Learning to cook requires learning a new language as well. It seems like there are dozens of terms for even the simplest kitchen tasks, and a lot of the words aren’t even in English! As I started to cook more, I gathered more recipes online, and had to look up more words online.
I’m always a little nervous using Wikipedia because it’s ‘community edited,’ which means anybody can change an entry. I hear it’s better now, but I was always worried that I would try some technique from Wikipedia for making short ribs and accidentally create a crude explosive device.
I knew I had to stop relying on the internet when I read this entry for the word ‘julienne’:
ju·li·enne [joo-lee-en; Fr. zhy-lyen] adjective (of food, especially vegetables) cut into the shape of sixties actress Julie Newmar (derived from ‘Julie N.’)
Of course by now, I’ve mastered quite a few bits of cooking jargon, which I try to subtly drop into the conversation. Some people are less impressed than others –
The Girlfriend: What’s for dinner tonight, sweetie?
Me: Well, I blanched some haricots verts to go with the braised turkey, and right now I’m working on a remoulade.
The Girlfriend: So, did you say we’re having turkey?
There’s no reason to memorize every arcane food word or phrase, but you should probably learn a handful of basic terms. Now, some of these refer to fairly advanced techniques or complicated dishes, so I thought it would be helpful if I simplified, or entirely made up, some definitions for the novice cook.
A COOK’S LEXICON
Note: Some definitions may not be ‘technically’ correct or accurate, and certain foods mentioned may not, in fact, exist.
Antipasto: small, unsatisfying portions of food served before the meal, typically at tedious group events, designed to distract people from how long it’s taking to get their main course
Aspic: a jellied meat stock, initially created as a prank that got out of hand…since it is a jellied meat stock, it is not meant for actual consumption
Bard: to tie fat around meat before cooking, in order to increase the amount of fat…also, to recite Shakespearean monologues while cooking
Broiler: the part of an oven, typically on the bottom, that is impossible to clean…most often used to test the smoke alarm in my apartment
Brûlée: from the French for ‘burnt,’ first used to illustrate that everything sounds more appetizing in French
Burgoo: a spicy stew, sometimes called ‘roadkill soup,’ popular in areas where people would willingly eat something called ‘roadkill soup’
Caul fat: the fatty membrane surrounding an animal’s internal organs, used in dishes that require a fatty organ-covering membrane
Free range chicken: any chicken that is allowed to roam outside of a cage before being slaughtered; these ‘special chickens’ are able to run errands, get library cards or take night classes…they can frequently be found taunting traditionally ‘caged’ chickens
Mandolin: a device used for cutting food into uniformly sized slices; often confused with ‘mandolin,’ a device used for creating bluegrass music; the first mandolins actually were used for both purposes
Mince: to finely chop something while watching ‘Sex and the City’
Parboil: a combination of the words ‘partially’ and ‘boil’… related words include ‘almosteam’ and ‘sortapoach.’
Proof (see also Prove): in baking, the process of illustrating, through logic and deductive reasoning, that you should make cookies more often
Reduce: when referring to liquid in a pan or skillet, the step immediately before ‘burn’
Salamander: a kitchen tool used by chefs to aid in browning meat; more frequently, a double entendre employed by chefs, as in, “Waitress, have you seen my salamander?”
Sauerkraut: A generally unhappy marriage of cabbage and bacteria, from the same people who brought us World War II
Scotch egg: the result of taking a hardboiled egg, wrapping it in sausage, coating it with bread crumbs, and then deep-frying; a technique designed to make something bad out of something healthy (see also ‘Scotch broccoli’)
Tofu: a tasteless, oddly-textured substance that allows vegetarians to believe that they don’t miss real hot dogs
Yam: Apparently not the same as a sweet potato; best to avoid both just to be sure.