The Language of Food and Cooks Dictionary

Cooking à la Nage

Like most professions, chefs have their own lingo to separate them from the untrained. Chef-speak is mostly derived from French because historically, France has had the greatest influence on how we cook. Other cultures have crept in, and we see, “Fusion” and a multitude of cuisines frequently, but the language of the kitchen is still mostly written in French. Knowing the language can be helpful when you write your own recipes, and chef-speak can be a great source of abbreviations.

Some of the terms below are falling out of general use and many current chefs are following a system of not naming their dishes or garnishes. Go to a restaurant owned or run by a modern chef and you are likely to see a menu that reads like a shopping list such as this salad, Roasted beet, plum tomato, walnut, cucumber, mozzarella and romaine salad tossed in our house made roasted garlic oil with balsamic reduction. That maybe a tasty dish but it sounds like the chef was reading off his shopping list rather than creating a dish.

The Science of Taste - KQED QUEST

A > B > C

Al dente refers to the desired texture of cooked pasta. In Italian it literally means "to the tooth". When pasta is cooked al dente, there should be a slight resistance, the pasta will be slightly chewy.

· Allumette A small cut, (1/8 in. x 1/8 in. x 2 to 2½ in.) long, often used to describe matchstick potatoes. Some consider this term synonymous with julienne, while others consider it to be a slightly larger cut. Also may refer to thin strips of puff pastry filled with savory mixtures and served as an appetizer.

· Aubergine French name for eggplant

· Barding, with the emphasis on a low fat diet, barding isalmost never done in modern kitchens. Barding is a process of wrapping a food in a layer of fat. Filet mignon is one of the few items still barded when it is wrapped in bacon before cooking. The purpose of barding is to protect lean meat from drying out while it cooks. Use kitchen string to wrap fat around an item to be barded and remove the fat during the final 15 minutes to allow the meat to brown.

· Baton/Batonnet: Vegetables cut into pieces 1/4 inch x 1/4 inch x 2 to 2 1/2 inches is the standard. `stick` or `small stick. May also apply to small stick shaped pastries or small loaves of bread, smaller then baguettes.

· Blanching is very brief cooking, used to heighten and set color, stop enzymatic actions and loosen skin. Dip a tomato or peach in rapidly boiling water for a few seconds, then cool in ice water and the skin will come off easily. For freezing, blanch long enough for the food to heat through, but not long enough to cook this will stop the action of enzymes and the food will last longer in the freezer.

· Bouquet Garni – A bundle of parsley stems, dried thyme, and a large bay leaf, tied together and left to float freely to season broth, stock, or sauce.

· Brunoise Food that has been julienned and then cut into a tiny dice is the brunoise cut, a cube that measures about 1/8th inch on a side. For use as a garnish, some or all of these vegetables; carrots, celery, turnips and onions or leeks are cut into a brunoise, blanched and shocked, to preserve the color and appearance then used in the final dish

· Cardoon Is a variant of the artichoke, rarely seen in the States, both the stems and the flower are eaten. Some varieties have tiny spines along the stem which can be painful if embedded in the skin.

· Celeriac is a brown, lumpy root vegetable with an ivory interior, tasting like celery mixed with parsley. Use celeriac anywhere you would use another root vegetable like turnips. Choose celeriac with the least amount of knobs and rootlets, peel before use and if it won’t be cooked immediately soak in water with a little lemon juice added.

· Chiffonade translated literally from the French, "chiffonade" means "made of rags." In the kitchen it means finely cut strips or ribbons of leafy vegetables or herbs. This is a useful cut for cabbage in coleslaw and often used for lettuce and leafy herbs like basil.

· Concasser A coarse chopping cut, often used for "Tomato Concasse", tomatoes that have been peeled seeded and chopped. Also applied to herbs, which have been chopped briefly. Meat, poultry, game and fish bones can all be concassed with a cleaver when preparing stock. The term may also be used for crushed ice.

· Crème Fraîche is slightly soured heavy cream, much less tangy than ordinary sour cream. You can easily make your own, and it costs a fraction of the commercially produced product; combine 1 cup of heavy cream with 2 tablespoons of sour cream or buttermilk, mix this very well by placing the ingredients in a clean glass jar with a lid and shaking until blended. Loosen the lid and leave the jar, at room temperature, overnight or for up to 24 hours, refrigerate before use. Crème Fraîche made with buttermilk will be less tart than that made with sour cream but either give good results. The texture of Crème Fraîche will be stiffer than heavy cream but not as stiff as sour cream and is a delicious addition to sauces where cream or sour cream is called for.

· Coulis is a thick puree, may be of fruits or vegetables, often used as a sauce in Nouvelle cuisine. Coulis is often one of the sauces we see applied to a plate with a squeeze bottle to add another layer of flavor to a dish. Fruits are usually pureed raw and strained while vegetables are peeled, seeded and cooked before they are pureed. Red and Green bell peppers and tomatoes are frequently purees and served as coulis. Grocery stores are starting to sell bottled coulis but they are simple to make at home with a food processor. The word is French for “strained liquid” and initially was used for the juices that exude from a roast while cooking.

· Court Bouillon or Fish Fumet. Court bouillon is a seasoned broth made of water, spices and herbs while a fish fumet is a concentrated fish stock. Either one can be used as a poaching liquid for fish but only a fumet can serve as a basis for various sauces. After poaching fish in a court bouillon the leftover broth may be used as a fish fumet (depending on how it was seasoned.)

· Crudités are raw vegetables served as hors d'oeuvres

Cuisine minceur created by French chef Michel Guérard is created out of the nouvelle style of cooking. In cuisine minceur, traditional French dishes are made lighter, and healthier, with less calories, fats and refined carbs. Cuisine minceur dishes have been praised for both tasting superior to regular French cuisine, as well as for remaining authentic to the style of cooking.

Culinary Classroom

D > E > F

· Demi-glace is a rich brown sauce in French cuisine made by combining equal parts of veal stock and sauce Espagnole and reducing the volume by half. This is rarely used in modern kitchens because of the labor involved; nevertheless, if you have the time and money, it is worth the investment.

· Deglacer (Deglaze), When you add a little water, wine or other liquid to a pan you are deglazing the pan. The object is to release all the tiny bits of the roast or sauté into the liquid to pick up the concentrated flavor and add it to the sauce or gravy.

· Depouillage is the cleaning or skimming of a sauce. I can’t say why we say depoull instead of skim but any sauce that has been thickened with a roux must be depoulled. Depouillage removes all of the impurities from the flour and stock in the sauce. Escoffier was working on this technique a century before modern chefs started patting themselves on the back for concentrating flavors in sauces. To depoull, bring a thickened sauce to a boil and reduce the heat to a slow simmer, as scum forms on the surface remove it and continue the process until the scum stops appearing. It is possible to keep the process going for a long time to concentrate flavors and clarify the sauce.

· Filet or Fillet, Filet is the French term, used for filet mignon which literally means little fillet, this is for a steak cut out of the tenderloin. Fillet is the American spelling but fillet is used for a specific way of cutting a fish. You can serve a fillet of salmon and a filet mignon on the same menu. A fish fillet will be cut horizontally, removing the sides along the backbone while a fish steak will be cut at a right angle to the back bone.

· Fines Herbes – A mixture of chervil, chives, parsley, and tarragon, used to season soups and sauces. Chervil is one of the herbs that loses most of its flavor when dried so try to buy fresh for fines herbes.

· Fondant: Confectionary, there are 2 types of fondant: poured and rolled. Rolled fondant is the fondant used to cover cakes often seen on the TV cake shows. Poured fondant is a sugar paste used for fillings and coatings. The center of many chocolate covered cherries is fondant with a cherry in the middle. Pouring fondant is made by cooking sugar syrup to a soft boil stage and then stirring the syrup constantly to control the size of sugar crystals. Icing or rolled fondant is made by adding glycerin and agar or gelatin to sugar to create workable dough.

· Fonds de cuisine are soup stocks which are indispensable in French cooking. As Escoffier said, “Stock is everything in cooking, at least in French cooking. Without it, nothing can be done.”
Fonds Blanc, veal broth, highly seasoned;
Fonds Blanc de Volaille, veal broth with old hens or fowls added, highly seasoned;
Fonds Brun or Estouffade,beef broth, highly seasoned;
Fonds de Bibier, game broth, highly seasoned, and with white wine added during cooking.
There are any number of cookbooks that will teach you how to make your own stock and if you have the time and budget they are worth the trouble. In a recent Cooks magazine, there was a suggestion to use browned hamburger for a quick brown stock. That is an excellent but expensive way to make stock. The next time you serve a roast chicken or turkey, save the carcass in the freezer to make stock, save some vegetable scraps too (no crucifers) and you soon have the start of a wonderful soup stock. When you have enough scraps to fill a stockpot, make your own stock. You can use your own stock for far more than just a pot of soup; simmer it very slowly for a long time to remove the water and you will have your own glace de viand to use to add flavor to many dishes. Stored in the refrigerator it will last almost indefinitely. The quality of what you can produce in your own kitchen is infinitely better than store bought. This is frugal cooking at its best, turning scraps into delicious food.

· Fricassée Usually refers to a chicken stew prepared without the browning the meat. Less often, fish, vegetables and other meats can also be prepared in this manner.

Fusion Cuisine Any time you combine ingredients or cooking styles from different cuisines you are creating fusion cuisine. The results of fusion cuisine can vary from sublime to ridiculous depending on the skill of the chef as well as what the chef is creating. Poorly executed, fusion cuisine may be called confusion cuisine by a derisive critic.

Basic Cooking For Beginners

Leeks a la Grecque
Leeks a la Grecque
hors doeuvres
hors doeuvres

G > H > I > J > K

· Glace de Viande as stated above, under fonds de cuisine, glace de viande is homemade soup base. If you make your own you will find a world of flavors that are not present in the stuff you buy in the market.

· Gravy vs. Sauce Technically, gravy is made with pan drippings or the essence of the meat you are cooking while a sauce can be made without an underlying meat or source of juices. Regional variations make other dishes such as cream gravy possible so we will leave it to you to try to convince a Southerner that his/her cream gravy should be called a sauce

· Grecque (a la) Foods that are prepared in the Greek manner, may be flavored with lemon, garlic and olive oil also dishes with tomatoes, peppers and fennel are called a la Grecque.

· Hors d'oeuvres are small food snacks, served outside of: (hors), the meal: (oeuvres). Most writers today will say starters or appetizers rather than Hors d'oeuvres.

· Jardinière (à la) A garnish of garden vegetables, typically carrots, pearl onions, green beans and turnips. Also Jardinière is a French word, from the feminine form of "gardener." A jardinière is also a large stand or receptacle upon which, or into which, plants may be placed.

· Julienne: Foods that are cut in long, thin strips about 1/8 in by 1/8 in by 2 in or the size of a matchstick. May be applied to vegetables cooked meat or fish.

· Jus /Au Jus Meats served with natural juices deglazed from the roasting pan are being served au jus.

· Kitchen Brigade, This is probably of interest to professionals but we can thank Escoffier for the kitchen brigade system, this is simply a way of assigning jobs to make the best use of workspace and talents.

1. The Chef is responsible for all kitchen operations, He or she also may be known as the chef de cuisine or executive chef, although correctly, the executive chef is a managerial position, not a cooking position, the chef who cooks is a working chef.

2. The sous chef is second in command, answers to the chef, fills in for the chef, and assists the station chefs (or line cooks) as needed. Not all operations have a sous chef.

3. The Saucier (sauté chef)is responsible for all sautéed items and their sauces.

4. The Poissonier (fish chef)is responsible for fish items, often including fish butchering, and their sauces.

5. The Rôtisseur (roast chef)is responsible for all roasted foods and related jus, gravies and roast related sauces.

6. The Garde Manger is the person responsible for the preparation of all cold foods. This can include appetizers, desserts, pates, cold sauces, salads, dressing and sandwiches. Also known as pantry chef

7. The Grillardin (grill chef)is responsible for all broiled and grilled foods. This position may be combined with that of rôtisseur.

8. The Friturier (fry chef)is responsible for all fried foods. This position may be combined with the rôtisseur position.

L > M > N > O > P > R

· Larding, is another technique that is rarely if ever done now because of the emphasis we place on a low fat diet. Larding is the process of injecting strips of fat into a lean piece of meat to add moisture and flavor. Larding needles were designed for the purpose and are indispensible for the job. Cut thin strips of bacon or even from the fat covering a piece of meat and use the larding needle to insert the strip of fat into the lean meat.

· Mise en place. This is one of the first terms learned in cooking school and is one of the most critical techniques. Mise en place just means to put in place; when you are preparing a meal or a dish, gather all of the needed ingredients in one place before doing any cooking. You will be surprised how this step can save you time and aggravation. If you have ever been stopped in the middle of a dish because some critical ingredient was missing, making your “mise en place” will prevent that from ever happening again.

· Nage (À la) – Cooking à la nage means poaching seafood, in a court bouillon and serving the court bouillon and the vegetables around the food as part the dish. Use a decorative cut when preparing vegetables for an à la nage dish.

· Nectar is the undiluted juice from a fruit or the juices from a mixture of fruits. Typical fruits used to produce nectar include apples, apricots, grapefruits, mangos, oranges, pea

· Nouvelle cuisine is characterized by lighter, more delicate dishes and an increased emphasis on presentation. Nouvelle cuisine uses less flour thickened sauces and less complicated dishes with an eye on healthy nutrition. Shorter cooking times, fresher ingredients and steaming are all hallmarks of this style of cooking. This has been balanced out against the classic cuisine of Escoffier so now even Paul Bocuse is using some of the classic cuisine styles while maintaining the best points of nouvelle cuisine like fresher ingredients and presentation.

· Pain, petit pain, Pain is bread and petit pain is little bread as in a dinner roll

· Panko are white flaky Japanese breadcrumbs with a coarse texture that resembles flakes.

· Quadrillage refers to the square charred marks that are made when food is cooked on a grill. This term is derived from the French word "quadrille", meaning marked with squares or triangles.

· Radicchio is a dark red member related to chicory, it has a sharp, spicy flavor when eaten raw but the flavor mellows when cooked. Radicchio has come out of relative obscurity to become a favorite of chefs and wannabes. Looks like a small red head of lettuce.

· Ragoût, the French Ragoût refers to any well seasoned stew of meat or vegetables while
Ragù in Italian cookingrefers to a is a meat-based sauce, which is traditionally served with pasta

Roux, is a thickener for sauces and soups that combines equal parts flour and butter. Originally, roux’s were made with clarified butter, but this refinement is mostly historic. Clarified butter will make a better roux when it needs to be browned because the milk solids will burn at a lower temperature than the flour. To make a basic roux, use equal weights of fat and flour, combine them in a saucepan over low heat and stir constantly while the fat absorbs the flour. Cook a roux according to the desired color, making a white roux (roux is un-colored) for a cream sauce and a brown roux for a brown sauce. Cajuns will even make a black roux (really sort of a dark Mahogany color) to color and flavor Gumbos.
The more you cook a roux, the less thickening power it will retain. Many times the difference between a passable homemade gravy and a delicious one is the roux, the gravy thickened with flour and water or cornstarch will have much less flavor than the one made with a roux. To make a meat gravy always take the pan drippings and separate some of the fat to make the roux, then deglaze the pan. On trick used in restaurants is to make roux in batches so it is always available, to make your own, melt the butter, stir in the flour and bake at 350, stirring often until it starts to color slightly. Store this in plastic tubs and use it as needed.

Conclusion S > T

· Sachet A cheesecloth bag that contains herbs and spices, added to the pot when cooking liquids to add flavor.

· Shocking is a technique that could be useful at home. When you want to preserve the color and texture of the vegetables you are cooking, take them off the heat and cool them quickly by adding ice to the pot. This allows you to cook some things during a quiet time earlier in the day, then pop in the microwave to heat at the last minute. When you are cooking a meal for a large number this can save a lot of last minute work. Shocking also works with pasta although it is difficult to keep pasta al dente.

· Tapenade is a paste or puree that is made from blending anchovies, capers, garlic, and olives. Either green or black olives can be used to make the Tapenade. Used as an appetizer with crackers or veggies or as a side dish with seafood or a marinade for meats and fish

A comprehensive list of culinary terms is well beyond the scope of this article but we do have other resources posted here on Hub pages.
Coffee, Cuban, Greek, Herbs/Spices, Jewish, Mexican/Spanish, Pasta, Salmon, Sauces, Tea,

More by this Author


Comments 11 comments

livelonger profile image

livelonger 5 years ago from San Francisco

This is one incredible resource! I studied Spanish in high school, so my dearth of French language skills have kept most culinary terms a bit of a mystery...until now. The pictures are fantastic, too.


chefsref profile image

chefsref 5 years ago from Citra Florida Author

Thanx Livelonger

Glad you stopped by. I did Latin in school which did little to prepare me for French in the kitchen.


Mimi721wis profile image

Mimi721wis 5 years ago

Wow! You have a lot research in this hub. I had heard about the cheese cloth bag on a cooking show. Nice picture.


Jillian Barclay profile image

Jillian Barclay 5 years ago from California, USA

This was a fun article for me! Knew many of the words, but was unfamiliar with others. I always learn so much when I read your articles. Took 4 years of French, a very long time ago. I can still read it, but rarely try to speak French anymore.

Thank you-as usual you have educated!


chefsref profile image

chefsref 5 years ago from Citra Florida Author

Thanx Mimi and Jillian

The language of the kitchen has always struck me as a bit pretentious but at least we chefs get to sound sophisticated.


Fay Paxton 5 years ago

An excellent resource and another addition to my book. I'm thinking I can call it "The Chefs Ref". Kinda cool, huh?

up/very useful and bookmarked


chefsref profile image

chefsref 5 years ago from Citra Florida Author

Thanx Fay

Yeah, that's cool. A long time ago I was working on my own website to be called Chefs Ref but work got in the way. Now I'm posting here with the thought that eventually I will open a site and move the info


mabmiles profile image

mabmiles 5 years ago

Very amazing, I enjoyed to reading.


Tatuana 23 months ago

Shirley just told me about your website. had to check it out. you have some very uiuqne recipes that sound really good. Look forward to reading here again. Have a great weekend.


phoenixangelfire 19 months ago

It is absolutely stupid to refer to a film from 1949 sexist. The life then was completely different from that of today and there was no question of sexism involved. Society and its morals were different and suitable for the people living at tat particular period. It is as offensive to refer t such film a sexist as it would be to practice that behaviour today. This is just more asinine liberal twisting history to fit their perverse modern agensda.


phoenixangelfire 19 months ago

Despite my criticism of the title of that YouTube, the information contained here is unusually of very high quality and informative, and rarely seen elsewhere. Kudos for the information presented.

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