terms.
Ever heard Jamie Oliver say "cook the pasta until al dente"? This basically means "don't boil the crap out of your pasta". In Italian al dente actually means "to the tooth" and refers to pasta that is slightly under-cooked and has a chewy consistency. So, when you go to enjoy your big bowl of spaghetti you actually chew more and taste the whole range of flavours (rather than inhaling it quickly).
A bain-marie is a fancy term for a hot water bath which is usually used for delicate desserts like custard. A typical bain-marie consists of placing a dish or ramekin of food in a larger, shallow dish of hot water, and popping that in the oven to gently cook. This allows your custard to cook without curdling, cracking or browning.
Baste means to moisten food by adding liquid for enhanced flavor and to prevent drying out while cooking. If you're baking a chicken or turkey, basting with the juices from the roasting pan or stock keeps the meat tender and soft.
To blanch something -- typically vegetables -- means to cook it briefly in boiling water, remove it and place in cold water to stop the cooking process. This keeps the ingredients fresh, crisp and full of flavour. A good example of this is broccoli: blanching makes it bright and green, whereas boiling reduces its vibrancy and becomes soggy.
This doesn't mean put on a blind fold when baking your cake, but to bake your pie pastry before it's filled with ingredients. This creates a lighter, crisper crust and helps prevent the pastry from puffing during baking. To blind bake, poke the sides and bottom of the pastry with a fork and fill the bottom with pie weights (or uncooked rice or dry legumes).
Think of a bouquet garni as a bunch of flowers, but instead of flowers it's a bundle of herbs -- typically thyme, parsley stalks and bay leaves. A bouquet garni is used to add flavour and is placed into soups, stocks, stews, casseroles and sauces, and is removed before eating.
Braising refers to first browning meat over a high heat, followed by covering and cooking it slowly in the oven in a small amount of liquid until tender. Braising is best for cooking tougher cuts of meat.
Browning means to quickly cook food (usually a cut of meat) over high heat in an oven, on the stove top or under the grill. Browning helps to seal in the juices and to prevent the meat from becoming dry.
Caramelising is a method of slowly cooking ingredients until golden brown and is an incredible way to bring out the natural sweetness of foods such as onions, meat and banana. Caramelising also refers to heating sugar and water until it becomes a caramel brown syrup.
A court bouillon is a broth made of water, wine, herbs and spices for poaching fish, seafood, vegetables, eggs and meats, as well as for a base for fish soups.
This French cooking terms translates to "English cream" and is a light pouring custard made from whipping sugar and egg yolks and slowly adding in hot milk and cream, which is often flavoured with vanilla. Crème anglaise can be poured as a sauce over cakes or fruit, or can be used as a base for desserts such as ice cream or crème brûlée.
Deglaze refers to adding a liquid (such as stock, wine or water) to a pan which has browned bits of meat or vegetables. By adding the liquid, and stirring and scraping the browned ingredients in the pan, the liquid becomes infused and can be used later as a flavourful sauce for the dish.
Similar to a bain-marie, a double boiler gently cooks food or warms ingredients but consists of two pans on top of one another -- the bottom holds simmering water while the top holds the food. A double boiler is perfect for melting, whisking or stirring delicate ingredients together, for example chocolate, custard and hollandaise sauce.
Emulsifying means to bind liquids that generally don't like to blend together well like oil and vinegar. To emulsify you have to slowly add oil to vinegar, water, mustard and/or egg yolks, and whisk vigorously at the same time. Examples of emulsified foods include bearnaise, hollandaise, mayonnaise and salad dressings.
Ever watched in awe as a chef ignites the pan with fire? This is the cooking technique flambé, a method of pouring alcohol over food while it's cooking and to ignite it to burn off the alcohol. It does require some caution, so please be aware.
Often used in baking, to fold something means to mix delicate ingredients together without beating or stirring, but gently lifting the ingredients from underneath and folding over.
A garnish is the decoration of a dish before serving to enhance the taste of the dish and presentation. Common garnishes include fresh herbs, citrus zest, edible flowers, seeds and fresh vegetables.
Julienne refers to the method of cutting ingredients such as carrots into long, thin strips that look like matchsticks. The strips are supposed to be uniform and precise, and definitely takes practice to perfect.
Leaven is a term used in baking that refers to the process of adding baking powder, baking soda or yeast to the dough of bread and other baked goods to cause the mixture to rise.
Marinating means to place meat, poultry, fish or other food into a seasoned liquid mixture (the marinade) such as soy sauce, vinegar, lemon juice, oil, spices and herbs. This process helps to add flavour and tenderise the meat or main ingredient.
This term is often used in drink and cocktail recipes and refers to combining ingredients such as fruit and herbs by pressing or 'muddling' them, usually at the bottom of a glass or bowl before adding the liquid ingredients. Muddling helps to bring out the flavour of the fresh ingredients and to bind them with the alcoholic liquids.
Similar to blanching, parboil means to partially boil an ingredient. Parboil, however, is used to give the ingredient a head start and to speed up the cooking time for the following different cooking methods. For example, parboiling some ingredients in a stew so all items will be done at the same time.
Piping refer to placing a smooth mixture such as cake frosting into a piping bag and decorating food, so you can make pretty rose frosting for muffins and cakes.
Often used for delicious poached eggs, poaching is a technique to gently cook food in simmering, not boiling, liquid such as water.
Purée means to grind, blend or mash solid food until completely smooth. To get an even smoother purée, you can run the blended mixture through a sieve.
A quenelle is a fancy word for a perfectly smooth, egg-shaped dollop or scoop of ice cream or mousse on the dessert plate.
You often hear chefs and recipes saying to reduce a sauce, which means allowing a mixture to thicken or concentrate by boiling down (leaving it to boil). Although it takes a bit of time, reducing the liquid when cooking intensifies and concentrates the flavour.
Sauté refers to cooking ingredients in a pan with oil or butter until lightly browned. Sautéing is a quick process typically done at the beginning of cooking with onions, garlic, ginger and other vegetables.
To score something means to cut a number of very thin, shallow slices across the surface of meat or fish to help it tenderise and allow for better absorption of marinade.
Often used in reference to making tea, steeping refers to extracting flavour and colour from a solid substance by allowing it to soak in a liquid just below boiling point.
Stir frying is typically used in Asian cuisine and refers to quickly sautéing vegetables or meat in a hot wok or fry pan while stirring frequently.
This phrase may seem a little confusing, but it simply refers to a vegetable that is heated and cooked all the way through, but still has some snap to it. Basically, it's not the limp, soggy, over-boiled vegetables you had as a kid.
Zest adds a refreshing, citrusy twist to dishes and can be done by removing the outer layer or zest of citrus fruits. Be careful not to cut or use the white pith underneath the peel as it can leave a bitter taste.