Cooking Techniques: A to E

Al Dente – Literally, “to the tooth” in Italian. Foods cooked to the point that there is still some resistance; tender, but slightly chewy. Used mostly in reference to pasta, which should be cooked al dente, no softer, for most recipes.

Baste – To add moisture, flavor and color to foods by brushing, drizzling or spooning pan juices or other liquids over the food at various times during the cooking process. This is especially essential when cooking with dry heat, such as oven roasting or grilling.

Beat – To mix thoroughly with a spoon, whisk or beaters until well-combined and very smooth.

Blanche – To partially cook food, usually vegetables or fruit, in boiling water or steam. Immediately after blanching, vegetables are usually placed in ice water to stop the cooking and set the color.

Blend – To mix ingredients just until thoroughly combined. Not originally meant to be prepared in a blender, but can be in some recipes.

Boil – To heat liquids until bubbles form on the surface, and then to keep it at that temperature during the cooking process.

Braise – To cook slowly in a small amount of liquid in a covered pot. Foods are usually browned prior to braising to add flavor. Braising can be done on top of the stove or in an oven, depending on the recipe.

Bread – The process of adding a coating to foods, usually for frying or baking. The food is usually first dipped in flour, then a mixture of egg and water, and finally very fine bread crumbs, corn meal or cracker crumbs. It’s a good idea to let the coated food refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before frying to ensure that the coating will stick.

Brown – Generally, when a recipe says to “brown”, it refers to cooking quickly in a hot pan, on the grill or under a broiler until all sides turn golden or brown in color. The purpose is to seal in the juices and add flavor.

Butterfly – A method of cutting meats so that it will lay flat and even. It is difficult to describe without visual effects, but the meat is sliced in the center, without going all the way through, and opened to lay flat like the wings of a butterfly. In larger cuts, it is sliced in increments from middle to either side, and the flaps are opened like the pages of a book.

Caramelize – The process through which natural sugars in foods become browned and flavorful while cooking. This is usually done over a constant heat of low to medium-low. Caramelization can be quickened with the addition of a little sugar. Either way, be careful not to burn.

Chiffonade – Finely shredded vegetables, usually herbs, most often to be used as a garnish.

Chop – To cut foods into small pieces. Sizes vary from fine (approximately 1/4-inch pieces) to coarse (approximately 3/4-inch pieces). In most recipes, precision is not necessary.

Clarify – To make a liquid clear, as with butter. Unsalted butter is melted over low heat until the milk solids come to the top. They are then removed. Without the milk solids, the butter can be used in recipes in which you don’t want it to brown.

Coddle – To cook gently just below the boiling point. Most commonly refers to eggs, where the egg is cooked for 1 minute in the shell.

Congeal – To turn liquid into solid by chilling.

Cream – To beat an ingredient or ingredients with a spoon or beaters until light and fluffy. Most often used in reference to butter or shortening, with or without sugar, in baking recipes.

Cube – Cut into squares, size of which is determined by the recipe, generally between 1/2 to 2-inches.

Cut in – To work a solid fat, such as butter, shortening or lard, into dry ingredients. This is accomplished by using a pastry blender, 2 knives, a fork, or even the fingers. Most often, the fat should be chilled first and cut in just enough for small lumps about the size of a pea to form.

Dash – If a recipe calls for “a dash” of an ingredient, it is somewhat relative. However, the most accurate amount appears to be 1/16-teaspoon. Literally, you just add the ingredient “in a dash”. For example, if it is a dry ingredient, such as a spice, just shake the box once, assuming there are small holes, and what comes out is it. It is the same with liquid ingredients that come out in drops. Remember, many of those types of ingredients are to taste, so a tiny bit more or less will not matter.

Debone – To remove the bones from meat or poultry. This is best done with a flexible boning knife so that you can get as close to the bone as possible without losing meat. If in doubt, get a good cookbook that shows the process in stages, or watch a good, informative cooking show. Your butcher will also do it for you, but it is fun to learn how.

Deep fry – To fry foods rapidly in a deep pot of oil so that the food is totally submerged. The oil should never come up much more than half way in the pot, and should be a type with a high smoking point.

Deglaze – The process of scraping up all the fond, the browned bits that collect in the bottom of a pan or skillet after browning or cooking. Liquid is added to the pan and, as it heats up, the bottom is scraped with a spoon or spatula so that the residue is added back into the liquid for a lot of extra flavor.

Dice – To cut into very small pieces, approximately 1/8 to 1/16-inch.

Dredge – To coat before cooking with dry ingredients such flour, corn meal, bread or cracker crumbs, or other mixtures. Sweet items are sometimes dredged with sugar and/or spices, such as cinnamon, after baking or frying.

Dust – To sprinkle lightly before or after cooking with dry ingredients, such as flour, granulated or confectioners’ sugar or spices.

Emulsify – To bind together liquid ingredients that do not dissolve into each other. Most common is oil into vinegar or citrus juice to make a vinaigrette. The oil is poured very slowly into the acid while whisking or blending vigorously, until the mixture is thickened and the liquids become one.