Cooking Terms

Here is a quick reference to common cooking terms we use.

Cooking Terms N-S

Posted by Unknown Thursday, November 1, 2012

Nonstick cooking spray

This convenient product reduces the mess associated with greasing pans; it can also help cut down on fat in cooking. Use the spray only on unheatedbaking pans or skillets because it can burn or smoke if sprayed onto a hot surface. For safety, hold pans over a sink or garbage can when spraying to avoid making the floor or counter slippery.



Dried seeds or fruits with edible kernels surrounded by a hard shell or rind. Nuts are available in many forms, such as chopped, slivered, and halved. Use the form called for in the recipe. In most recipes, the nuts are selected for their particular flavor and appearance; however, in general, walnuts may be substituted for pecans, and almonds for hazelnuts, and vice versa.


When grinding nuts, take extra care not to overgrind them, or you may end up with a nut butter. If you're using a blender or processor to grind them, add 1 tablespoon of the sugar or flour from the recipe for each cup of nuts to help absorb some of the oil. Use a quick start-and-stop motion for better control over the fineness. For best results, grind the nuts in small batches and be sure to let the nuts cool after toasting and before grinding.



To cook a food, especially meat, in a skillet without added fat, removing any fat as it accumulates.



To boil a food, such as vegetables, until it is partially cooked.


Parchment paper

A grease- and heat-resistant paper used to line baking pans, to wrap foods in packets for baking, or to make disposable pastry bags.



To cut off the skin or outer covering of a fruit or vegetable, using a small knife or a vegetable peeler.



A white root vegetable that resembles a carrot. Parsnips have a mild, sweet flaor and can be cooked like potatoes.



A natural substance found in some fruits that makes fruit-and-sugar mixtures used in jelly- or jam-making set up. Commercial pectin is also available.



The skin or outer covering of a vegetable or fruit (also called the rind). Peel also refers to the process of removing this covering.



Traditionally an uncooked sauce made from crushed garlic, basil, and nuts blended with Parmesan cheese and olive oil. Today's pestos may call on other herbs or greens and may be homemade or purchased. Tomato pesto is also available. Pesto adds a heady freshness to many recipes.


Phyllo dough (FEE-loh)

Prominent in Greek, Turkish, and Near Eastern dishes, phyllo consists of tissue-thin sheets of dough that, when layered and baked, results in a delicate, flaky pastry. The word phyllo (sometimes spelled filo) is Greek for "leaf." Although phyllo can be made at home, a frozen commercial product is available and much handier to use. Allow frozen phyllo dough to thaw while it is still wrapped; once unwrapped, sheets of phyllo dough quickly dry out and become unusable. To preserve sheets of phyllo, keep the stack covered with plastic wrap while you prepare your recipe. Rewrap any remaining sheets and return them to the freezer.



A small amount of a dry ingredient (the amount that can be pinched between a finger and the thumb).


Pine nuts

A high-fat nut that comes from certain varieties of pine trees. Their flavor ranges from mild and sweet to pungent. They go rancid quickly; store in the refrigerator or freezer. In a pinch, substitute chopped almonds or, in cream sauces, walnuts.



To force a semisoft food, such as whipped cream or frosting, through a pastry bag to decorate food.



To remove the seed from fruit.



To allow a food, such as raisins, to soak in a liquid, which generally increases its volume.



To cook a food by partially or completely submerging it in a simmering liquid.



To strike a food with a heavy utensil to crush it. Or, in the case of meat or poultry, to break up connective tissue in order to tenderize or flatten it.



To partially or completely cook a food before using it in a recipe.



To heat an oven or a utensil to a specific temperature before using it.



To preserve food at home by canning, or to prepare food in a food processor.



To allow a yeast dough to rise before baking. Also a term that indicates the amount of alcohol in a distilled liquor.



Ham that has been seasoned, salt-cured, and air-dried (not smoked). Pressing the meat gives it a firm, dense texture. Parma ham from Italy is considered to be the best.



A southern Italian cheese made from cow's milk. Provolone is firm and creamy with a mild, smoky flavor. Because it melts so well, it is an excellent cooking cheese.


Puff pastry

A butter-rich, multilayered pastry. When baked, the butter produces steam between the layers, causing the dough to puff up into many flaky layers. Because warm, softened puff pastry dough becomes sticky and unmanageable, roll out one sheet of dough at a time, keeping what you're not using wrapped tightly in plastic wrap in the refrigerator.



To process or mash a food until it is as smooth as possible. This can be done using a blender, food processor, sieve, or food mill; also refers to the resulting mixture.



To bring a concentrated or condensed food, such as frozen fruit juice, to its original strength by adding water.



To decrease the volume of a liquid by boiling it rapidly to cause evaporation. As the liquid evaporates, it thickens and intensifies in flavor. The resulting richly flavored liquid, called a reduction, can be used as a sauce or as the base of a sauce. When reducing liquids, use the pan size specified in the recipe, as the surface area of the pan affects how quickly the liquid will evaporate.



To force food that has been cooked through a perforated utensil known as a ricer, giving the food a somewhat ricelike shape.


Rice noodles, rice sticks


Rice noodles


Thin noodles, popular in Asian cooking, that are made from finely ground rice and water. When fried, they puff into light, crisp strands. They can also be soaked to use in stir-fries and soups. Thicker varieties are called rice sticks. Find in Asian markets; substitute vermicelli or capellini for thin rice noodles, linguine or fettuccine for thicker rice sticks.


Rice papers

These round, flat, edible papers, made from the pith of a rice-paper plant, are used for wrapping spring rolls.


Rice vinegar

A mild-flavored vinegar made from fermented rice. Rice vinegar is interchangeable with rice wine vinegar, which is made from fermented rice wine. Seasoned rice vinegar, with added sugar and salt, can be used in recipes calling for rice vinegar, though you may wish to adjust the seasonings. If you can't find rice vinegar, substitute white vinegar or white wine vinegar.



The skin or outer coating, usually rather thick, of a food.

Roast, roasting


A large piece of meat or poultry that's usually cooked by roasting. Roasting refers to a dry-heat cooking method used to cook foods, uncovered, in an oven. Tender pieces of meat work best for roasting.


Roll, roll out

To form a food into a shape. Dough, for instance, can be rolled into ropes or balls. The phrase "roll out" refers to mechanically flattening a food, usually a dough or pastry, with a rolling pin.


Roux (roo)

A French term that refers to a mixture of flour and a fat cooked to a golden- or rich-brown color and used for a thickening in sauces, soups, and gumbos.



A sauce usually made from finely chopped tomatoes, onions, chiles, and cilantro. It is often used in Mexican and Southwestern cuisine.



From the French word sauter, meaning "to jump." Sauteed food is cooked and stirred in a small amount of fat over fairly high heat in an open, shallow pan. Food cut into uniform size sautes the best.



To heat a liquid, often milk, to a temperature just below the boiling point, when tiny bubbles just begin to appear around the edge of the liquid.



To cut narrow slits, often in a diamond pattern, through the outer surface of a food to decorate it, tenderize it, help it absorb flavor, or allow fat to drain as it cooks.



To use a sharp or blunt instrument to rub the outer coating from a food, such as carrots.


Sea salt

This variety of salt is derived from the evaporation of sea water. Some cooks prefer it over table salt for its clean, salty flavor.



To brown a food, usually meat, quickly on all sides using high heat. This helps seal in the juices and may be done in the oven, under a broiler, or on top of the range.



To separate and remove the membrane of segments of citrus fruits. To section oranges, use a paring knife to remove the peel and white rind. Working over a bowl to catch the juice, cut between one orange section and the membrane, slicing to the center of the fruit. Turn the knife and slide it up the other side of the section along the membrane, cutting outward. Repeat with remaining sections.



A fortified wine that ranges from dry to sweet, and light to dark. Sherry can be enjoyed as a predinner or after-dinner drink, and it is also used in cooking.



A vegetable oil that has been processed into solid form. Shortening commonly is used for baking or frying. Plain and butter-flavor types can be used interchangeably. Store in a cool, dry place. Once opened, use within 6 months. Discard if it has an odor or appears discolored.



To push food across a shredding surface to make long, narrow strips. Finely shred means to make long thin strips. A food processor also may be used. Lettuce and cabbage may be shredded by thinly slicing them.


Shrimp paste

A pungent seasoning made from dried, salted shrimp that's been pounded into a paste. Shrimp paste gives Southeast Asian dishes an authentic, rich flavor. The salty shrimp taste mellows during cooking. In a pinch, substitute anchovy paste, though it's not as boldly flavored.



To remove the shells from seafood, such as oysters and clams, or the husks from corn.



To separate liquids from solids, usually using a sieve.



To put one or more dry ingredients, especially flour or powdered sugar, through a sifter or sieve to remove lumps and incorporate air.



To cook food in a liquid that is kept just below the boiling point; a liquid is simmering when a few bubbles form slowly and burst just before reaching the surface.



A long, narrow metal or wooden stick that can be inserted through pieces of meat or vegetables for grilling. If using bamboo or wooden skewers, soak them in cold water for 30 minutes before you thread them to prevent burning.



To remove a substance, such as fat or foam, from the surface of a liquid.



A flat, usually thin, piece of food cut from a larger piece. Also the process of cutting flat, thin pieces



To cut food, often fresh herbs or dried fruit, with kitchen shears or scissors into very small, uniform pieces using short, quick strokes.


Soba noodles

Made from wheat and buckwheat flours, soba noodles are a favorite Japanese fast food. In a pinch, substitute a narrow whole wheat ribbon pasta, such as linguine.


Somen noodles

Made from wheat flour, these dried Japanese noodles are very fine and most often white. In a pinch, substitute angel hair pasta.



French for "sherbet." Sorbets are made from water, sugar, and fruit juice or puree, then churned when freezing. They are different from sherbets in that they don't contain milk.



Made of the liquid pressed from ground soybeans, soymilk can be a good substitute for cow's milk for people who do not consume dairy products. Plain, unfortified soymilk offers high-quality proteins and B vitamins. Substituting soymilk for regular milk is possible in some cases, though the flavor may be affected. Experiment to see what is acceptable to you.


Springform pan

A round pan with high sides and a removable bottom. The bottom is removed by releasing a spring that holds the sides tight around it. This makes it easy to remove food from the pan.



To cook a food in the vapor given off by boiling water.



To allow a food, such as tea, to stand in water that is just below the boiling point in order to extract flavor or color.



To cook food in liquid for a long time until tender, usually in a covered pot. The term also refers to a mixture prepared this way.



To mix ingredients with a spoon or other utensil to combine them, to prevent ingredients from sticking during cooking, or to cool them after cooking.



A method of quickly cooking small pieces of food in a little hot oil in a wok or skillet over medium-high heat while stirring constantly.



The strained clear liquid in which meat, poultry, or fish has been simmered with vegetables or herbs. It is similar to broth but is richer and more concentrated. Stock and broth can be used interchangeably; reconstituted bouillon can also be substituted for stock.



A sweetener that's primarily made from sugar beets or sugarcane. Sugar comes in a variety of forms:


Brown sugar: A mix of granulated sugar and molasses. Dark brown sugar has more molasses, and hence, more molasses flavor than light brown sugar (also known as golden brown sugar). Unless otherwise specified, recipes in this cookbook were tested using light brown sugar. In general, either can be used in recipes that call for brown sugar, unless one or the other is specified.


Tip: To help keep brown sugar soft, store it in a heavy plastic bag or a rustproof, airtight container and seal well. If it becomes hard, you can resoften it by emptying the hardened sugar into a rustproof container and placing a piece of soft bread in the container; the sugar will absorb the moisture and soften in a day or two. After the sugar has softened, remove the bread and keep the container tightly closed.


Coarse sugar: Often used for decorating baked goods, coarse sugar (sometimes called pearl sugar) has much larger grains than regular granulated sugar; look for it where cake-decorating supplies are sold.


Granulated sugar: This white, granular, crystalline sugar is what to use when a recipe calls for sugar without specifying a particular type. White sugar is most commonly available in a fine granulation, though superfine (also called ultrafine or castor sugar), a finer grind, is also available. Because superfine sugar dissolves readily, it's ideal for frostings, meringues, and drinks.


Powdered sugar: Also known as confectioner's sugar, this is granulated sugar that has been milled to a fine powder, then mixed with cornstarch to prevent lumping. Sift powdered sugar before using.


Raw sugar: In the United States, true raw sugar is not sold to consumers. Products labeled and sold as raw sugar, such as Demerara sugar and turbinado sugar, have been refined in some way. Cleaned through a steaming process, turbinado sugar is a coarse sugar with a subtle molasses flavor. It is available in many health food stores.

Vanilla sugar: Infused with flavor from a dried vanilla bean, vanilla sugar tastes great stirred into coffee drinks and sprinkled over baked goods. To make vanilla sugar, fill a 1-quart jar with 4 cups sugar. Cut a vanilla bean in half lengthwise and insert both halves into sugar. Secure lid and store in a cool, dry place for several weeks before using. It will keep indefinitely.


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