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Guide to (Un)common Cooking Terms

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Don’t know the difference between poaching, braising or broiling? You’ve come to the right place.


Does watching Top Chef make your head spin with the fanciful cooking terms you’ve never heard of? Although this guide won’t help you make these dishes, at least you’ll know what’s going on the next time someone compares your poached salmon to their sous vide pork chops.

Turn on the Heat


Let's start out with terms that are specific to the act of cooking food—heating it to a specific temperature or letting it cook for a specific amount of time. First, we have poaching. This refers to the act of cooking in simmering liquid. Poaching is used to infuse the flavors of the liquid into the food and is also useful for cooking fragile foods like eggs, fish and poultry. Check out this article on How to Poach Fish.

Whereas poaching is typically a short process, braising is on the other end of the spectrum. Braising usually involves poultry or beef and starts by cooking the meat at a high temperature for a short period of time to sear the meat, thus locking in the flavor. The meat is then finished in a pot with liquid at a lower temperature over a longer period of time—sometimes several hours. This allows for a tender moist meal, even when using a lower quality cut of meat. A lot of people braise meat without knowing they are doing it. Ever cook a pot roast or slow-cooked meat in a crockpot? You may be braising...

Broiling uses direct heat at high temperatures to cook meat. Broiling is good for thin cuts of meat that can quickly cook the inside of the meat without burning the exterior. A special broiling pan is used to allow juices to settle away from the meat while letting the meat cook. This leaves the meat with a crisp exterior.

A favorite of the chefs on Top Chef, sous vide is a French word for the process of cooking foods at a very low temperature, in water, under vacuum for a long period of time. It is a very unique method and isn’t easily accomplished without specialized tools. The main reason to sous-vide ingredients is that by cooking without the presence of air and for such long periods of time—sometimes upwards of two days—the ingredients remain intact and full of flavor as the food juices have nowhere to escape. There’s a lot of science going on here in the molecular structure of the food but that’s a story for another day.

And There's More


Ever notice when you are watching a televised cooking show that the chefs always have their food already cut up and ready to go? This isn’t just used by television chefs to make things go faster. The act of preparing your ingredients before starting to cook is called mise en place. This is another French phrase that means “putting in place” and refers to the preparation that takes place before cooking begins. Vegetables are chopped and washed, ingredients are measured, utensils are prepared and cooking surfaces are pre-heated to ensure the chef doesn’t have to stop and start once cooking begins.

Although not cooking terms, tartare and ceviche come up enough on cooking programs to warrant a spot in this guide. Tartare is really just a recipe for beef tartare—thinly sliced high quality beef, lightly seasoned and served raw. Ceviche refers to a seafood dish served raw that has marinated in a citrus-based juice. Usually various types of fresh vegetables are mixed in as well to complement the seafood.

Although there are hundreds or thousands of various cooking terms, these are just a few that come up often in cooking shows. Now you can share a little wisdom the next time you and your gang sit down to watch.

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