Test Your Knowledge with Our Guide to Cooking Terms and Definitions

Get through new recipes like a professional chef without any doubts about what all those culinary words and terms mean. Our extensive list features all the common cooking terms plus ethnic ingredients, cooking methods, and tips from our Test Kitchen.

Trying new recipes can be a challenge if you don't know what it means to blanch your green beans, chiffonade basil, or cut butter into biscuit dough. If you've ever been stumped by the terminology in a recipe, you can stop worrying—check out our guide to common (and a few not-so-common) cooking terms. Beginners can put recipe worries aside, because this list will teach you everything you need to know.—and if you're an experienced cook, test your knowledge to see how well you know these terms.

Adobo Sauce

A sauce that originated in the Philippines containing vinegar, soy sauce, pepper, and garlic. It's also a dark red Mexican sauce made from ground chiles, herbs, and vinegar. Chipotle peppers are sometimes packed in cans of adobo sauce.

Al Dente (Al den-tay)

Italian for "to the tooth." It describes pasta that's cooked until it offers a slight resistance when bitten into, rather than cooked until soft.

Almond Paste

A creamy mixture made of ground, blanched almonds and sugar that's often used as a filling in pastries, cakes, and confections. For the best baking results, use an almond paste without syrup or liquid glucose.

Anchovy Paste

A mixture of ground anchovies, vinegar, and seasonings. Anchovy paste is available in tubes in the canned fish or gourmet section of the supermarket.

Artificial Sweeteners

A category of sugar substitutes that have no nutritional value. Because they have unique attributes, they should not be substituted for other sweeteners unless a recipe calls for them specifically.

Arugula

A bright green with a slightly sharp, peppery taste. It's also called rocket, and is frequently used in salads, on pizza or atop pasta dishes. It's also served cooked, and can be used as a substitute for spinach.

Bake

To cook food, covered or uncovered, using the direct, dry heat of an oven. The term is usually used to describe the cooking of cakes, other desserts, casseroles, and breads.

Baking Ammonia

A compound (ammonium carbonate), also known as hartshorn powder, that was used as a leavening agent until the advent of baking soda and baking powder. It's most often used in Scandinavian baking and is available at pharmacies and through mail order. Its chief benefit is the crispness it brings to cookies and crackers. Baking soda and baking powder can be substituted, as can cream of tartar (which is an element in baking powder), although some crispness will be sacrificed. If you use baking ammonia, exercise caution when opening the oven door, as irritating fumes may be produced. Baking ammonia has an unpleasant odor which is not present in the finished product.

Baking Dish

Recipes calling for a baking dish are referring to ceramic or glass dishes. Baking pans are made of metal. A casserole dish is a deeper dish. It's important to note the capacity of your dish and use the recommended size stated in a recipe. To check a dish's capacity, fill it with water, a quart at a time. If the dish is too small, you can divide your mixture between two dishes. If your dish is too large, reduce the cooking time by 5 minutes.

Baking Powder

A combination of baking soda and cream of tartar that acts as a leavening agent. It has the ability to release carbon dioxide in two stages: when liquid ingredients are added and when the mixture is heated, which creates the bubbles that allow a batter to expand and become light during baking.

Baking Soda

A leavening agent (sodium bicarbonate or bicarbonate of soda) that's actually a salt which, when combined with an acid, such as cream of tartar, buttermilk, sour cream, yogurt, brown sugar or fruit juices, releases carbon dioxide to create the bubbles that cause batters to expand and become airy during cooking, for the familiar texture of cakes.

Balsamic Vinegar

Genuine balsamico is a syrupy and slightly sweet, very dark vinegar made in Italy using the juice of Trebbiano or Lambrusco grapes. The body, color, and unique flavor comes from being aged in a series of wooden barrels from 12 years to 25 or more. The better commercial balsamic vinegar, sold as Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, contains other ingredients to mimic aged balsamic, although it's generally aged only two months and not in wood, so that it's a diluted version of the aged product.

Basmati Rice

An aromatic long-grain brown or white rice from South Asia (India, Pakistan and Bangladesh), also grown in California. Basmati is the rice lowest on the glycemic index chart and has a nutty flavor. Use it as you would regular long-grain rice.

Baste

To moisten and add flavor to foods during cooking or grilling using fats or seasoned liquids, which prevent drying. In general, our recipes don't call for basting meat and poultry with pan juices or drippings. That's because basting tools, such as brushes and bulb basters, can be sources of bacteria when dipped into uncooked or undercooked meat and poultry juices, then allowed to sit at room temperature before being used for basting.

Batter

A batter is a wet mixture that can be spooned or poured, as with cakes, pancakes, and muffins. Batters usually contain a base of flour, eggs, and milk. Some thin batters are used to coat foods before deep-frying.

Bean Sauce, Bean Paste

Popular in Asian cooking, both products are made from fermented soybeans and have a salty bean flavor. Japanese bean paste, which is mixed with grains, is called miso,

Bean Threads

Thin, almost transparent noodles made from mung bean flour. They also are called bean noodles or cellophane noodles.

Using beaters in kitchen
Kritsada Panichgul

Beat

To make a mixture smooth by briskly whipping or stirring it with a spoon, fork, wire whisk, rotary beater, or electric mixer ($60, Kohl's).

Bias-Slice

This cut is for foods and long vegetables (for example, carrots or green onions) and makes the cuts more oval by slicing at an angle.

Blackened

A popular Cajun cooking method in which seasoned fish or other foods are cooked over high heat in a superheated, heavy skillet ($210, Sur la Table) until charred, resulting in a crisp, spicy crust. At home, this is best done outdoors due to the amount of smoke produced.

Blanch

This is a method to quickly, partially cook fruits, vegetables, or nuts in boiling water or steam, followed by an ice bath to halt the cooking process. It's used to intensify and set color and flavor. This is also an important step in preparing fruits and vegetables for freezing. Blanching helps loosen skins for easy removal from tomatoes, peaches, and almonds.

Blend

To combine two or more ingredients by hand, or with an electric mixer or blender, until smooth and uniform in texture, flavor, and color.

Boil

To cook food in liquid at a temperature that causes large bubbles to form and to rise in a steady pattern, breaking at the surface. A rolling boil occurs when liquid is boiling so vigorously that the bubbles can't be stirred down.

Bouillon

Bouillon is a broth made by slowly simmering meats, poultry or vegetables in water. A bouillon cube is compressed dehydrated broth. Bouillon granules are small particles of the same substance, but they dissolve more quickly. Both can be reconstituted in hot liquid to substitute for stock or broth (the chief difference between stock and broth is that stock is made using bones).

Bouquet Garni

A small bouquet of fresh herbs (usually thyme, parsley, and bay leaf) used to flavor soups, stews, stocks, and poaching liquids. It's often tied inside pieces of a leek's outer leaves, or in a piece of cheesecloth, to keep the herbs together.

Braise

To cook food slowly in a small amount of liquid or oil in a tightly covered pan on the stovetop or in the oven. Braising is recommended for less tender cuts of meat.

Breading

A coating of soft or dry bread crumbs, sometimes seasoned, on meat, fish, poultry or vegetables.

Brie

A soft-ripened, creamy cheese with an edible white rind formed by mold. Brie originated in France, but the traditional product made from raw milk can't be imported into the U.S. A pasteurized version is a bit milder than the traditional. Brie is now made all over the world

Brine

A brine is heavily salted water, usually accompanied by herbs, sometimes with sugar, and used to cure, intensify flavor and tenderize vegetables, meats, fish, and seafood. To brine is the act of curing in a brine.

Broil

To cook food a measured distance below the direct heat in an oven's broiler. Position the broiler pan and its rack so that the top surface of the food (not the rack) is the specified distance from the heat source. Use a ruler to measure this distance.

Broth

The strained clear liquid in which meat, poultry, or fish has been simmered with vegetables and herbs. It is similar to stock (which is made from bones) and can be used interchangeably. Reconstituted bouillon can also be used when broth is specified.

Browning meat in Dutch oven
Karla Conrad

Brown

Browning food in a skillet, broiler, or oven, adds increased flavor, moistness and aroma and develops into a rich, desirable color on the outside, which can include caramelization.

Butter

Butter is churned cow's milk or cream, although it can be made from the milk of other animals. Historically, it was made from sheep's or goat's milk. For rich flavor, it's usually the fat of choice, and for baking, butter is recommended rather than margarine. Salted and unsalted butter can be used interchangeably in recipes; however, if you use unsalted butter, you may want to increase the amount of salt in a recipe.

Butterfly

To split food, such as poultry, lobster or pork, by cutting through the middle without completely separating the halves. Opened flat, the split halves resemble a butterfly.

Candied

A food, usually a fruit, nut, or citrus peel, that has been dipped or briefly cooked in sugar syrup. Flowers can also be candied.

Capers

The small, unopened buds of a shrub that grows from the Mediterranean to China. Found next to olives in the supermarket, capers have an assertive flavor that can best be described as the marriage of citrus and olive, along with an added tang that comes from the salt and vinegar of their packaging brine. Caper berries are the much larger fruit that follows the flowering, picked with their stems intact and brined in a similar fashion to the buds.

Caramelize

To brown sugar, whether it's granulated or simply the naturally occurring sugars in vegetables. Granulated sugar is cooked in a saucepan or skillet over low heat until melted and golden. Vegetables, for example onions, are cooked slowly over low heat in a small amount of fat until browned, somewhat sweetened, and smooth.

Carve

To carefully cut or slice a food, such as cooked meat, poultry, fish, or game, into serving-size pieces.

Cheesecloth

A thin 100% cotton cloth with either a fine or coarse weave. Cheesecloth ($3, Target) is used to bundle herbs, strain liquids, and wrap rolled meats. Look for it in the cooking supplies section of supermarkets and specialty cookware shops.

Cutting herbs on cutting board
Kritsada Panichgul

Chiffonade (shif-uh-nahd)

In cooking, this French word, which means "made of rags," refers to a method for cutting stacked and rolled fresh herbs and greens into long, thin strips.

Chili Oil

A fiery oil flavored with chile peppers and used as a seasoning.

Chili Paste

A condiment available in mild or hot versions made from chile peppers, vinegar, and seasonings.

Chill

To cool food to below room temperature in the refrigerator or over ice. When a recipe calls for chilling a food, it should be done in the refrigerator.

Cutting chocolate on cutting board
Scott Little

Chocolate

Chocolate is made from the beans of the cacao tree, and can be traced back to the Mayan, Aztec, and Toltec civilizations. In general, there are three types of chocolate: white, milk, and dark.

  • Milk chocolate is at least 10% pure chocolate with added cocoa butter, sugar, and milk solids.
  • Semisweet and bittersweet chocolate (or dark) can be used interchangeably. They contain at least 35% pure chocolate with added cocoa butter and sugar.
  • Sweet chocolate is dark chocolate that contains at least 15% pure chocolate with extra cocoa butter and sugar.
  • Unsweetened chocolate is used for baking and cooking, rather than snacking. This ingredient contains pure chocolate and cocoa butter with no sugar added.
  • Unsweetened cocoa powder is pure chocolate with most of the cocoa butter removed. Dutch-process or European-style cocoa powder has been treated to neutralize the acids, making it mellower in flavor.
  • White chocolate, which has a mild flavor, contains cocoa butter, sugar, and milk solids. Products such as white baking bars, white baking pieces, white candy coating, and white confectionery bars are sometimes confused with white chocolate. While they are often used interchangeably in recipes, they are not truly white chocolate because they do not contain cocoa butter.

Chop

Our test kitchen defines "chopped" as food cut into ½-inch pieces. It's an estimate, so don't worry about measuring them. If your recipe calls for "finely chopped," use your chef's knife ($60, Williams Sonoma) to go a step further to roughly chop into ¼-inch cubes.

Chorizo (choh-REE-zoh)

Chorizo is a spicy pork sausage used in Spanish and Spanish-influenced cuisines, in nearly infinite varieties. The basic Spanish chorizo recipe is coarsely chopped pork, smoked paprika, and garlic, which is then dry cured and doesn't require cooking before eating. Mexican chorizo is made with ground pork or organ meats, chiles, and sometimes vinegar , cilantro, and tomatillos, and must be cooked before consuming.

Chutney

A condiment that originated in India as a method of preservation, and has many, many varieties, depending on regional cuisines, ranging widely in ingredients, taste, and texture. In the West, chutney is generally defined as being made from chopped fruit (mango is a classic), vinegar, and sugar, with added spices, sometimes onion, fresh ginger and/or chile peppers.

Clarified Butter

Sometimes called drawn butter, clarified butter is most familiar as a dipping sauce for seafood. It's the clear layer of butter that's been separated from the milk solids, and as a result, it can be heated to high temperatures without burning. It's often used for quickly browning meats. To clarify butter, melt it over low heat in a heavy saucepan, without stirring. Skim off any foam. You will see a clear, oily layer on top of a milky layer. Slowly pour the clear liquid into a dish, leaving the milky layer behind. The clear liquid is the clarified butter. Discard the milky liquid. You can store clarified butter in the refrigerator up to one month.

Coat

To evenly cover food with crumbs, flour, or a batter. Meat, fish, and poultry are often coated before cooking.

Coconut Milk

A product made from the grated pulp of mature coconuts with a small amount of added water. It's often used in Southeast Asian and Indian cooking. The milk is not the clear liquid at the center of the coconut, nor should it be confused with cream of coconut, a sweetened concoction often used to make mixed drinks such as piña coladas. Coconut milk is high in saturated fat.

Cooking Oil

Oils that are liquid at room temperature, and made from vegetables, nuts, or seeds. For baking, cooking oils cannot be used interchangeably with solid fats (like butter), since they don't hold air when beaten. Vegetable oils are commonly used for frying.

  • Nut Oils: Hazelnut, walnut, macadamia nut, as well as other nut oils, bring rich flavor to salad dressings. Use them as only a portion of the oil in a dressing rather than the whole amount, which can be overwhelming. Nut oils are highly perishable, so store them in the fridge after opening.
  • Olive Oil: Extra virgin olive oil is the highest-quality olive oil available. It has a golden to deep greenish tint and offers a rich flavor with a slightly tingly finish (sometimes described as a burn). Olive oils labeled as "light" are more highly processed and are a blend of refined and virgin olive oils. Olive oil will solidify in the refrigerator, so let chilled salad dressings stand at room temperature before serving.
  • Vegetable Oil: With a mild, neutral taste, vegetable oils, such as canola, corn, soybean, and safflower, bring body to dressings without overwhelming the flavor of the other ingredients. Vegetable oils are used worldwide in cooking. Avocado oil can withstand very high temperatures.

Cotija Cheese (co-TEE-ha)

A firm, salty cheese that originated in Mexico. The aged version is known as "queso añejo." If you can't find either, you can try substituting feta.

Couscous (KOOS-koos)

A pasta that resembles rice and is popular in North Africa. It's made from semolina. Look for it in the rice and pasta section of supermarkets.

Cream

To cream is to beat a fat, such as butter or shortening, either alone or with sugar, into a light, fluffy consistency. It may be done by hand with a wooden spoon or with an electric mixer. This process incorporates air into the fat, so baked products have a lighter texture and a better volume.

Crème Fraîche

A dairy product made from whipping cream and a bacterial culture, which causes the whipping cream to thicken and develop a sharp, tangy flavor. If you can't find crème fraîche in your supermarket, you can make a substitute by combining ½ cup whipping cream (do not use ultrapasteurized cream) and ½ cup of sour cream. Cover the mixture and let it stand at room temperature for two to five hours, or until it thickens. Cover and refrigerate up to one week.

Using fork to crimp crust
Peter Krumhardt

Crimp

To pinch or press pastry or dough using your fingers, a fork, or another utensil. This is usually done for a piecrust edge.

Crisp-Tender

A term that describes vegetables that have been cooked until just tender but which retain their crisp texture. At this stage, a fork can be inserted with a little pressure. Also described as tender-crisp.

Crumbs

Fine particles of bread. Crumbs are often used as a coating, thickener, or binder, or as a crust in desserts. Recipes usually specify either soft or fine dry bread crumbs, which generally are not interchangeable.

Crush

To smash food into smaller pieces, generally using hands, a mortar and pestle ($35, Target), or a rolling pin. Crushing dried herbs releases their flavor and aroma.

Curry Paste

A blend of herbs, spices, and fiery chiles that can be used as a shortcut in Indian and Southeast Asian cooking. Look for curry pastes in Asian markets. They're available in many varieties, sometimes classified by color (green, red, or yellow), by heat (mild or hot), or by a particular style of curry, such as Panang or Massaman.

Using tool to cut butter into flour
Blaine Moats

Cut In

To work a solid fat, such as shortening, butter, or margarine, into dry ingredients. This is usually done using a pastry blender ($14, Bed Bath & Beyond), two knives wielded in a crisscross fashion, your fingertips, or a food processor($100, Bed Bath & Beyond).

Dash

A small amount of seasoning that's added to food. It's generally defined as between ¹⁄₁₆ and ⅛ tsp. The term is often used for liquid ingredients, such as bottled hot pepper sauce.

Deep-Fry

To cook food by completely immersing it in hot fat. Deep-frying should use vegetable oil (peanut, corn, safflower, and sunflower work well) with a smoking point over 400ºF.

Pouring water into pan
Blaine Moats

Deglaze

Adding a liquid, such as water, wine, or broth, to a skillet or pan that has been used to cook meat. After the meat has been removed, the liquid is gradually stirred into the pan in order to loosen the browned bits for a flavorful sauce.

Dip

To immerse food for a short time in a liquid or dry mixture to coat, cool, or moisten it.

Direct Grilling

A method for quickly cooking food by placing it on a grill rack directly over the heat source. A charcoal grill is often left uncovered, while a gas grill is generally covered.

Buy It: Char-Broil Classic 2-Burner Gas Grill, $130, Target

Dissolve

To stir a solid and a liquid together to form a mixture in which the solid has been completely turned into liquid. In some cases, heat may be needed in order for the solid to dissolve.

Double Boiler

A two-pan arrangement in which one pan nests partway inside the other. The lower pan holds simmering water that gently cooks heat-sensitive food in the upper pan.

Drawn

A term referring to a whole fish, with or without scales, that has had its internal organs removed. The term "drawn butter" refers to clarified butter.

Coating chicken breast in flour
Blaine Moats

Dredge

To coat a piece of food, either before or after cooking, in a dry ingredient, such as flour, cornmeal, or sugar.

Dressed

Fish or game that has had guts (viscera) removed. In the case of fish, gills are removed, the cavity is cleaned, but the head and fins remain intact. The scales may or may not be removed.

Drip Pan

A metal or disposable foil pan ($10, Target) that's placed under food to catch drippings when grilling. A substitute for a drip pan can be made from heavy-duty foil.

Drizzle

To create a very thin stream of a liquid, such as a reduction, or powdered sugar icing, over food.

Dust

To lightly coat or sprinkle a portion of food with a dry ingredient, such as flour or powdered sugar, either before or after cooking.

Egg Roll Skins

Pastry wrappers used to encase a savory filling and make egg rolls. Look for these products in the produce aisle of the supermarket or at Asian markets. Egg roll skins are similar to, but larger than, wonton skins.

Egg Whites, Dried

Pasteurized dried egg whites can be used where egg whites are needed. Follow the package directions for reconstituting them. Unlike raw egg whites, which must be thoroughly cooked before serving in order to kill harmful bacteria, pasteurized dried egg whites can be substituted in recipes that don't call for thorough cooking. Keep in mind that meringue powder may not be substituted, as it has added sugar and starch. Find dried egg whites in powdered form in the baking aisle of many supermarkets or through mail-order sources.

Eggs

An egg is a simple ingredient that plays a complex role in baking and cooking. Eggs are the glue that holds ingredients together (especially in custards and puddings). They can act as leaveners in recipes, such as angel food cake; and they add structure, richness, and moisture to baked goods. Egg yolks are high in fat and flavor, while egg whites (a mixture of protein and water) add moisture and contribute to the structure in baked products. Keep in mind that you should avoid eating anything that contains raw eggs. According to the FDA, eggs should be cooked until both the yolk and white are firm; scrambled eggs should not be runny, and foods containing eggs, for example casseroles, should be cooked to 160°F on a food thermometer ($15, Bed Bath & Beyond). If you have a recipe that calls for eggs to be raw or undercooked (such as Caesar salads), use shell eggs that are clearly labeled as having been pasteurized to destroy salmonella. These are available at some retailers or use a widely available pasteurized egg product. If you have a recipe that calls for egg whites to be raw or undercooked, use pasteurized dried egg whites or pasteurized refrigerated liquid egg whites.

For cake recipes, allow eggs to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before using. If the cake recipe calls for separated eggs, separate them immediately after removing them from the refrigerator and use them within 30 minutes. For all other recipes, use eggs straight from the refrigerator.

Emulsify

To combine two liquid or semiliquid ingredients, such as oil and vinegar, that don't naturally dissolve into one another. One way to do this is to gradually add one ingredient to the other while beating rapidly with a fork or wire whisk ($9, Crate and Barrel).

Extracts, Oils

Products based on the aromatic essential oils of plant materials that are distilled by various means. In extracts, the highly concentrated oils are usually suspended in alcohol to make them easier to combine with other foods. Almond, anise, lemon, mint, orange, peppermint, and vanilla are some commonly available extracts.

Some undiluted oils are also available, usually at pharmacies. These include oils of anise, cinnamon, cloves, peppermint, and wintergreen. Do not try to substitute oils for ground spices in recipes. Oils are so concentrated that they're measured in drops, not teaspoons. Oil of cinnamon, for example, is 50 times stronger than ground cinnamon. You can, however, substitute 1 or 2 drops of an oil for ½ tsp. extract in frosting or candy recipes.

Fats, Oils

See specific ingredients, such as butter, margarine, shortening, lard, or cooking oil.

Fava Bean

A green, flat bean that looks like a large lima bean and is available dried, canned, or fresh. Fresh fava beans can be eaten raw, or blanched, then quickly cooled, in order to pop off their whitish outer skin and reveal the rich green bean inside. Fava beans are often pureed and served with meats or fish.

Fermenting

A form of food preservation that uses naturally occurring microbial growth (such as yeast) to convert the natural sugars in food into acids. Wine is fermented. So are sauerkraut, sourdough bread, and kombucha tea, for example.

Feta

A tangy, crumbly Greek cheese made of sheep's or goat's milk and brined.

Fillet

A piece of meat or fish that has had the bones removed. As a verb, fillet refers to the process of removing the bones.

Fish Sauce

A pungent brown sauce made by fermenting fish, usually anchovies, in brine. It's often used in Southeast Asian cooking.

Flake

To gently break food into small, flat pieces.

Flavoring

An imitation extract made of chemical compounds. Unlike an extract or oil, a flavoring often does not contain any of the original food it resembles. Some common imitation flavorings available are banana, black walnut, brandy, cherry, chocolate, coconut, maple, pineapple, raspberry, rum, strawberry, and vanilla.

Flour

A milled substance that can be made from many cereals, roots, and seeds, although wheat is the most popular. Store flour in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. All-purpose flour may be stored for up to 8 months. Bread flour, cake, gluten, whole wheat, and other whole grain flours may be stored up to 5 months. For longer storage, refrigerate or freeze the flour in a moisture- and vapor-proof container. Bring the chilled flour to room temperature before using it in baking. Here are the types of flour most commonly used in cooking:

  • All-purpose flour: This is typically a blend of soft and hard wheat flours and, as its name implies, can be used for many purposes, including baking, thickening, and coating. All-purpose flour is generally sold already sifted and is available bleached or unbleached. Bleached flour has been made chemically whiter in appearance. Some cooks prefer bleached flour for their cakes and breads so they're as white as possible, while other cooks prefer their flour to be processed as little as necessary. Both bleached and unbleached flour are suitable for home baking and can be used interchangeably.
  • Bread flour: This flour contains more gluten than all-purpose flour, making it ideal for baking breads, which rely on gluten for structure and volume. If you use a bread machine, for the best results, use bread flour instead of all-purpose flour. Or use all-purpose flour and add 1 to 2 tablespoons of gluten flour (available in supermarkets and health food stores).
  • Cake flour: Made from a soft wheat, cake flour produces a tender, delicate crumb because the gluten is less elastic. It's too delicate for general baking, but for cakes, sift it before measuring and use 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons of cake flour for every 1 cup of all-purpose flour called for in a recipe.
  • Gluten flour: Because whole grain flours are low in gluten, some whole grain bread recipes call for a little gluten flour to give the finished loaf the proper texture. Sometimes called wheat gluten, gluten flour is made by removing most of the starch from high-protein, hard-wheat flour. If you can't find gluten flour at a supermarket, look for it at a health food store.
  • Pastry flour: A soft wheat blend with less starch than cake flour. It's used for making pastry dough.
  • Self-rising flour: An all-purpose flour with salt and a leavener, such as baking powder, added. It is generally not used for making yeast products.
  • Specialty flours: Specialty flours, such as whole wheat, graham, rye, oat, buckwheat, and soy, generally are combined with all-purpose flour in baking recipes, since none have sufficient gluten to provide the right amount of elasticity by themselves.
Covering bottom of pan with flour
Jason Donnelly

Flour (verb)

To coat or dust a food or utensil with flour. Food may be floured before cooking to add texture and improve browning. Baking utensils are floured to prevent sticking.

Flute

To make a decorative impression in food, usually the edge of a piecrust.

Fold

A method of gently mixing together ingredients without decreasing their volume. To fold, use a rubber spatula to cut down vertically through the mixture from the back of the bowl. Move the spatula across the bottom of the bowl, and bring it back up the other side, carrying some of the mixture from the bottom up over the surface. Repeat these steps, rotating the bowl one-fourth of a turn each time you complete the process.

Food Coloring

Liquid, paste, or powdered edible dyes used to tint foods.

Cutting meat off of bone
Andy Lyons

French

To cut meat away from the end of a rib or chop to expose the bone, as with a lamb rib roast.

Frost

To apply a cooked or uncooked topping (which is soft enough to spread, but stiff enough to hold its shape) to cakes, cupcakes, or cookies.

Fry

To cook food in hot cooking oil or fat, usually until a crisp brown crust forms. Pan-frying uses enough oil to lightly coat the bottom of the skillet. The surface of the food browns and, if coated, turns crisp. To deep-fry (or French fry) is to immerse food in hot fat or oil until it's crisp. To shallow-fry is to cook a food, usually breaded or coated in batter, using about an inch of hot fat or oil. To oven-fry is to cook food in a hot oven using a smaller amount of fat for a healthier product.

Garlic

The strongly scented, pungent bulb of a plant related to the onion. A garlic clove is one of the several small segments that make up a garlic bulb. Elephant garlic is larger, milder, and more closely related to the leek. Store firm, fresh, plump garlic bulbs in a cool, dry, dark spot. Leave bulbs whole, because individual cloves dry out quickly. Convenient substitutes are available. For each clove a recipe calls for, use ⅛ teaspoon of garlic powder or a ½ teaspoon of bottled minced garlic.

Garnish

To add visual appeal to a finished dish with herbs, flowers, greens, and more.

Gelatin

A dry ingredient made from natural animal protein that can thicken or set a liquid. Gelatin is available in unflavored and flavored forms. When using, make sure the powder is completely dissolved.

To dissolve one envelope of unflavored gelatin: Place the gelatin in a small saucepan and stir in at least ¼ cup water, broth, or fruit juice. Let it stand 5 minutes to soften, then stir it over low heat until the gelatin is completely dissolved.

Do not mix gelatin with figs, fresh pineapple (canned pineapple is OK), fresh ginger, guava, kiwifruit, and papaya, as these foods contain an enzyme that prevents the gelatin from setting.

Some recipes call for gelatin at various stages of gelling. "Partially set" means the mixture looks like unbeaten egg whites. At this point, solid ingredients may be added. "Almost firm" describes gelatin that is sticky to the touch. It can be layered at this stage. "Firm" gelatin holds a cut edge and is ready to be served.

Giblets

The edible internal organs of poultry, including the liver, heart, and gizzard. (Although sometimes packaged with the giblets, the neck is not actually considered a giblet.) Giblets are sometimes used to make gravy.

Ginger

The root of a semitropical plant that adds a spicy-sweet flavor to recipes (also called gingerroot). Ginger should be peeled before using, except for making tea. To peel, cut off one end of the root and use a vegetable peeler to remove the brown outer layer. To grate ginger, use the fine holes of a grater. To mince ginger, slice into thin sticks with the grain lengthwise. Stack the sticks in a bundle and cut them finely. When wrapped loosely in a paper towel, ginger stays fresh two to three weeks in the refrigerator. For longer storage, place unpeeled ginger in a freezer bag and store in the freezer. Ginger will keep indefinitely when frozen, and you can grate or slice it while it's still frozen. In a pinch, ground ginger can be used instead of fresh grated. For 1 teaspoon of grated ginger, use ¼ teaspoon of ground ginger.

Ginger, Crystallized

A confection made from pieces of ginger (ginger root) cooked in a sugar syrup, then coated with sugar. Also known as candied ginger. Store in a cool, dry, dark place.

Glacé (glah-SAY)

The French term for "glazed" or "frozen." In the United States, it generally describes a candied fruit..

Glaze

A thin, glossy coating. Savory glazes (commonly found on meats such as ham) are made with reduced sauces or gelatin; sweet glazes can be made with melted jelly or chocolate.

Gochujang Paste

A Korean condiment made of chiles, rice, fermented soybeans, and salt. Look for it in the Asian section of the supermarket.

Person grating chocolate
Peter Krumhardt

Grate

To press and scrape food, such as hard cheeses, vegetables, whole nutmeg, or ginger, across a grating surface to make fine pieces. A food processor also may be used.

Greasing bottom of pan
Jason Donnelly

Grease

To coat a utensil, such as a baking pan or skillet, with a thin layer of fat or oil. A pastry brush ($11, Bed Bath & Beyond) works well to grease pans. The word also refers to fat released from meat and poultry during cooking.

Gremolata

A Mediterranean sauce commonly made with fresh chopped herbs (basil, parsley, or cilantro), citrus zest, and fresh garlic.

Grind

To mechanically cut food into smaller pieces, usually with a food grinder ($100, Bed Bath & Beyond) or food processor. It can also refer to crushing hard spices into a powder.

Gumbo

The word gumbo is from an African word meaning "okra." This creole stew contains okra, tomatoes, and onions, as well as various meats or shellfish, such as shrimp, chicken, or sausage. It is thickened with a roux.

Half-and-Half

A mixture of equal parts cream and milk. It has about 12% milk fat, which is not enough for whipping.

Haricots Verts

French for "green string beans," these beans are particularly thin and tender.

Heavy Cream

Also called heavy whipping cream. Heavy cream contains at least 46% milkfat and is the richest cream available. It can be whipped to twice its volume.

Hoisin Sauce

A Cantonese sauce popular in Asian cooking that contributes a multitude of sweet and spicy flavors: fermented soybeans, molasses, vinegar, mustard, sesame seeds, garlic, and chiles. Look for hoisin sauce alongside the soy sauce in most supermarkets or in Asian markets.

Hominy

Dried white or yellow corn kernels that have been soaked in lime or lye to remove the hulls and germs. It's available canned or dried. Ground hominy is used to make grits.

Honey

A thick, sticky food produced by bees from floral nectar. Honey is available in more than 300 varieties in the United States alone. Its flavor depends on the flowers from which the nectar is derived. Most is made from clover, but other sources include lavender, thyme, orange blossom, apple, cherry, buckwheat, and tupelo. Generally, the lighter the color, the milder the flavor. Store honey at room temperature in a dark place. If it crystallizes (becomes solid), liquify it by warming the jar slightly in the microwave or in a pan of very hot tap water. If the honey smells or tastes strange, toss it out.

Note that honey should not be given to children who are younger than 1 year old, because it can contain trace amounts of botulism spores. These spores could trigger a potentially fatal reaction in children with undeveloped immune systems.

Hors d'oeuvre (or-DERV)

A French term for a small, hot or cold, usually savory food served as an appetizer.

Ice

To cover baked goods in a sweet coating.

Indirect Grilling

A method of slowly cooking food on a covered grill over a spot where there are no coals. Usually, the food is placed on the rack over a drip pan, with coals arranged around the pan.

Jelly Roll

A dessert made by spreading a sponge cake with filling, then rolling it into a log shape. When other foods are shaped "jelly-roll-style," it refers to rolling them into a log shape with fillings inside.

Juice

The natural liquid extracted from fruits, vegetables, meats, and poultry. Also refers to the process of extracting juice from foods.

Kimchi

A spicy Korean condiment made from fermented Napa cabbage and fish sauce. It's usually served over rice, noodles, eggs, and stir-fries.

Kombucha

Kombucha is a fermented tea consumed by many for its claims of health benefits. It's widely available at supermarkets and can be made at home.

Knead

To work dough with the heels of your hands in a pressing and folding motion until it becomes smooth and elastic. This is an essential step in developing the gluten in many yeast breads.

Kosher Salt

A coarse salt with no additives that many cooks prefer for its light, flaky texture and clean taste. It also has a lower sodium content than regular salt. Find it next to the other salt in the supermarket.

Lard

A product made from pork fat that is sometimes used for baking. It's especially noted for producing light, flaky piecrusts. In the U.S., shortening is more commonly used than lard.

Leavenings

Ingredients essential in helping batters and dough expand or rise during baking. If leavening is omitted, the baked product will be heavy and tough. See specific ingredients, such as yeast, baking powder, and baking soda, for more information.

Lemongrass

A highly aromatic, lemon-flavored herb often used in Asian cooking. Trim off the fibrous ends and slice what remains into 3- to 4-inch sections. Cut each section in half lengthwise, exposing the layers. Rinse everything under cold water to remove any grit, and slice the lemongrass thinly. In a pinch, substitute ½ teaspoon finely shredded lemon peel for 1 tablespoon of lemongrass.

Light Cream

Also called coffee cream or table cream. It usually contains about 20% milk fat and cannot be whipped.

Dark Chocolate and Pumpkin-Swirl Cake
Andy Lyons

Marble

To gently swirl one food into another. Marbling is usually done with light and dark batters for cakes or cookies.

Margarine

A product generally made from vegetable oil that was developed in the late 1800s as a substitute for butter. When baking, be sure to use stick margarine containing at least 80% fat. Check the nutrition information: It should have about 100 calories per tablespoon.

Marinade

A seasoned liquid in which meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, or vegetables is soaked for flavor and sometimes to tenderize. Most marinades contain an acid, such as wine or vinegar.

Marinate

To soak food in a marinade. When marinating foods, do not use a metal container, as it can react with acidic ingredients and give foods an off-flavor. Always marinate foods in the refrigerator, never on the kitchen counter. To reduce cleanup, use a plastic bag set in a bowl or dish to hold the food you're marinating. Discard leftover marinade that has come in contact with raw meat. Or, if it's to be used on cooked meat, bring the leftover marinade to a rolling boil to destroy any bacteria before using.

Marsala

A fortified wine that can be either dry or sweet. Sweet Marsala is used both for drinking and cooking. Dry Marsala makes a nice pre-dinner drink.

Mash

To press, smash, or beat a food to remove lumps and make a smooth mixture. This can be done with a fork, potato masher ($47, Williams Sonoma) food mill, food ricer, or electric mixer.

Measuring flour in cup
Kritsada Panichgul

Measure

To determine the quantity or size of a food using a utensil. How you measure ingredients matters. This is especially true in baking, where there's quite a bit of chemistry involved. Take time to measure each ingredient correctly and you'll see (and taste) the results.

Melt

To heat a solid food, such as chocolate, margarine, or butter, over very low heat until it becomes liquid or semi-liquid.

Meringue Powder

A powder made primarily from dehydrated egg whites that can be mixed with water and used as a substitute for egg whites in many recipes. One advantage to meringue powder is that you can store it in your pantry, and it has a much longer shelf life than regular eggs. In particular, it's a great substitute for egg whites when making royal icing, since it's safer to consume than fresh, raw egg whites.

Milk and Milk Products

Varieties of milk products include:

  • Buttermilk: Buttermilk is a low-fat or fat-free milk to which a bacterial culture has been added. It has a mildly acidic taste. Sour milk, made from milk and lemon juice or vinegar, can be substituted in baking recipes.
  • Evaporated milk: Made from whole milk, canned evaporated milk has had about half of its water removed; it lends a creamy richness to many recipes, including pumpkin pie. Measure it straight from the can for recipes. To use it in place of fresh milk, dilute it as directed on the can (usually with an equal amount of water) to make the quantity called for in your recipe. Evaporated milk is also available in low-fat and fat-free versions. It is not, however, interchangeable with sweetened condensed milk.
  • Fat-free half-and-half: Made mostly from skim milk, with carrageenan for body, this product can bring a creamy flavor to recipes without adding fat. Experiment using it in cornstarch- or flour-thickened soup, sauce, and gravy recipes that call for regular half-and-half.
  • Light cream and half-and-half: Light cream contains 18% to 30% milk fat. Half-and-half is a mixture of milk and cream. They're interchangeable in most recipes; although, neither contains enough fat to be whipped.
  • Nonfat dry milk powder: When reconstituted, this milk product can be used in cooking.
  • Sour cream and yogurt: Sour cream is traditionally made from light cream with a bacterial culture added, while yogurt is made from milk with a bacterial culture added. Both are available in low-fat and fat-free varieties.
  • Sweetened condensed milk: This product is made from whole milk that has had water removed and sugar added. It is also available in low-fat and fat-free versions. Sweetened condensed milk is not interchangeable with evaporated milk or fresh milk.
  • Whipping cream: It contains at least 30% milk fat and can be beaten into whipped cream.
  • Whole, reduced-fat, low-fat or light, and fat-free milk: Because these milk types differ only in the amount of fat they contain and in the richness of flavor they lend to foods, they may be used interchangeably in cooking. Recipes made in our Test Kitchen use reduced-fat (2%) milk.

Mince

To chop food into very fine pieces, as with minced garlic or herbs.

Mix

To stir or beat two or more foods together until they are thoroughly combined. May be done with an electric mixer or a rotary beater, or by hand with a wooden spoon.

Moisten

To add enough liquid to a dry ingredient or mixture to make it damp but not runny.

Using mortar and pestle
Kritsada Panichgul

Mortar and Pestle

A 2-piece tool that includes a bowl-shaped vessel ($28, Sur la Table) (the mortar) which holds ingredients to be crushed into a powder or paste by a club-shaped utensil (the pestle).

Mull

To slowly heat a beverage, such as cider or wine, with spices and sugar.

Mushrooms, Dried

Dried mushrooms swell into tender, flavorful morsels. Simply cover them in warm water and soak for about 30 minutes. Rinse well and press out the moisture. Remove and discard any tough stems. Use them in recipes as you would fresh mushrooms. Popular choices include oyster, wood ear, and shiitake.

Mushrooms, Fresh

Plants in the fungus family, mushrooms come in many colors and shapes, with flavors ranging from mild and nutty to meaty, woodsy, and wild. Mushrooms are low in calories but high in vitamins and antioxidants.

Nonstick Cooking Spray

This convenient product reduces the mess associated with greasing pans. It can also cut down on fat in cooking. Use the spray only on unheated baking pans or skillets—it can burn or smoke when sprayed onto a hot surface. For safety, hold pans over a sink or garbage can when spraying, to avoid extra spray causing your floor or counter to become slippery.

Nuts

Dried seeds or edible fruit kernels surrounded by a hard shell or rind. Nuts are available in many forms, such as chopped, slivered, and halved. Use the form called for in the recipe. In most recipes, the nuts are selected for their particular flavor and appearance; however, in general, walnuts may be substituted for pecans, and almonds for hazelnuts, and vice versa.

When you're grinding nuts, take extra care not to over-grind them, or you may end up with a nut butter. If you're using a blender or processor, add 1 tablespoon of the sugar or flour from the recipe for each cup of nuts to help absorb some of the oil. Use a quick start-and-stop motion for better control over the fineness. For best results, grind the nuts in small batches (up to 1 cup at a time), and be sure to let them cool after toasting and before grinding.

Oats

A cereal grain cultivated for thousands of years, oats come in many forms and are commonly consumed in the form of oatmeal or rolled oats.

  • Instant Oats: Oats are precooked (making them super soft) and dried before they are flattened with rollers. They're great for breakfast but not for baked goods.
  • Oat Bran: Bran is the outer coating of the grain and packed with soluble fiber. You can add it to baked goods to increase fiber content. Start experimenting with small amounts.
  • Oat Flour: Made from grinding gluten-free oats. Contamination can occur during grinding, so it isn't considered a substitute for gluten-free wheat. Experiment baking with it by substituting small amounts.
  • Oat Groats: Hulled, unbroken grains that can be cooked and served as a cereal or prepared like rice for a side dish or salad. These are the least-processed oat option.
  • Quick-Cooking Rolled Oats: Oats made from groats that have been chopped before undergoing the steaming process. They are more flattened than rolled oats, so they cook faster and are less chewy.
  • Rolled Oats: Also known as old-fashioned, rolled oats are whole groats that have been hulled, steamed, and flattened. They cook faster than steel-cut. To toast, stir in a dry skillet over medium heat until golden brown.
  • Steel-Cut Oats: Also called Irish or Scottish oats, these chewy, coarse oats are made by chopping groats into smaller pieces. They require longer cooking than rolled and quick-cooking oats
  • Oat Milk: Ground oats and water, this is a lactose-free milk option.

Parboil

To boil a food, such as vegetables, until it is partially cooked.

Parchment Paper

A grease- and heat-resistant paper ($7, Target) used to line baking pans, to wrap foods in packets for cooking, baking, or to make disposable pastry bags.

Pare

To remove the skin or outer covering of a fruit or vegetable using a small knife or a vegetable peeler.

Parsnip

A white root vegetable that resembles a carrot. Parsnips have a mild, sweet flavor and can be cooked like potatoes.

Pectin

A natural substance found in fruits that sets, or thickens, the fruit and sugar mixtures of jellies or jams. Certain fruits and citruses are high in pectin, but commercial pectin is also available, generally made from fruit peels.

Peeling an apple skin
Jason Donnelly

Peel

The skin or outer covering of a vegetable or fruit (sometimes called the rind). To peel refers to the process of removing this skin.

Pesto

An uncooked sauce made from crushed garlic, basil, and nuts blended with Parmesan cheese and olive oil. Variations may call for other herbs or greens, and may be homemade or purchased. Tomato pesto is also available.

Phyllo Dough (FEE-loh)

Prominent in Greek, Turkish, and Near Eastern dishes, phyllo consists of tissue-thin sheets of dough that, when layered and baked, result in a delicate, flaky pastry. The word phyllo (sometimes spelled filo) is Greek for "leaf." Although phyllo dough can be made at home, it's difficult to do, and a frozen commercial product is available and much handier to use. Allow the frozen dough to thaw while it's still wrapped, since once it's unwrapped, the sheets will quickly dry out and become unusable. To preserve the sheets, keep the stack covered with plastic wrap while you prepare your recipe. Rewrap any remaining sheets and return them to the freezer.

Pinch

A small amount of a dry ingredient (the amount that can be pinched between a finger and the thumb).

Pine Nut

A high-fat nut that comes from certain varieties of pine trees. The flavor ranges from mild and sweet to pungent. Pine nuts go rancid quickly, so store them in the refrigerator or freezer. In a pinch, substitute chopped almonds or, in cream sauces, walnuts.

Pipe

To use a pastry bag to decorate cakes or other foods by forcing a semisoft substance, such as whipped cream or frosting, through a small hole that makes it easy to control.

Removing pit from avocado
Scott Little

Pit

The large, hard seed of a fruit, or the act of removing the seed from fruits, such as avocados, cherries, or peaches.

Plump

To allow a food, such as raisins, to soak in a liquid, which generally increases its volume.

Poach

To cook food by partially or completely submerging it in a simmering liquid.

Polenta

Polenta is made from boiled cornmeal and can be served hot, like a porridge, or cooled until it solidifies into a loaf that you can bake, grill, or fry. Polenta can be made from any type of cornmeal. When you're buying polenta at the store, keep in mind that some types are shelf-stable and others need to be refrigerated, so they might be stocked in different places.

Pound

To strike a food with a heavy utensil (such as a meat mallet, $18, Target) to crush it—or, in the case of meat or poultry, to break up the connective tissue in order to tenderize or flatten it.

Precook

To partially or completely cook a food before using it in a recipe.

Preheat

To heat an oven or utensil to a specific temperature before using it.

Lifting lid on boiling pot filled with cans

Process

To preserve food at home by canning, or to prepare food in a food processor ($100, Crate and Barrel).

Proof

To allow a yeast dough to rise before baking. It is also a term that indicates the amount of alcohol in a distilled liquor.

Prosciutto

An uncooked ham, originally Italian, that has been seasoned, salt-cured, and air-dried (not smoked). Pressing the meat gives it a firm, dense texture. Prosciutto from Parma is considered to be the best.

Provolone

A southern Italian cheese made from cow's milk. Provolone is firm and creamy with a mild, smoky flavor. Because it melts so well, it's an excellent cooking cheese.

Puff Pastry

A butter-rich, multilayer pastry. When baked, the butter produces steam between the layers, causing the dough to puff up into many flaky layers. Because warm, softened puff pastry dough becomes sticky and unmanageable, roll out one sheet of dough at a time, keeping what you're not using wrapped tightly in the refrigerator.

Puree

To process or mash a food until it is as smooth as possible. This can be done using a blender, food processor, or food mill. The word also refers to the resulting mixture.

Reconstitute

To bring a concentrated, dried, or condensed food, such as frozen fruit juice, back to its original strength or texture by adding water.

Reduce

To decrease the volume of a liquid by boiling it rapidly to cause evaporation. As the liquid evaporates, it thickens and intensifies in flavor. The resulting richly flavored liquid, called a reduction, can be used as a sauce or the base of a sauce. When reducing liquids, use the pan size specified in the recipe, as the surface area of the pan affects how quickly the liquid will evaporate.

Rice

The seed of a grass that's a food staple which originated in China thousands of years ago. To rice is to force cooked food through a perforated utensil known as a ricer, giving the food a rice-like shape.

Rice Noodles, Rice Sticks

Thin noodles, popular in Asian cooking, that are made from finely ground rice and water. When fried, they puff into light, crisp strands. They can also be soaked to use in stir-fries, salads, and soups. Thicker varieties are called rice sticks. Find them in Asian markets, or substitute vermicelli or capellini for thin rice noodles, and linguine or fettuccine for thicker rice sticks.

Rice Papers

These round, flat, edible papers, made from the pith of a rice paper plant, are used for wrapping spring rolls.

Rice Vinegar

A mild-flavored vinegar made from fermented rice. Rice vinegar is interchangeable with rice wine vinegar, which is an alcohol made from fermented rice. Seasoned rice vinegar, with added sugar and salt, can be used in recipes, though you may wish to adjust the seasonings. If you can't find rice vinegar, substitute white vinegar or white wine vinegar.

Rind

The skin or outer coating of a food, usually rather thick, and with the exception of candied citrus, rarely eaten.

Roast, Roasting

A roast is a large piece of meat or poultry that's usually cooked by roasting. Roasting refers to a dry-heat, oven cooking method used for foods from vegetables to tender pieces of meat.

Rolling dough on counter
Scott Little

Roll, Roll Out

To form a food into a shape. Dough, for instance, can be rolled into ropes or balls. The phrase "roll out" refers to mechanically flattening a food, usually a dough or pastry, with a rolling pin ($19, Bed Bath & Beyond).

Roux (roo)

A French term that refers to a mixture of flour and a fat cooked to a golden or rich brown color and used for thickening sauces, soups, and gumbos.

Salsa

A sauce, the most common version of which is made from finely chopped tomatoes, onions, chiles, and cilantro. Salsas come in many variations and are an element in Mexican and Southwestern cuisine.

Sauté

From the French word sauter, meaning "to jump," to sauté is to stir food in a skillet with a small amount of oil over medium to medium-high heat. The goal is crisp-tender vegetables with caramelized surfaces. Food cut into uniform sizes sautés the best.

Scald

To heat a liquid, often milk, to a temperature just below the boiling point, when tiny bubbles just begin to appear around the edge of the liquid.

Score

To cut narrow slits, often in a diamond pattern, through the outer surface of a food. The technique is used to decorate, tenderize, to aid in absorbing flavor, or to allow fat to drain during cooking.

Sea Salt

This variety of salt is derived from the evaporation of seawater. Some cooks prefer it over table salt for its clean flavor.

Sear

To brown a food, usually meat, quickly on all sides using high heat. This helps seal in the juices and may be done in the oven, under the broiler, or on top of the range.

Cutting sections of orange
Mike Dieter

Section

To separate and remove the membranes covering segments of citrus fruits. To section oranges, use a paring knife to remove the peel and white pith. Working over a bowl to catch the juice, cut between one orange section and the membrane, slicing to the center of the fruit. Turn the knife and slide it up the other side of the section along the membrane, cutting outward. Repeat with the remaining sections.

Seitan

A vegan food sometimes called "wheat meat" made from wheat protein (gluten) that comes whole or precut. It can be sautéed, roasted, or grilled as a substitute for meat in dishes.

Sherry

A fortified wine that ranges from dry to sweet and light to dark. Sherry can be enjoyed as a pre- or post- dinner drink, but cooking sherry has added salt, which makes it unsuitable as a drink.

Shortening

A vegetable oil that has been processed into solid form. Shortening commonly is used for baking or frying. Plain and butter-flavor types can be used interchangeably. Store it in a cool, dry place. Once it's been opened, use it within 6 months. Discard if it has an odor or appears discolored.

Shredding zucchini on grater
Kritsada Panichgul

Shred, Finely Shred

To scrape food across a shredding surface to make long, narrow strips. To finely shred means to make long, thin strips. A food processor may be used. Lettuce and cabbage can be shredded using a knife to make thin slices.

Shrimp Paste

A pungent seasoning made from dried, salted shrimp that's been pounded into a paste. Shrimp paste gives Southeast Asian dishes an authentic, rich flavor. The salty shrimp taste mellows during cooking. In a pinch, you can substitute anchovy paste, though it's not as boldly flavored.

Shuck

To remove the shells from seafood, such as oysters and clams, or the husks from corn.

Pressing raspberries through a sieve
Marty Baldwin

Sieve

As a verb, to sieve is to separate liquids from solids, usually using a stainless steel strainer-sifter ($25, Crate and Barrel). A sieve is the utensil used for separating liquids from solids.

Sift

To put one or more dry ingredients, especially flour or powdered sugar, through a flour sifter ($12, Crate and Barrel) or sieve to remove lumps and incorporate air.

Simmer

To cook food in a liquid that is kept just below the boiling point. A liquid is simmering when a few bubbles form slowly and rise, bursting just before reaching the surface.

Skewer

A long, narrow metal or wood stick that can be inserted through pieces of meat or vegetables for grilling. To protect bamboo or wood skewers from burning, it's important to soak them in cold water for 30 minutes before use.

Skim

To remove a substance, such as fat or foam, from the surface of a liquid.

Slice

A flat, usually thin piece of food cut from a larger piece, or the process of cutting flat, thin pieces.

Cutting herbs in glass cup
Andy Lyons

Snip

To cut food, often fresh herbs or dried fruit, with kitchen shears ($25, Sur la Table) or scissors into very small, uniform pieces using short, quick strokes.

Soba Noodles

Made from wheat and buckwheat flours, soba noodles are a favorite Japanese fast food. In a pinch, substitute a narrow whole wheat ribbon pasta, such as linguine.

Somen Noodles

Made from wheat flour, these dried Japanese noodles are very fine and most often white. In a pinch, substitute angel hair pasta.

Soymilk

Made from ground soybeans, soymilk can be a good substitute for cow's milk for people who are lactose intolerant or don't consume dairy products. Plain, unfortified soymilk offers high-quality proteins and B vitamins. In some cases, soymilk can be substituted for cow's milk in recipes, though the flavor may be affected. Experiment to see what is acceptable to you.

Springform Pan

A round pan with high sides and a removable bottom that's released by opening the spring that holds the sides tightly around it. This makes it easy to remove food from the pan.

Steam

To cook a food in the vapor given off by boiling water.

Steep

To allow a food or drink, such as tea, to stand in water that's been heated to just below the boiling point in order to extract flavor or color.

Stew

To slowly cook food in liquid for a long time until tender, usually in a covered pot. The term also refers to a mixture prepared this way.

Stir

To mix ingredients with a spoon or other utensil to combine them, to prevent ingredients from sticking during cooking, or to cool them after cooking.

Stir fry in square bowl
Peter Krumhardt

Stir-Fry

This fast, medium-high to high heat method is for quick-cooking larger quantities of uniform-size ingredients. Small amounts of oil are used in a wok or extra-large skillet. Stir or toss the foods constantly.

Stock

The strained clear liquid, sometimes called bone broth, in which bones and meat, poultry, or fish have been simmered for hours. It's similar to broth but is richer and more concentrated due to the bones. Stock and broth can be used interchangeably, and reconstituted bouillon can also be used..

Sugar

A sweetener that's primarily made from sugar beets or sugarcane. Sugar comes in a variety of forms:

  • Brown sugar: A mix of granulated sugar and molasses. Dark brown sugar has more molasses, and hence, more molasses flavor than light (also known as golden brown sugar). Unless otherwise specified, Better Homes & Gardens recipes were tested using light brown sugar. In general, either can be used in recipes that call for brown sugar, unless one or the other is specified.

Test Kitchen Tip: To help keep brown sugar soft, store it in a heavy plastic bag or a rustproof, airtight container and seal well. If the sugar becomes hard, you can resoften it by emptying the hardened sugar into a rustproof container and adding a piece of soft bread. The sugar will absorb the moisture and soften in a day or two. After the sugar has softened, remove the bread and keep the container tightly closed. It can also be softened in the microwave using a microwave-safe bowl covered in a moist cloth.

  • Coarse sugar: Often used for decorating baked goods, coarse sugar (sometimes called pearl sugar) has much larger grains than regular granulated sugar; look for it where cake-decorating supplies are sold.
  • Granulated sugar: This white, granular, crystalline sugar is what to use when a recipe calls for sugar without specifying a particular type. White sugar is most commonly available in a fine granulation, though superfine (also called ultrafine or castor sugar) is also available. Because superfine sugar dissolves readily, it's ideal for frostings, meringues, and drinks.
  • Powdered sugar: Also known as confectioner's sugar or icing sugar, this is granulated sugar that has been milled to a fine powder, then mixed with cornstarch to prevent lumping. Sift powdered sugar before using.
  • Raw sugar: In the United States, true raw sugar is not sold to consumers. Products labeled and sold as raw sugar, such as Demerara sugar and turbinado sugar, have been refined. Cleaned through a steaming process, turbinado sugar is a coarse sugar with a subtle molasses flavor.
  • Vanilla sugar: Infused with flavor from a dried vanilla bean, vanilla sugar tastes great stirred into coffee drinks or sprinkled over baked goods. To make vanilla sugar, fill a 1-quart jar with 4 cups of sugar. Cut a vanilla bean in half lengthwise and insert both halves into the sugar. Secure the lid and store in a cool, dry place for several weeks before using. It will keep indefinitely.

Scrape

To use a sharp or blunt instrument to remove the outer coating from a food, such as carrots.

Tempeh

A meat alternative made from fermented whole soybeans. It easily takes on other flavors. Alone, it has a nutty flavor and a firm, chewy texture: it can be sliced like chicken or crumbled and sautéed like ground meat.

Thickeners

Food substances used to give a thicker consistency to sauces, gravies, puddings, and soups. Common thickeners include:

  • Flour and cornstarch: All-purpose flour and cornstarch (also called corn flour) are starches commonly used to thicken saucy mixtures. Cornstarch produces a more translucent mixture than flour and has twice the thickening power. Before adding flour or cornstarch to a hot mixture, stir cold water into a small amount. You can also combine either flour or cornstarch with cold water in a screw-top jar and shake until thoroughly blended. It's critical that the starch and water mixture be free of lumps to prevent lumps in your sauce or gravy.
  • Quick-cooking tapioca: This is a good choice for foods that are going to be frozen, because unlike flour- and cornstarch-thickened mixtures, frozen tapioca mixtures retain their texture when reheated.

Test Kitchen Tip: When using tapioca as a thickener for crockery cooking and freezer-bound foods, you can avoid its characteristic lumpy texture by grinding the tapioca with a mortar and pestle before adding it to the recipe.

Toast

The process of browning, crisping, or drying a food by exposing it to heat. Toasting coconut, nuts, and seeds helps develop their flavor. Also the result of exposing bread to heat so it becomes browner, crisper, and drier.

Tofu

A product made from curdling soymilk (similar to making cheese from milk) that can be used as a meat substitute. Firm and extra-firm varieties are packed in water and refrigerated. Tofu can be used for frying or stir-frying. Soft and silken varieties are shelf-stable and are used for stirring into dips, purees, and dressings. Silken tofu is available in soft, firm, and extra-firm textures.

Tomatoes, Dried

Sometimes referred to as sun-dried tomatoes, these shriveled-looking tomato pieces have an intense flavor and chewy texture. They're available packed in olive oil or dry. Follow recipe directions for rehydrating, but if no directions are given, cover dry tomatoes with boiling water, let stand about 10 minutes or until they've become pliable, then drain them well and pat dry. They're easily snipped with scissors. Generally, dry and oil-packed tomatoes can be used interchangeably, though the dry tomatoes will need to be rehydrated, and the oil-packed will need to be drained and rinsed.

Tortilla

A small, thin, flat bread made from corn or wheat flour. Popular in Mexican cooking, tortillas are usually wrapped around a filling. To warm and soften flour tortillas, wrap a stack of 8 to 10 in foil and heat in a 350°F oven for 10 minutes.

Toss

To mix ingredients lightly by lifting and dropping them using two utensils.

Vermouth

White wine that has been fortified and flavored with herbs and spices. Dry vermouth is white and used as a before-dinner drink or in nonsweet drinks, such as a martini. Sweet vermouth is reddish-brown and can be consumed straight or used in sweet mixed drinks. Vermouth is often used as a cooking ingredient.

Vinegar

A sour liquid that is a byproduct of fermentation. Through fermentation, the alcohol from grapes, grains, apples, and other sources is changed to acetic acid to create vinegar.

Wedge

Wedges are cut from whole produce like apples and onions. Cut the food in half, place it flat side down, then continue cutting, angling toward the center.

Weeping

Weeping occurs when liquid separates from a solid food, such as jellies, custards, and meringues.

Whip

To beat a food rapidly using a wire whisk, rotary beater, or electric mixer ($60, Target), which incorporates air into the food and increases its volume.

Wonton, Wonton Wrappers

A stuffed savory Asian pastry. Wonton wrappers are similar to egg roll wrappers, but smaller. They can be found in the produce aisle or in Asian markets. Wonton wrappers are usually sold refrigerated, so look for them alongside other refrigerated foods.

Yeast

A tiny, single-cell organism that feeds on the sugar in dough, creating carbon dioxide gas that makes dough rise. Three common forms of yeast are:

  • Active dry yeast: This is the most popular form. These tiny, dehydrated granules are mixed with flour or dissolved in warm water before they're used.
  • Bread-machine yeast: This highly active yeast was developed especially for use in doughs processed in bread machines.
  • Quick-rising active dry yeast (sometimes called fast-rising or instant yeast): This is a more active strain of yeast than active dry yeast, and it substantially cuts down on the time it takes for dough to rise. This yeast is usually mixed with the dry ingredients before the warm liquids are added. The Better Homes & Gardens Test Kitchen tests all bread recipes using active dry yeast.
Grating lemon on micro plane
Jason Donnelly

Zest

The colored outer portion of citrus fruit peel. It is rich in fruit oils and often used as a seasoning. To remove the zest, scrape a microplane (rasp) or fruit zester across the peel, avoiding the pith (the white membrane beneath the peel), which is bitter.

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