Today we have some of the most common confusing cooking terms and their meanings so you can approach complex recipes with confidence.
If you’re one of the many people who has taken on more ambitious culinary endeavors during the pandemic, you are probably familiar with the feeling of panic when you read a recipe and don’t recognize a term or ingredient. These recipes, often created by chefs, are not always written in terms understood by the general public, but fear not! Today we have some of the most common confusing cooking terms and their meanings so you can approach complex recipes with confidence.
- Folding. This common baking term refers to incorporating ingredients without crushing or deflating them. To fold, use a rubber spatula and gently scoop under the contents of your bowl and pull them over the top to gently mix. Turn the bowl 90 degrees and repeat until you have a consistent, fluffy mixture. This term is common when adding egg whites to recipes like souffle or cakes.
- Scant. This term simply refers to just short of what the recipe is calling for. For example, if it asks for a “scant tablespoon,” it means less than a tablespoon, but more than three-quarters of a tablespoon.
- Shimmering oil. This can be tough because oil is always a bit shimmery. When you heat oil in a skillet, watch it and as it warms up. It will spread out, ripple, and become more reflective. This means it’s hot enough that your ingredients won’t stick to the pan, but not so hot that it begins to smoke.
- Deglaze. When you sear or saute something in a skillet, it will likely leave behind bits of cooked material stuck to the bottom. Deglazing simply means adding a bit of water, wine, or stock to the pan and using a spatula to loosen up these bits.
- Gentle simmer. This one is pretty straightforward. A gentle simmer is generally around 185–205°F. This means you’re looking for lots of trails of small bubbles rising, but you haven’t yet reached a full boil that disrupts the surface of the liquid.
- Emulsify. This term refers to mixing together ingredients that don’t naturally combine, like oil and vinegar. This usually means mixing or shaking vigorously to fully combine the ingredients before moving on to the next step. You’ll usually see this term when making salad dressings or adding eggs to the batter.
- Sweating. Like in humans, sweating in cooking refers to letting things get moist and aromatic. This usually refers to cooking vegetables and letting them slowly cook on low heat, rather than saute on high.
- Egg wash. This term describes bushing beaten eggs over the top of baked goods before cooking to give them a shiny finish or adhere toppings. It is also used as glue to help pieces of dough stick together. Some egg washes simply use a beaten whole egg, others call for just egg whites or an added splash of water.
- “Ingredient, chopped” vs. “chopped ingredient.” This one can be confusing. “Ingredient, chopped” means you measure the ingredient before chopping, while “chopped ingredient” indicates you should measure after chopping.
- Chopped, diced, and minced. These just refer to how finely you cut up an ingredient. Chopped is rougher and can mean pieces up to one or two inches, while diced indicates a smaller, more uniform slice with pieces around ¼ inch. Minced is close to crushed and indicates pieces around ⅛ inch.