Basic Cooking Glossary for new cooks

Why a cooking glossary? Well many recipes are written with the assumption that you are familiar with the cooking terms and methods they mention. But as a first time cook, that can be very confusing, can't it?

This section of the site will give a brief explanation of the terminology you are likely to find when following a recipe and I will add to it each time I am asked a question such as "What does it mean when it says .......?"

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H to M | N - R | S - Z |


Al Dente

Food that is cooked "al dente" is still slightly crisp and has a "bite" to it rather than being soft or soggy. The term is often used when referring to pasta, rice and vegetables.

Au gratin

Dishes coated in sauce and sprinkled with breadcrumbs and/or grated cheese, which are grilled before serving.


Bake Blind

No you don't have to shut your eyes to bake blind. This cookery term refers to pre-cooking a pastry case before you put the filling in.

Often a piece of greaseproof paper is laid over the pastry or pie crust and rice or beans are poured on top to hold it down. This stops the pastry rising during this cooking period. After the length of time specified in the recipe the "weights" and paper are removed and the pie filling is added, before it goes back in the oven to finish cooking.

If you don't want to waste rice or beans each time you can purchase re-usable Ceramic Beans.


To cook foods such as cakes, pastries, breads and puddings in an oven. Baked foods cook by dry heat, whereas a roast is also cooked in the oven, but is normally basted with fat to keep it moist.


You will normally come across this term when cooking meat or fish. To baste means to spoon fat or liquid over the food at intervals during the cooking process. This helps to keep it moist. If you want to get fancy you can purchase a Bulb Baster. With one of these you squeeze the bulb to suck up the liquid and then release the pressure to let it flow over the food.


A batter is made from flour, eggs and a liquid (usually milk) and is used for pancakes, Yorkshire puddings or for coating foods such as fish before frying them.


Introducing air to a mixture by mixing quickly using a wooden spoon, fork, whisk or electric beater. Often related to making cakes or batters.


Béchamel sauce is a classic white sauce made with milk or cream that has been infused with vegetables, peppercorns and a bay leaf for flavor.


Now just to make things trickier there are three different meanings for this word, so I will include them all in this cooking glossary.

  • Blanching is a term used for partly cooking some vegetables in boiling water just for a moment or two before freezing them. You can learn more about this technique on my freezing vegetables page.
  • It is also the process of removing skins from foods such as almonds or tomatoes by first plunging them into boiling water.
  • Lastly it can mean "whitening" some meats, such as offal (or innards) by putting into cold water and bringing the pan to the boil.

Bouquet Garni

No its not a bunch of flowers! In fact a bouquet garni is a bundle of fresh herbs tied together, or placed in a muslin bag, that are used to flavor soups and stews while cooking. The herbs are removed before serving.


Those in the US will be familiar with this cooking term, whereas it may confuse British readers, who would recognize it as "to grill" or cook under a direct heat.

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Pasta tubes that are normally stuffed with a savory filling and then coated with sauce.


This term can refer to the container used for cooking, and for the dish that is cooked inside it.

  • A casserole dish is normally made of ovenproof glass (pyrex) or ceramic and will have a close fitting lid. The food is cooked and served in the same dish.
  • To casserole, means to cook meat and vegetables in a liquid, using a casserole dish in the oven. Cheaper cuts of meat benefit from long, slow casseroling.


Two definitions here again...

  • A chop is a one-person-portion cut of meat, that contains a bone. You can have pork or lamb chops. If the bone is removed they are known as cutlets.
  • To chop is a term used for cutting food, such as vegetables or herb, into small pieces using a sharp knife on a chopping board.


Think of coating food as putting an outer layer on it. This can be batter for frying, egg and breadcrumbs or a sauce.


This is the term used for a scone (biscuit) topping placed in circles around the edge of a baking dish on top of the food, often fruit or a meat stew, before cooking.


Seasonings served with a meal, such as salt, pepper or mustard, are known as condiments.


This is a cooking term which describes the beating together of fat and sugar until pale in color and fluffy, for cakes and puddings. A wooden spoon is normally used for creaming, although it can also be undertaken in a food mixer.(see Curdling below)


This word in our cooking glossary refers to pastry making. To crimp the edges of a pastry top on a pie you pinch them at regular intervals which gives a fluted appearance.


A covered pot that is electronically heated and will cook foods slowly over 8 to 12 hours. It is sometimes written as two words, crock pot. In the UK the crockpot is better known as a Slow Cooker.


You may find a warning in cake recipes where it says "...being careful not to curdle the mixture". So what does this mean? Curdling is where the liquid and solids separate, and when related to cakes it can happen when you add the eggs to the creamed sugar and fat. If you add cold eggs from the fridge, or beat them in too vigorously, then this separation can occur.


A dessert or sweet sauce made from milk, eggs and sugar. Custards can be boiled, baked or frozen.

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To dice food means to chop it into small cubes. Foods that are often diced include meat (for stews), onions and other vegetables.

Dredge or Dust

A term used for "sprinkle", where icing sugar or flour is put into a container with holes in the top or a sieve, and then shaken over the food, gently and evenly. Some recipes will write this as "dust" but it means the same thing.

You can lay a doily on top of a cake and then dredge with icing (confectioners) sugar. When the doily is removed it leaves a pretty pattern on the cake.


En croute

This is meat or fish that is wrapped or enclosed in pastry before cooking.


A French term that refers to a savory serving of food, eaten before the main course. Entrées can be served hot or cold.

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Fold in

Cake recipes will often ask you to "fold in" the flour or dry ingredients after creaming the fat and sugar together. The folding is done with a metal spoon in a gentle cutting motion with the edge of the spoon. The idea is to mix in the flour, without losing all the air you have just beaten into the mixture.

Folding in is also used when adding sugar to stiffly beaten egg whites for meringues


This is an American term for icing a cake.

It can also be used to refer to decorating the rim of a glass, by dipping it in egg white and then caster sugar. Once dry it gives an attractive appearance to the edge of the glass in which a cold drink will be served.



An edible decoration or embellishment that is added to a dish to make it more appealing to the eye. 

Feast your eyes on Georg Hartung's book Garnish and Decorating Made Easy for simple to make garnishes.


A glossy finish to a sweet or savory pie, created by brushing with beaten egg or milk before cooking, or sugar and water after cooking.


An English term for broiled food, cooked under direct heat or over a fire (barbecue).

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