Becoming better at anything we want to invest our time and energy in requires practice. Becoming a better cook is no different. Whether your reasons for cooking are practical or you dive into deep frying with a passion makes no difference. How you use your attention determines the level of enjoyment (or boredom) you experience from any activity, cooking included.
Are you fully present when you cook? Do you prepare all the necessary ingredients and materials before you begin? Do you have enough space and tools with which to work?
Sometimes attention falls short because we haven't organized our cooking endeavours well, or because we simply don't know enough about what we're doing. Even the most fervent cook needs guidance with practical matters, including a tool kit of common cooking terms. Without these ingredients, your cooking may still be good, but it will never be great.
Some of the terms we've included in this tool kit may be new to you but most will be familiar. However, a few terms are related enough that we tend to use them interchangeably. Even slight differences in temperature, level of moisture, and actual technique can create very different outcomes. Use the following guide (arranged in alphabetical order) to clarify those slight differences in technique and notice the difference in your cooking.
16 Common & Not-So-Common Cooking Terms
Pasta al dente is firm, without being crunchy. It's mostly cooked with just a small section of the core uncooked. Blanching (see below) vegetables makes them al dente.
Baking and roasting are used interchangeably, but baking is the term generally reserved for sweeter things like desserts, breads, and pastries. Roasting refers to meats and vegetables. Both are dry heat oven cooking methods in which the heat surrounds the baking dish or roasting pan and remains constant.
Similar to baking, broiling exposes the top side of food to very high heat. Commonly used to melt and brown cheese, broiling is also useful for cooking fish or charring vegetables.
This method involves keeping food moist and flavored with intermittent spooning, brushing, drizzling, or squirting. Basting a turkey, for example, involves collecting the juice created by cooking and drizzling it over top of the meat to prevent it from drying out.
There's not much mystery here! Beating requires rapid movement/stirring in a circular motion to make a smooth mixture. Depending on the ingredients, beating can thicken a liquid.
This is an excellent method for enhancing the color of a vegetable without cooking it all the way through. Broccoli, for example, is plunged briefly into boiling water, then into an ice bath. The result is a tender, crisp, bright green broccoli spear.
For those beautiful fall-off-the-bone eats. This technique starts with a low and slow tenderizing for tough cuts of meat. Start with dry cooking to brown the meat followed by moist methods to finish cooking it in liquid.
It just sounds delicious! The heat converts the sugars in the food to the characteristics of rich, sticky caramel. Onions caramelize to a beautiful translucent brown and become sweet in the process.
One step further than a sear, charring almost burns a food. Expose the ingredient directly to a flame underneath a broiler or put it in a very hot pan or on a grill grate. It is successfully charred when the food bubbles and blackens, without tasting bitter or smelling burnt.
A cooking prep technique that involves lightly coating uncooked food with a dry mixture (kind of like Shake n' Bake) to be pan fried or sauteed.
Think fancy French restaurant moves! Flambe involves adding liquor or liqueur to a food and igniting it. The effect is dramatic and helps develop the flavor of the liqueur to the foods without adding the alcohol.
A dry cooking technique. Frying doesn't require water, so it's a good idea to fully dry the ingredient before cooking it. Pan frying uses minimal oil, less than deep frying but more than a typical saute. The recipe will usually instruct how much oil to use, but the general rule is that the oil should half submerge the ingredient.
This technique is ideal for delicate foods like fish and eggs. The water should have a slight roll, not aggressive, to maintain a temperature of 140-180 degrees.
Literally “to jump” in French, sauteeing uses oil or fat to cook food quickly over high heat. The food must be in constant motion, by stirring or shaking. This distributes the heat to brown and cook the food. Ensure food is cut to relatively the same size to ensure an even rate of cooking.
Searing cooks the ingredient, either meat or vegetable, on very high heat for a short time. It seals the flavor and creates a delightful crust covering a moist, tender interior.
It starts with getting liquid to the boiling point and reducing the heat to maintain a gentle “roll.” This is the most common moist cooking method, used for stocks, soups, stews, and vegetables.
Cooking know-how is all about experimentation. Trying different recipes. Experimenting with not-so-common ingredients. Engaging a variety of trial-and-error methods. This explorer-type approach to cooking helps develop a confidence that only comes when you dive into an activity with reckless abandon prepared to eat the results and start all over again if necessary!
This holiday season 2020 is an ideal time to experiment with different recipes, cooking methods, and ingredients, especially now that you have some practical know-how about different techniques. From our kitchen to yours, we wish you fun times in the kitchen this month!