We all had to start at zero.
Zero knowledge, zero skills, zero palate, and zero instinct when it comes to the kitchen. Gender roles have very much relaxed since our parent and grandparent’s generations which phased out essential domestic skills like food preparation and cooking.
Most regions of the country enjoy the benefit of plentiful take out options reducing the need to cook at home. While there is nothing wrong with that, I do notice time and time again that there is an awakened desire for homemaking once milestones like engagements, weddings, and pregnancies occur.
Social media pushes the image that in order to be a good wife or mother, you must consistently turn out 5 star dishes that not only taste good, but are visually appealing. You also have to do it in 30 minutes or less. While this couldn’t be the furthest thing from the actual truth of day-to-day life, it’s also extremely defeating and overwhelming for a true beginner.
In order to simplify and provide a true starting point, I’ve separated and defined the most common cooking terms found in recipes below.
Beginner’s Cooking Method Glossary
Al dente: 99% of the time refers to pasta. Cooked JUST until it is no longer stiff and cruncy. Al dente pasta is still firm, holds its shape, and is neither soft or mushy.
Baste: prevents food from drying out by continuously adding a marinade, glaze, or pan drippings to the outside of meat while it cooks. Can be done by using a brush, spoon, or syringe.
Boil: food is cooked in the boiling liquid – usually water, broth, or stock – at a high temperature of approximately 212 degrees F.
Broil: food is placed on the oven rack and exposed to a direct heat source. Useful for rapid browning, crisping skin, or melting cheeses.
Chop: cut into large pieces of no particular size. Size is usually designated by the recipe and will be stated in the instructions.
“Cream Together”: using a whisk or whisk attachment, beat together sugar and (usually) butter for the purpose of producing a fluffy and light consistency.
Dice: cut into small chunks around 1/4″ thick. Not as tiny as mincing but still tiny.
Dredge: drags an uncooked piece of food through a dry substance such as flour or breadcrumbs. This is usually done prior to frying something in a pan.
Fold: carefully combines lighter and heavier ingredients together without actually mixing. The purpose is to keep as much air in the batter as possible. Add the lighter ingredient (such as shredded carrots to carrot cake batter) and then fold the batter over on top of the carrots until well distributed.
Grease: coat the cooking device (pan, cookie sheet, pot) with a layer of oil to prevent food from sticking.
Grill: food is cooked at high heat on a rack or grate with the heat source located underneath the food.
Marinate: soak and then store meat, fish, or vegetables in a sauce or flavor mixture for a period of time prior to cooking. Usually hours to days.
Mince: cut something as small as humanly possible. Tiny, tiny pieces.
Parboil: begin cooking a food by boiling. The food is transferred and will finish cooking by a different method.
Purée: blending food into a smooth consistency. Usually done with a hand blender, mixer, or food processor.
Roast: another term for baking but is specific only to meats and poultry. You would not use this term for fish or vegetables.
Sauteé: cook chopped or diced pieces of food in a fat over medium heat for a period of time – usually a few minutes for flavor development.
Sear: meat is cooked for a short period of time on a preheated surface over very high heat to seal the juices into the meat. Often, the meat is then transferred to the oven to finish cooking.
Skim: removing the fat layer from the surface of a liquid with a spoon.
Steam: food is cooked above (not in) boiling or simmering water. This is usually done through the use of a metal steamer basket.
While the above list is not exhaustive, it is comprehensive enough for someone beginning their personal culinary journey. Advanced methods such as poach and flambé have been intentionally left out as they are not common cooking terms in standard every day recipes.
I am not a culinary expert.
The above definitions are how I have used and interpreted each method for over a decade in my own cooking.
The most important thing to remember while learning to cook is to just have fun!