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

cooking terms glossary cat

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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Senior Food Editor

Katherine Gillen is PureWow’s senior food editor. She’s a writer, recipe developer and food stylist with a degree in culinary arts and professional experience in New York City...