My favourite cooking terms

The french language is extensive, and so are the terms that are used under the regime of french cuisine. Most of these words have also been adopted as universal cooking terms by chefs in various countries and have become the gospel of culinary education. Here is a list of the ones I have used or heard during my time in the cooking world. (Not a complete list, just my favourites).

Amuse-bouche – ‘bouche’ meaning ‘mouth’, this direct translation is to amuse the mouth. This is a small little bite to cleanse the palate before a meal.

Aromatic – an ingredient (herb or spice) used to bring a distinct flavor or aroma to the dish.

Au Gratin – a dish topped with a layer of either cheese or bread crumbs mixed with butter, then browned on the top.

Au Jus – a dish where meat is served in its own natural juices.

Au Poivre – direct translation is ‘with pepper’ therefore a piece of meat either prepared by coating in coarse ground peppercorns before cooking or accompanied by a peppercorn sauce.

Blanch – to boil and then submerge into an ice bath to halt further cooking.

Bouillon – first a broth is made by simmering scraps of meats, poultry, or fish with chopped vegetables in water, and then strained. The materials are strained away and the remaining liquid is called a buillon: a broth that takes on the flavors of the discarded ingredients.

Braise – meat is cooked in either none or some liquid and cooked over several hours in a sealed pan. This is a great way to tenderize tougher cuts of meat.

Brasserie – an establishment serving alcoholic beverages and smaller food items later in the evening. More often seen as an Italian or French establishment.

Canapé – frequently served at standup parties, these are small appetizers of bread topped with any number of toppings such as meats, cheeses, and spreads.

Charcuterie – a display of meats and its offal, prepared in spreadable or sliceable ways. Often accompanied by toasts, pickled vegetables and spreads.

Compote – fresh or dried fruit prepared in a syrup and chilled. Often used as a topping.

Concassé – chopped ingredients and chilled over ice for serving.

Confit – a traditional technique for storing meat and poultry. They are prepared and stored in its own fat. Most notably done with duck or goose.

Consommé – A highly flavorful and clear broth which uses a technique using egg whites to clear the sediment. The broth is served hot or cold.

Coulis – a thick puree often made from fruit.

Crudités – pieces of fruits and raw vegetables served as an appetizer

Demi-glace – a thick brown sauce used as a starter for many other sauces. It starts with veal stock and wine, then reduced to a thickness that makes peaks.

Gourmand – A person who eats out of pleasure, often to excess.

Gratin – when a dish is cooked with a top layer of grated cheese, bread crumbs (or a mixture of egg and bread crumbs) and placed in the oven to brown or broil, the top layer is called the gratin.

Hors d’oeuvres – the first meal (or rather to tease you for the first meal) – can be both hot and cold. Hors d’oeuvres must be presented well, and decorative; small snacks to encourage appetite.

Julienne – typically vegetables – but can be other foods – cut into thin sticks approximately ¼ inch thick and 1 inch long.

Jus – taking the pan drippings from a roast, or from the pan of any dish with fried fat, and diluting it, and then boiling it so that the scrapings are diluted into a homogenous stock.

Lardons – the fat or fatty piece of meat cut into strips and incorporated into a dish for its fatty attributes.

Mirepoix – the basic starter for all soups or sauces – usually consists of slowly cooking diced carrots, onion and celery. Other vegetables may be substituted depending on the flavors/aromatics desired.

Mise en Place – the preparation of all the ingredients prior to cooking. A kitchen staff typically starts their day with enough mise en place to endure the entire service.

Mother Sauces – referring to the starter sauce that is built upon to make another sauce. There are 5 well known mother sauces:

  • Béchamel sauce (white) – any white cream sauce built upon a roux.
  • Veloute sauce (blond) – any sauce built upon chicken stock, white veal stock, or fish fumet
  • Espagnole sauce (brown) – any brown sauces built upon stock from a heartier meat such as beef or veal, aromatics, herbs, and tomato.
  • Hollandaise sauce – the emulsion formed from whisking fat and egg yolks, either hot or cold.
  • Vinaigrette – an oily sauce made from vinegar, oil, and seasonings to taste.

Prix Fixe – a set meal with set price. In modern day this is done for larger parties at a restaurant.

Quenelle – a term used to describe an oval, three sided shape made from delicate spoon work. Can be done with cold foods such as ice cream, or with hot foods such as mashed potatoes.

Roux – the starter for any white sauce. Over heat, equal parts flour and butter are mixed and constantly stirred until the desired consistency is reached. At this point a fat such as milk or cream is used to develop a liquid texture for a sauce.


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