GLOSSARY OF COOKING TERMS
A bouquet garni (pronounced boo-KAY-gahr-NEE) is a collection of herbs and seasonings that are placed in a cheesecloth “bundle” (a double-thickness of cheesecloth tied up into a bag with string) or enclosed in a large tea-infuser, or simply tied together – which are used to flavor a slow cooked liquid dish, such as a soup or stew. The bouquet garni is usually composed of celery (especially if needed to enclose a tied-together bundle), parsley, thyme, a bay leaf, and a few peppercorns, although it may include other aromatic seasonings appropriate to the dish as well, or instead of, those listed above.
Because these items have a coarse texture and are not meant to be eaten with the dish when served, the bouquet garni is designed to be easily removed before serving (but after its flavors have infused the dish). That’s why it is “bundled” or enclosed in cheesecloth.
CONCASSE (pronounced CON- ca- say)
A concasse is simply a fancy French term describing tomatoes that have been peeled, seeded and chopped into about a 1/4-inch dice. It comes from the French verb concasser which means to pound or coarsely chop – and the term may refer to parsley or another vegetable, but is most often used to refer to tomatoes.
The small diced tomato pieces are very pretty, and often used as a garnish. [See the recipe for GRILLED LAMB CHOPS (OR *) WITH APPLE SMOKED BACON, ASPARAGUS, BLACK OLIVES, CAPERS AND CLUSTER TOMATOES for a description of the technique for making tomato concasse.]
NOTE: When the concasse is cooked with shallots or garlic and herbs, it becomes what is called a tomato “fondue” – used as a garnish over eggs or grilled foods, or as a quick sauce ingredient.
COULIS (pronounced koo LEE)
A thick puree or sauce, often tomato – the word originally referred to the juices from cooked meat. A coulis can also be the name for a thick, pureed shellfish soup.
DEGLAZE / DEGLAZING
Among the simplest ways to finish a sautéed piece of poultry, fish or meat, is to use the de-fatted pan drippings (which are intensely infused with the flavor-essence of the food) to make what is called a “deglazing” sauce. The technique is simply to add some flavorings, often shallots and/or garlic to the drippings, cook for a minute or two, then “deglaze” the pan, by adding wine (usually) but any liquid will do: vinegar, broth, juice, even water. The added liquid cleans the pan (brown bits and stuck-on drippings are deliciously incorporated into the sauce), and the sauce may then be mellowed with the addition of a mild liquid such as broth or cream. A few minutes simmer to “marry” the flavors, the addition of a fresh herb or a swirl of emulsifying butter, if desired, and the sauce is ready to be poured over the sautéed item and presented for service.
To “deglaze” then, is the basic process of simply adding a small amount of liquid to the de-fatted pan drippings, and scraping all the brown flavor particles off the sides and bottom of the pan. [See "Amazing Deglazing" listed under Master Recipes on the Recipe Archives page for deglazing sauce possibilities.]
A Dutch oven is simply a heavy, covered casserole or pot. It has a well-fitted lid, so that steam cannot readily escape, and it is made of a heavy material such as cast iron or enamel-coated iron, to hold in heat. Dutch ovens are used for braising – that is, cooking slowly in the presence of moisture (examples would be stews and pot roasts).
It is said that Dutch Ovens are so called because of their popularity with the Pennsyvania Dutch settlers in the 1700s.
EMULSION / EMULSIFIED SAUCE
An emulsion is an integrated mixture of two liquids that wouldn’t ordinarily mix together – such as oil and water. An Emulsified Sauce is a sauce that is made from these two types of otherwise un-blendable ingredients; so an emulsified sauce, by definition, is the result of the successful suspension of one such element into the other, to make a smooth product.
The most recognizable examples of emulsified sauces are Mayonnaise, Hollandaise Sauce, Bearnaise Sauce, and the butter sauces called “Beurre Blanc” and “Beurre Rouge” – but even a vinegar and oil salad dressing, which has been blended and stabilized so it doesn’t separate, is an “emulsion” too.
Shirley Corriher, oft-quoted food scientist, says that three components are needed to make an emulsion: a liquid (such as oil) that can be broken up into millions of tiny droplets, a second liquid (water-type) that will stay around between the tiny droplets to keep them separated, and an emulsifier that keeps the oil-type liquid and the water-type liquid from joining back together into big drops (which would mean a separated or “broken” emulsion). Emulsifiers (this third component) might be egg yolks, egg whites, gelatin, skim milk, or fine powders – such as dry mustard – or even certain thick mixtures such as prepared mustard.
The different methods by which these elements can be combined to make emulsified sauces is illustrated by example in our recipes for Mayonnaise, Hollandaise Sauce and Sauce Bearnaise in the recipe files on this site. Carefully following the directions in each recipe will result in a successful emulsion, but discussion on-air (on the show) adds to understanding just how this “combining” trick is accomplished – and what to do if the sauce does not come together, or “breaks” (separates).
FOLDING IN / TO FOLD IN
When a recipe calls for “folding in” an ingredient – instead of stirring, mixing, or otherwise incorporating that ingredient – it means that the ingredient being added must be blended in in such a way that the air in the new ingredient will not be forced out by the way it is added.
The most common example of this technique would be when adding beaten egg whites or whipped cream to a heavier mixture, such as a batter or custard. Often, the recipe will call for stirring a portion (say, 1/4) of the beaten ingredient into the base mixture first. This is in order to “lighten” the base mixture, so its weight will be less likely to crush the airy beaten mixture.
Then, the remaining beaten egg whites or cream (or whatever is to be “folded in”) is placed on top of the base mixture. The folding method is this: using a rubber spatula, cut down through the middle of the mixture, pull the spatula across the bottom of the bowl, then up the side of the bowl, and across the top of the mixture to the center. The spatula will pull some of the base mixture along, and over the top of the mixture to the center. Turn the bowl slightly (rotating it) with each completed stroke: down the center, across the bottom, up the side of the bowl and across the top, then rotate the bowl for the next stroke. When the bowl has been rotated 360 degrees, the two mixtures should be combined, and the air bubbles in the combined mixture will be much less deflated than if the two mixtures had been stirred or whisked together.
This technique is important to master if making a mousse, souffle or “chiffon”-type cake, for example. The difference is between a puffy, airy result and a heavy “pancake” result – or a souffle that doesn’t rise.
A pot or pan is said to be “non-reactive” when it is made of a material that will not interact with any foods cooked in that vessel. Some materials, such as untreated (shiny) aluminum and cast iron, will react to acidic foods such as tomatoes, wine or citrus juices. The pot will discolor, and the food may acquire a metallic taste. Even stocks can react to certain metals.
The best cookware for cooking these potentially “reactive” foods is made of non-reactive materials such as stainless steel, glass or ceramic (heat proof, of course) or cookware that is coated with non-reactive materials such as enamel, tin or stainless steel (example: an aluminum pan, coated with stainless steel).
REDUCE / REDUCING / REDUCTION
To “reduce” a liquid (usually a stock or wine or sauce – sometimes just cream) means to boil it until some of the water in the liquid evaporates, which intensifies its flavor. Because the evaporation also reduces the volume of the liquid, there is less liquid at the end, as well – and some thickening occurs. This thickening is not the same as if a thickener such as flour had been added, but a more syrup-y consistency may result from reducing.
Often a recipe instruction will say to “reduce by half” (or some other percentage). This may be measured by eye, of course, or use this technique:
Place a wooden spoon handle into the liquid to be reduced (insert it straight down into the liquid, until the tip of the handle touches the bottom of the pan) before the reducing begins. Note the “watermark” left on the handle by the liquid. Then boil to reduce the liquid. When the liquid comes only halfway up to that mark, when the handle is reinserted in the same way, the liquid has been “reduced by half.”
A “reduction” is simply the result of this boiling process. A menu might state, for example that something is served, “with a port wine reduction.” This means that port wine was boiled down to a syrup-y consistency (possibly as part of “deglazing” (see above) to make a sauce.
One example of a good reason to reduce a liquid, is to correct a stock that has been well-prepared but seems “watery” or too bland. If the stock is “reduced” -that is, if it is boiled to evaporate some of the water in it – the flavors will intensify. The more it is reduced, the more intense the flavors will become. [Sometimes it is desirable to add a strong flavor to a recipe, but with a minimum of liquid; reducing the liquid of the desired flavor (such as beef stock or wine, for example) serves the purpose by allowing a small addition of the reduced liquid to carry an intense amount of flavor into the recipe.]
One thing to remember: salt does not reduce! So wait to add salt until after reducing any liquid, such as a stock or sauce, or the result may be too salty. The bonus is that salt will intensify all the flavors even more, when you do add it.
The “zest” is the colored part of citrus peel. It may be lemon, orange, tangerine or grapefruit peel, but the important consideration is that the COLORED part of the peel is the part used – the white “pith” under the colored skin is bitter – and the colored part contains the essential oils of the fruit, with their intensity of flavor. Citrus zest can be removed by an ordinary hand-held grater – using the side with the smallest holes for the smallest pieces of zest. This, however, can be a tedious procedure. A better plan is to buy a “zester,” which is a hand-held kitchen tool with a small, stainless steel wedge above the handle, along the top of which is a row of tiny holes. When the zester is scraped down the skin of a citrus fruit, very small strips of the peel (colored part only) will strip off through the holes. It took me forever to discover that the sharpness of the zester had EVERYTHING to do with the efficiency of the chore. Buy a sharp zester (see below); if it is dull or difficult to use, return it and find another brand. The proper tool will make a world of difference.
There is a new tool on the market, a “Micro-Plane Zester” that looks like it might have started life on a workbench out in the garage. That’s because some enterprising cook looked at one of her husband’s woodworking tools and had a “Eureka!” moment. If you are planning to make lemon curd, you need to buy this tool. It is by far the best zester I have ever used, and comes in sizes suitable for all grating chores from Parmesan cheese to nutmeg.
THE MEXICAN KITCHEN: Some Terms and Techniques
CHILES – DRIED RED
There is a whole array of dried chiles used in the Mexican kitchen, each one with its own distinctive flavor. Some, like chipotle chiles are smoked, as well as dried (chipotles are smoked and dried jalapenos). Dried chiles are prepared for use in recipes by softening them (best accomplished by soaking in hot, not boiling, water for no more than 30 minutes; discard soaking water) and also, sometimes by toasting them gently before soaking. When dried red chiles are toasted, they develop a lot more flavor – but great care must be taken not to toast them too much, or they will taste acrid. (Better to skip the toasting step entirely, then to over-brown them.) Dried chiles may be toasted by turning them on a dry skillet or griddle over medium heat until fragrant and just slightly browned on the areas that touch the pan. They may also be cut into strips and heated that way to toast them. They may also be fried in oil – which adds an even richer toasty flavor. Stems and seeds are removed either before or after toasting, but always before using the chiles in recipes.
CHILES – FRESH GREEN
Fresh green chiles are found in many varieties in Southern Californian markets. A good rule of thumb is the smaller they are, the hotter they are; each variety has its own distinctive flavor. They are often best tasting when roasted before using. To accomplish this, you have a choice of techniques:
Remove the stems and “cores” of the chiles. Lay the chiles on a cookie sheet and roast them about 4 inches beneath a very hot broiler, turning frequently until skin is charred and blistered all over; OR hold each chile on a fork (or place directly on a gas stove grate) over a medium flame, turning almost constantly until charred and blistered; OR, roast the chiles over direct heat on a barbeque grill, turning often until charred and blistered all over. Recent listener suggestions for roasting: place a metal roasting rack or other heat-proof rack or grate directly over the stovetop heating element (over either one or two burners) to blacken several chiles at once; use a deep-fry basket to contain small chiles – as with above method, turn or toss chiles frequently to blacken evenly; use propane torch (like the one for melting the sugar on creme brulee) to blacken skins of chiles. [Note: they won't really be perfectly evenly charred or blistered, but most of their surface should be blackened that way.]
When the chiles are roasted (using any method) immediately place them in a paper bag, or in a covered dish and allow them to stand for about 5 minutes. The skin should slip off, and the seeds can be brushed away easily. The chiles can be briefly rinsed, if desired, to remove traces of blacked skin or seeds – then patted dry, and used as desired.
Refer to the recipe you are making to determine if roasting is needed. Green chiles may also be softened by boiling (see the recipe for Enchiladas Verdes on this site) or may be sautéed (as in our recipe for Arroz Con Pollo) or may be used raw in salsas, guacamole, or as garnish.
*NOTE: Use gloves when cutting and seeding fresh or dried chiles; if you don’t, and you touch your fingers to your face, it will burn for hours! Also, be careful about breathing the fumes from toasting dried chiles, or sautéeing chiles – the fumes can irritate.
Enchiladas are softened cornmeal tortillas, most commonly in this country wrapped around a filling of meat, cheese, poultry, fish or the like, although in Mexico, enchiladas are sometimes dipped in sauce and cooked, then folded without filling, and the filling is spooned on top. The usual way the tortilla “softening” step is accomplished, is to dip the tortilla into the enchilada sauce, then fry it in a bit of fat, turning to cook both sides, until it is soft (about 2 or 3 minutes). Then, the filling is spooned down the center, the enchilada is placed in a baking dish, seam-side down, and the remaining sauce is poured over when the dish has been filled with enchiladas. Then, the whole thing is baked (sometimes topped with cheese) until heated throughout. A lower-fat approach is to steam the tortillas to soften them, then roll them around the filling, pour over the sauce and bake as usual.
Masa is a dough made from field corn (not the kind of sweet corn that we enjoy as “corn on the cob”). Field corn is dry and starchy, and is treated by soaking it in pickling lime (calcium hydroxide) to dissolve the outer hull of the corn kernels. Then the damp kernels are rinsed and stone ground into a paste to make masa “dough” for tortillas or tamales. Dehydrated masa is a powdered meal that is sold in markets as “masa harina” and can be mixed with water to make the same kind of dough for tortillas or tamales.
A taco is sometimes a crisp, deep-fried tortilla, shaped by folding it, to contain cheese, lettuce, meats, tomatoes, and so on, or a taco (deep fried and crisp ) may be served flat and topped with various ingredients (a “tostada”) or shaped into a bowl-like structure to contain a “taco salad”. The word “taco” may also refer to a “soft taco” which is a soft (not fried) tortilla wrapped around a filling.
Often called “Mexican Green Tomatoes” they do look like small green tomatoes, but (while they are in the same nightshade family as red tomatoes) they do not taste like unripened red tomatoes. Tomatillos (pronounced: tome-ah-TEE-oh) have a papery, parchment-like lantern-shaped husk that is easy to remove, and a sharp, citrusy flavor. Tomatillos are sold canned (those have been gently cooked) but are also very easily found fresh in our markets. They are firm, and will keep for several weeks (loose, not in a bag) in the refrigerator vegetable drawer. The smaller tomatillos seem to have a sweeter flavor, and the sign that the one you select is fully mature is that it has grown to fill the papery husk. Under the husk, tomatillos are slightly sticky; rinse them off, and use raw, roasted (on a baking sheet; they stick to grills) or boiled (2-4 minutes). Their skin is very thin, and is not removed. An 11 ounce can will yield the same amount of cooked tomatillo as about 1 pound of fresh fruit.
Tortillas are the bread of Mexico and other Latin countries. They may be eaten alone (like bread) or used to make a variety of dishes from enchiladas to tacos to chilaquiles to quesadillas. They are not leavened, and are round and flat, like thin pancakes. Tortillas may be made of corn flour (masa) or wheat flour, and they are baked on a griddle. [In Spain, the name "tortilla" refers to an egg dish, something like a flat omelette. It is not at all similar to the Mexican version.]