Leaven – To add an ingredient, such as yeast, baking powder or baking soda, that adds gas to a dough or batter, causing it to expand, or rise, and lighten the texture of the finished product.
Macerate – To add liquid to food, or an ingredient, such as sugar, that causes liquid to form, in order to soften and enhance flavor after it sets for a given amount of time. Usually used in reference to fresh fruits.
Marinate – To add liquid or dry ingredients to food that enhance flavor and/or tenderize after it sets for a given amount of time. Usually used in reference to meats and vegetables. Liquid marinades often include an acid, such as vinegar, wine or citrus juice, mixed with herbs, spices and oil. Dry marinades are usually in the form of spice and herb rubs.
Mince – To cut into extremely fine pieces.
Mix – To combine ingredients with a spoon, beaters or hands until well incorporated.
Pan fry – To brown and cook foods in fat in a shallow pan, where the fat does not completely cover the food. Also known as ‘shallow fry’.
Pare – To remove skins and peels from fruits or vegetables with a small knife or peeler.
Parboil – To partially cook for a given amount of time in boiling water as a preliminary step.
Pat – To take the underside of the hand and gently press a food. The purpose might be to pat dry ingredients onto the surface so they will adhere during cooking, or to pat with a towel to remove excess moisture.
Pinch – As much of an ingredient that can be held between the thumb and forefinger. A very small, approximate amount.
Pit – To remove the seed from a piece of fruit by cutting around the sides of the fruit and pulling the seed away from the flesh.
Poach – To cook food in gently simmering, never boiling, liquid.
Preheat – To heat the oven to the specified temperature before adding the foods. Most recipes require preheating of the oven. Usually the recipe will indicate if the oven should not be preheated.
Proof – To activate yeast, or other leavening agent, before using in a recipe. The yeast is normally added to a liquid, possibly mixed with sugar, and allowed to set a given amount of time until it bubbles. If it doesn’t bubble, it is old and should be discarded.
Pulse – An action used with processors and blenders. If a recipe tells you to pulse, turn the start button on and off rapidly several times or until the ingredients are appropriately processed.
Punch down – To deflate a risen dough. With your hand, press on the dough until the gas escapes.
Purée – To process foods into a smooth substance of varying degrees of thickness as dictated by the recipe. Usually done with a blender, processor, sieve or food mill
Reconstitute – To restore condensed or concentrated foods to their original strength with the addition of liquid, usually water.
Reduce – To rapidly boil a liquid until it partially evaporates, leaving a thicker texture and a more intense flavor.
Refresh – To restore by placing in water. Most commonly used in reference to blanched vegetables that are placed immediately in ice water to stop the cooking, set the color and restore the crispness. Greens and herbs that are still very fresh but have gone limp can be restored to the original state by placing in cold (not ice) water and then patted dry.
Ribbon – Used in reference to beating a mixture, usually egg yolks and sugar, until it is thick enough to form a ribbon. Lift the beaters out of the bowl and let the excess mixture drip down into the bowl. When it forms a ribbon shape on top of the mixture in the bowl, it is ready.
Sauté – Literally means “to jump”, as to jump in the pan. To quickly fry foods in a little fat, usually oil or butter, in an open skillet over medium-high to high heat, turning or tossing often, until tender and lightly browned, as dictated by the recipe.
Scald – To heat milk or cream to a temperature just before it boils without allowing it to boil. Tiny bubbles will form around the outer edge when it is ready.
Score – To cut slits into foods before cooking for various purposes, including decoration, ease of cutting after cooking, tenderization or to allow flavors to penetrate the surface. Additionally, the fat layer of a large cut of meat, as well as smaller cuts with a fatty outer layer, such as duck breasts, is often scored so that some of the fat melts out during roasting.
Sear – To cook meats quickly on all sides over high heat to brown and seal in the juices. The meat should not be turned until it is well browned on each side or it will stick to the pan.
Shallow fry – To fry with a lesser amount of oil than what is required for deep frying. The food is partially submerged in the oil and must be turned halfway through cooking. This is especially useful with thinner cuts of meat and seafood, such as cutlets and fish fillets.
Shred – To cut, slice or tear into thin strips. Also, to pull apart very tender cooked meats, usually with a fork.
Sift – To pass a dry ingredient through a sifter or fine mesh screen to loosen the particles, incorporate air, and lighten the resulting product. Also used to combine several ingredients that are passed through at the same time. The same result can be accomplished by using a wire whisk to stir the ingredients in a bowl. If a recipe calls for presifted ingredients, sift first and then measure. If it calls for a certain amount of the ingredient, sifted, measure first. Presifted flour out of the bag must still be sifted if the recipe calls for it.
Simmer – To cook gently just below the boiling point. If the food starts boiling, the heat is too high and should be reduced.
Skim – To remove an undesirable substance that forms on the top surface of a liquid, usually fat, foam or scum. This is normally done by passing a flat spoon over the surface, just underneath the substance to discard. In the case of fat, if you have the time, chill the liquid first so that the fat congeals, making it very easy to remove.
Steam – A method of cooking foods over, not in, hot liquid, usually water. The heat cooks the food while the vapors keep it moist. Steaming is a good alternative to boiling because none of the nutrients or flavor is lost in the liquid. Food can also be steamed in a microwave.
Steep – To soak a food in liquid for a given amount of time. Sometimes, the liquid is hot, as in tea. Other times, as with macerated fruit, the liquid is cold or room temperature.
Stew – To cook foods slowly in a specified amount of liquid in a covered pot or pan.
Stir – To move foods around with a spoon in a circular motion. Stirring is done to move foods when cooking. It is also used to cool foods after cooking. Most importantly, if a recipes calls for stirring to combine foods, such as a batter, before cooking, it usually means to gently mix just until well combined, as opposed to beating, which takes more strokes.
Stir-fry – To quickly cook foods over high or medium-high heat in a lightly oiled skillet or wok, stirring or tossing constantly, until desired or specified doneness.
Strain – To pass a liquid or moist mixture through a colander, sieve or cheese cloth to remove solid particles.
Sweat – To cook foods, usually chopped vegetables, over medium heat until they exude some of their moisture which, in turn, steams and softens the food without browning.
Temper – Technically, to moderate. In cooking, tempering most often refers to slightly warm beaten eggs by rapidly stirring a little of the hot ingredients into them before adding the eggs to the hot mixture so that they will combine, stirring rapidly again, without solidifying. It also refers to the softening of a heavy mixture before folding in a whipped mixture, so that incorporation occurs without deflation.
Toast – Most commonly, to brown using a dry heat source such as an oven or toaster. However, many recipes call for toasting seeds, nuts, grains or spices before mixing with other ingredients to add flavor. They can be toasted in an oven or in a skillet, with or without oil, using a low heat, stirring or tossing often, until nicely browned, being very careful not to burn.
Toss – To combine ingredients by gently turning over until blended. Most commonly refers to a salad, but is used for many other preparations. The easiest and most efficient way to toss is with a good pair of tongs. Alternately, two spoons, forks or one of each may be used. And nothing tosses food as well as a clean pair of hands.
Truss – To shape food into a desired form and secure with butcher’s twine or skewers. Most commonly used with poultry or meats. In the case of poultry, it is questionable whether or not it should be trussed because, although it gives a nice look to the bird after roasting, the breast tends to cook faster than the legs, thighs and wings, so always truss lightly.
Whip – To beat briskly with a wire whisk or electric mixer to incorporate air, which adds volume and an airy texture. Usually used in reference to cream or egg whites. To whip cream, which has fat, always chill the bowl, beaters and cream first. Egg whites, which are mostly water, should be whipped at room temperature in a very clean bowl so as not to add any fat to the whites.
Whisk – To mix to the specified state with a wire beater, also called a whisk. Whisking can refer to blending, beating, emulsifying, or whipping, depending on the recipe. Flour can also be whisked to achieve the same texture as sifting.