Whether you want to be a professional chef or not, knowing the common cooking terms and their corresponding temperatures is critical to getting it right in the kitchen EVERY time you create. When I first began to learn how to cook, I found myself reading recipes, googling words like ‘broil’ and ‘saute’, trying to figure out what they meant!
Most of the terms on the list I’ve compiled for you below may be pretty self-explanatory for some, but for others it’s still foreign territory. Use this as your guide and you can’t go wrong!
Know these terms to cook with confidence:
- Bake – to cook food by surrounding it with hot, dry air in an oven.
- Broil – to cook with intense radiant (direct) heat from above. When broiling, the heat source can be either a gas flame or electric element.
- Boil – to cook food in liquid that is bubbling rapidly at about 100ºC/212º F.
- Blanch – to cook an item partially and very briefly in boiling water or in hot fat, usually to: improve colour, loosen peels (eg, skinning a tomato), improve flavour or pre-cook items that require further cooking right before service. Blanching is a brilliant technique to master when cooking for large parties of people!
- Shock – the look of horror on your face when you open your latest credit card/phone/gas bill. Just kidding! In a cooking sense, to ‘shock’ something means to plunge food that has just been blanched (see above) into a bowl of ice and water to stop the cooking process.
- Braise – to cook food in a small amount of liquid, covered, on the stove or in the oven. This technique often involves cooking whole or large pieces of vegetables or meat that is usually browned in fat first, then combined with liquid to cook or ‘stew’ further. The cooking liquid used to braise food is commonly used to make the sauce that is served with braised food. This is achieved by reducing the braising liquid until it thickens. A great example of this is when my beloved nana used to make Sunday roast lunch. She’d braise lamb for hours until it almost fell off the bone, using the braising liquid to make the most amazing gravy I have EVER tasted.
- Caramelize – to brown natural sugars within food using a combination of medium to high heat with oil or fat. The most common dish being caramalized onions, yum!
- Deep-fry – to fry food submerged in enough oil that it can float. The temperature of your oil must be between 180°C – 190°C/350f° – 375°F. When deep frying, it’s best to do so in a deep wok, pot or professional fryer with a healthy oil that has a high, safe smoking point like organic coconut oil. If you don’t like the taste of coconut oil, opt for the refined kind where flavour has been stripped.
- Deglaze – to add liquid to remove browned bits (called the fond) left in the bottom of the pan after sautéing or caramelizing food. This is done while the pan and food is still hot/cooking.
- Poach – to cook food in very hot liquid (but not boiling!) at a temperature about 71ºC -82ºC/160ºF to 180ºF
- Pan fry – to fry food in a pan with oil (your choice) halfway up the food item.
- Pressure cook – to cook food FAST in a tightly sealed, specialised pot (called a pressure cooker) with added liquid that traps in steam to cook food. As the pressure cooker heats up, trapped steam’s temperature rises above 100ºC/212ºF (standard boiling point) to 121ºc/250º F.
- Roast – to cook foods by surrounding them with hot dry air in an oven or over an open fire.
- Reduce – a method of reducing the amount of liquid in a dish by boiling it out. Most often, reducing liquid also means to thicken liquid.
- Sweat – to cook food over a low heat with a small amount of oil or fat to release flavors and moisture without coloring (browning/burning) the food. Covering the food while sweating enhances this process. In low-fat cooking, you can also sweat food in stock, water or even juice.
- Steam – to cook food by direct contact with steam. Fun fact: steam is hotter than boiling water! Food can be cooked in steam vapors produced by boiling liquid or by tightly wrapping the item so it cooks in the steam created by its own moisture, usually done in the oven (I love cook fish this way).
- Simmer – to cook food in liquid that is bubbling gently, about 185º F to 205º F.
- Toast – to make food crisp, hot and brown using dry heat.
- Eat – to enjoy food, anywhere, anytime with a smile on your face