Every profession, hobby and interest has its own terms and cooking is no exception. Some cooks rarely consult a recipe, while others live and die by them. There are cooking terms, however, that are commonly seen in recipes, but may not be explained. Here then, are a few cooking terms worth explanation.
Blanch: To partially cook vegetables in boiling water. This may serve to soften the skins of vegetables for easier removal, or to prepare vegetables for canning or preserving.
Bouquet garni: A French cooking method of tying whole herbs into a piece of cheesecloth, securing it with cotton string, and using it to flavor soups, sauces and other dishes.
Braise: To cook slowly in a covered pan, with a small amount of liquid -- can be used for meat or vegetables.
Caramelize: To cook until the sugar in the food has browned, as with onions or garlic. This process brings out the sweetness in the food and adds color.
Cream: A method used in baking, in which sugar and butter are combined in small amounts, mixing thoroughly between additions. This method incorporates air into the sugar/butter mixture and makes for a tender baked product.
Deglaze: To pour water or wine into a hot pan where meat has been cooked. The process loosens the browned crumbs in the pan, and may provide a base for gravy or sauce.
Dredge: To coat meat or vegetables in a dry mixture such as flour or breadcrumbs, prior to cooking.
Flambé: To ignite warmed spirits in a pan of food, often a dessert, for effect, and to caramelize the dish.
Fold: To gently incorporate ingredients together, usually with a scraper or spoon. Often used to blend whipped cream with other ingredients.
Parboil: To partially cook vegetables in boiling water, to be finished by another cooking method.
Poach: To simmer a food in liquid at just below the boiling point -- usually eggs.
Rolling boil: When a liquid is boiling, and cannot be stirred down to below boiling point.
Roux: A mix of flour and oil, cooked together until the flour is browned. Used as a base for Cajun/Creole dishes such as gumbo, jambalaya and etouffé.
Sauté: To quickly cook vegetables or meat on the stovetop at a high heat. This method uses only a small amount of fat.
Scald: To heat milk or cream to just below the boiling point. Milk is scalded when steam rises from it.
Sear: To brown meat all over to create a crust, to be finished with another cooking method.
Soft/stiff peaks: When beating egg whites, a soft peak is reached when the beaters are pulled out of the whites and the peaks that form droop. Stiff peaks do not droop, but hold their shape.
Sweat: To slowly cook vegetables in a covered pan until they are soft, but still hold their shape. This is often done with onions or garlic.
Temper: To gently heat a food, often before adding it to a hotter substance. One example is adding a teaspoon or so of hot sauce to beaten eggs. The mixture is blended and then added to the sauce. This keeps the eggs from curdling. The method is also used in candy-making with chocolate.
Candy-making has a whole set of cooking terms not used in baking. For instance, soft/hard ball stage refers to the temperature of a candy mixture. If the cook takes a small amount of the candy and drops it in cold water, it will form either a soft or hard ball.
Soft or hard crack refers to when the cook drops a small ball of the mixture into cold water and it either forms pliable or stiff threads, rather than a ball. Spinning a thread means the sugar syrup mixture will form a thread when the cook pulls the spoon out of the candy. While these terms are helpful, a cook is always advised to use a good candy thermometer to make certain the desired temperature is reached, but not exceeded.
The Internet is always a good source of information for basic cooking terms. A quick search on most search engines will turn up definitions for cooking terms both common and obscure. A cook should always look up unfamiliar cooking terms for information, but also to find out about other cooking methods.