Such a crucial part of everyday cooking is to work within your means: time constraints, space restrictions, the never-ending list of chores you’re juggling simultaneously.
But while this means that home-cooking is mostly a case of putting food on the table, there are times when a pinch of ambition has its place in the kitchen.
This task – let’s not pretend it’s a cinch – is made tenfold easier when you have in your arsenal a sound knowledge of basic cookery terms: unusual words, ones some read and shy away from getting to know. Descriptions eyes spy, slap-bang in the middle of a method, and avoid forevermore. The jargon that just will not compute, especially at 20:30 on a Wednesday evening when dinner just needs to be done.
Here, we take a peek at those terms and explain the meanings behind the mystery. A few may seem blindingly obvious, but others less so. Whatever the case may be, grasping hold of these words will make cooking more enjoyable and readily practical with the result a wealth of new, slightly loftier recipes well within your reach.
The process of removing the leafy, green top of a strawberry. Best done coaxed off with a small knife (carefully) or pushed out the other end with a straw (care-freely).
Use it in a sentence: “Hey, guys, everyone over to my place this weekend – I’m hulling strawberries to make a batch of froyo.”
What the Spice Girls sang of in their track 2 Become 1. To emulsify is to use force (whisking or blending, by hand or machine) to combine two liquids of different viscosities (jargon alert – thickness). Basically, all the word is really asking of you is that you turn two things into one.
Use it in a sentence: “Okay, no big deal, but I just whisked eggs yolks into oil until emulsified to make mayonnaise from scratch and it was everything.”
The process of plunging an ingredient into boiling water for only a short time, typically followed by a spell in iced water. There are various ingredients you can blanch – vegetables, fruits and nuts (though this is usually done for you). Various reasons to do so, too: it part-cooks an ingredient whose cooking will be finished another time; it loosens skins and shells so they slip right off (think broad beans and tomatoes). And many recipes for which it’s practically an essential step: like risottos (where asparagus, beans and the like are added to the rice towards the end), or salads where you want the crunch that comes with blanching.
Use it in a sentence: “It was a little bit fussy, but blanching the broad beans first made this salad so much sleeker.”
The word used to describe the act of submerging fruit (often berries) in something sweet (either sugar or a liquid) until the fruit has both softened and taken on the sweetness. Macerating is extremely hands-off and asks for you to (almost literally) do nothing – just plonk fruit in a bowl, cover and leave to soak up all the flavours.
Use it in a sentence: “Sorry, I can’t make it out tonight. There are some berries in my fridge crying out to be macerated for a clafoutis tart.”
Not the same as roasting, but not quite stewing either, braising is a two-part process some place in the middle: meat (a fatty – and cheaper – cut) or vegetables (red cabbage, lettuce, peas) are browned in a heffffty old pot before liquid – stock, water, something tomatoey – is added, but only enough to half-cover. If meat is being braised, it’ll go in the oven for a long, gentle, no-attention spell. If vegetables are being braised, they’ll stick to the hob, thank you very much.
Use it in your kitchen: “So I braised white beans last night and they were the most magical beans I’ve ever eaten.”
This technique is most commonly applied to cuts with a thick layer of fat – duck breasts, beef ribeye and sirloin – surrounding or sitting on top of the meat. Doing it is about as complicated as this: you heat fat until it softens then melts (by cooking the meat in a pan) – with duck breasts, start on a low heat so the fat has time to melt before the skin turns crisp, and with other cuts devote time to ensuring the fat comes into contact with the surface of the pan.
Use it in your kitchen: “I never knew it was this easy to render down duck breasts. I’m gonna save all the fat for golden roasties.”
To crimp – a verb that is surely a dance move waiting to be invented – is to keep fillings in all the right places, and to make those places look pretty neat, too. There are tarts and pasties. There are pies and empanadas, there are even dumplings. All these things call for you to crimp. To do this, either use the prongs of a fork to seal the edge of your shaped and rolled dough, or press the edge between your thumb and pinkie. The more you do it, the better you’ll get at it.
Use it in your kitchen: “I used to be afraid of crimping, but then I made a pie.”