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An Essential Glossary of Cooking Terms—Because What Does ‘Fold in the Cheese’ Mean, Anyway?

You’ve donned your proverbial chef’s hat, you’re in the middle of making crème brûlée and BAM, you’re a deer in the headlights. “What the hell does temper even mean?” you cry as hot milk slops onto the counter. We’ve all been there. To avoid a Moira Rose moment the next time you have to “fold in the cheese,” bookmark this cooking term glossary and pat yourself on the back. You’ve got this.

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Al dente: Italian for “to the tooth,” aka when pasta is cooked until it has a pleasant bite but isn’t too crunchy or too mushy.

Baste: To brush or pour juices, sauce or melted fat over a piece of meat (like a roast chicken) while it cooks, to keep it from drying out.

Blanch: To very quickly cook something (especially vegetables) in boiling water, then submerge it in cold water to stop the cooking.

Braise: To cook meat or vegetables with liquid over low heat in a sealed vessel, so it comes out impossibly tender and succulent.

Broil: To use intense radiant heat to cook something, or to give it a deeply golden-brown finish after cooking at a lower temperature (think lasagna).

Cream: A baking technique that involves combining a softened fat (usually butter, but not always) and sugar until it becomes voluminous, fluffy and, well, creamy.

Cut in: When making pastry (like pie crust or biscuits), to incorporate the fat into the flour so that it creates clumps of fat and a flaky final product.

Deglaze: To add liquid to a hot skillet after sautéing an ingredient, releasing the caramelized bits at the bottom (aka the “good stuff”).

Dice: To cut an ingredient into small, equal-sized cubes so it cooks evenly and has a pleasant appearance—more precise than just chopping.

Double boiler: A MacGuyver-style contraption made by bringing an inch or two of water to a simmer in a pot, then resting a slightly larger heat-safe bowl on top. It allows you to melt ingredients over gentle heat, like chocolate.

Dredge: To coat a moist ingredient in a dry ingredient before cooking, like a chicken tender in flour. This step seals in moisture and can help other breading ingredients stick better.

Flambé: Adding alcohol to a hot pan, then setting it on fire, mostly to look like a fancy-pants chef.

Fold: A technique used to gently incorporate a light or delicate ingredient into a heavier one, like adding egg whites to a batter. It’s easiest to think of as making a “J” shape through the mixture with a spatula as you slowly rotate the bowl.

Gentle boil: Closer to a simmer than a full-on boil, look for constant small bubbles breaking the surface of the liquid. It’s handy for cooking sauces and ingredients that shouldn’t be jostled too violently (like homemade ravioli).

Julienne: To cut an ingredient into short, thin strips.

Macerate: To soften an ingredient (especially fresh or dried fruit) in a flavored liquid before cooking with it.

Mince: To cut an ingredient into very small pieces (smaller than chopping or dicing), like garlic or ginger.

Mise en place: A French cooking phrase that loosely translates to “everything in its place,” referring to having your sh*t together before you start a recipe.

Parbake: A technique in which a food is partially baked. This is common with pie, especially when the filling requires less time to cook than it would take to make a crisp, fully baked crust.

Parboil: To partially cook a food by boiling. Roasting potatoes? You’ll want to parboil those spuds first.

Render: To cook the fat out of something, like bacon, rendering it crisp and delicious.

Sauté: Cooking a food quickly, using a small amount of oil in a shallow pan over pretty high heat. Here’s how to do it in five easy steps.

Scald: To heat a liquid to just below the boiling point (or about 180°F). You’ll see small bubbles around the walls of the pot, but no big bubbles in the liquid.

Sear: To quickly brown the surface of an ingredient using extremely high heat—essential for steaks and chops.

Shimmering: I.e., “when the oil is shimmering.” Heat the oil until it literally shimmers when you swirl it in the pan.

Sweat: To cook something in fat over low heat until it gets soft, but not until it browns (like a sauna sesh for your onions).

Temper: To gradually combine two ingredients of drastically different temperatures, usually if one ingredient is sensitive to temperature changes (like eggs or dairy).

Truss: To tie up meat or poultry with cooking twine to encourage even cooking.

Zest: To remove the colorful, aromatic outer skin (but not the white part) of citrus fruit. 

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