You’ve donned your proverbial chef’s hat, you’re in the middle of making crème brûlée and BAM, you’re a deer in the headlights. “What the hell does temper even mean?” you cry as hot milk slops onto the counter. We’ve all been there. To avoid a Moira Rose moment the next time you have to “fold in the cheese,” bookmark this cooking term glossary and pat yourself on the back. You’ve got this.
Al dente: Italian for “to the tooth,” aka when pasta is cooked until it has a pleasant bite but isn’t too crunchy or too mushy.
Baste: To brush or pour juices, sauce or melted fat over a piece of meat (like a roast chicken) while it cooks, to keep it from drying out.
Blanch: To very quickly cook something (especially vegetables) in boiling water, then submerge it in cold water to stop the cooking.
Braise: To cook meat or vegetables with liquid over low heat in a sealed vessel, so it comes out impossibly tender and succulent.
Broil: To use intense radiant heat to cook something, or to give it a deeply golden-brown finish after cooking at a lower temperature (think lasagna).
Cream: A baking technique that involves combining a softened fat (usually butter, but not always) and sugar until it becomes voluminous, fluffy and, well, creamy.
Cut in: When making pastry (like pie crust or biscuits), to incorporate the fat into the flour so that it creates clumps of fat and a flaky final product.
Deglaze: To add liquid to a hot skillet after sautéing an ingredient, releasing the caramelized bits at the bottom (aka the “good stuff”).
Dice: To cut an ingredient into small, equal-sized cubes so it cooks evenly and has a pleasant appearance—more precise than just chopping.
Double boiler: A MacGuyver-style contraption made by bringing an inch or two of water to a simmer in a pot, then resting a slightly larger heat-safe bowl on top. It allows you to melt ingredients over gentle heat, like chocolate.
Dredge: To coat a moist ingredient in a dry ingredient before cooking, like a chicken tender in flour. This step seals in moisture and can help other breading ingredients stick better.
Flambé: Adding alcohol to a hot pan, then setting it on fire, mostly to look like a fancy-pants chef.