Common Cooking Terms And What They Mean

Most of us have heard of boiling and grating, as well as frying, but the cooking world is vast and complex, and there endless terms that tend to get thrown around when we’re watching our favourite chefs on television or YouTube. A great many of these terms have French and Italian origins that have been adapted for more Western use, so it’s easy to forgive someone that hasn’t heard of many of the terms that are used.

Here we will break down some of the most common cooking terms, including exactly what they mean.

Sauté

This usually involves heating a bit of oil up in a frying pan or skillet and cooking food quickly and over a high heat. In French, it means “to jump” which is incredibly apt in this regard, where the food is moved around constantly as its browned and cooked thoroughly. It’s a popular way of preparing diced vegetables as well as certain types of meat.

Sear

Searing is the act of browning a vegetable or meat to create a seal that keeps all the flavour in. Cuts of steak are usually seared in some way, where they are kept in the pan for up to a minute to create the seal of flavour. Unlike a sauté, searing does not involve moving the food around much.

Char

Charring food is similar to searing it, except that it’s taken a bit further to the point where it’s almost burnt. This may seem strange, but it’s a great way of extracting deep flavour from ingredients like bell peppers, where a chef will often roast them over an open flame.

Braising

Braising is a unique style of cooking food that mixes boiling and dry cooking techniques, such as the ones mentioned above. When cooking meat, for example, the meat will be browned for a while before being added to liquid and left to braise for an extended period of time. The initial browning brings out much of the flavour, and it’s a common way of ensuring a moist and tender piece of meat at the end. Braising can take up to a few hours at a time to complete, but the results are always worth it.

Blanching

Blanching is used for a variety of purposes, such as preparing a vegetable for long-term storage, or for setting the colour of the vegetable for a dish. Blanching is the process of first adding a vegetable, such as a dark, leafy green, to a pot of boiling water for around 30 seconds to a minute before taking it out and placing it immediately into a contained of ice water, and it’s actually a great way to have a fun time. This brings out the colour of the vegetable, making it much more vibrant. For something like kale, blanching before freezing ensures that it won’t developed ice crystals and fall apart when thawed.

Shallow Frying

We all know about deep frying, but shallow frying involves a different technique, and while it’s similar to a sauté, it’s not quite the same. Here, an ingredient will be placed about halfway in oil of some kind and allowed to fry before being turned over. This tends to be different to deep frying as the food is never fully submerged in the oil at any point.