FOOD WISE: Translating ‘highfalutin’ chef language



Ever start to make a dish and realize the recipe is written in what seems to be some strange foreign language? Oh, it looks like English, or American, as we say in my family but it just doesn’t make sense. It reads something like this.

Lobster En Papillote (What is a papillote?) Cut up the lobster (while it’s still alive or what?), remove the tomalley and coral (???), sauté in clarified butter over medium high heat until pink, add brunoise of shallot and garlic. Poncé with tomato paste. Deglaze the pan with brandy and flambé. Add fish stock and concassé of tomato. Simmer under a cartouché until tender. Spoon onto parchment and fold into papillote. Bake until puffy and browned.

Of course, this made-up recipe is an exaggeration but I think all of us have experienced reading a recipe that left us guessing. Those dang fancified chefs just speak in a whole kitchen lingo that leaves most of us feeling like they’re speaking Greek. Although most really try to do a good job of explaining more complicated terms of the professional kitchen, sometimes we do still come across terms that we aren’t familiar with. What’s a layman to do? Why, refer to Chef Reneé’s handy-dandy cooking terms chart, of course!

I was making chicken cacciatore last week for some friends we were having over for dinner. As we were hanging out in the kitchen while I was cooking, they began to ask me about some of the terms in the recipe. “What does deglaze the pan mean?” and “What is the difference between braising and baking since they are both in the oven?” Folks do this often when they find out I’m a chef and I enjoy teaching so I view it as an opportunity to help someone else be a better cook for their family.

As we were talking, I got to thinking you might also find it useful to have a list of some of the most common cooking terms  in case of your own encounter with recipes written in highfalutin chef language. This is a good list to keep with your cookbooks for future reference. This list is by no means exhaustive but it is a good place to start. Look for more references in next week’s column. I hope you find these helpful.

1. Au Gratin – having a browned or crusted top, often made by topping with bread crumbs, cheese, and/or a rich sauce and toasting under a broiler

2. Bake – to cook foods by surrounding them with dry, hot air. Similar to roasting but generally refers to items such as breads, pastries, vegetables and fish. Roasted items are usually also raised on a rack so the hot air completely surrounds the food.

3. Blanch – to cook an item partially and briefly in boiling water or in hot fat. When hot water is used, the food is then immediately plunged into ice water to stop the cooking process. This is a technique used to prepare foods for freezing, loosen vegetable peels or shorten cooking time at service.

4. Boil – to cook in water or other liquid that is bubbling rapidly and has reached a temperature of 212 degrees at sea level.

5. Bombe – a molded ice cream or sherbet dessert.

6. Bouquet Garni – a combination of fresh herbs like parsley and thyme, tied together and used for flavoring.

7. Braise – to cook in a small amount of liquid, usually about half way up the volume of food at a low temperature. The food is usually browned first and is braised for more than two hours. This is a good technique for making cheaper, tougher cuts of meat tender.

8. Brine – a curing method in which the food is submerged in a solution of water and curing ingredients, usually salt. This is also a good tenderizing method.

9. Broil – to cook with radiant heat from above.

10. Brunoise – a very small dice, 1/8” by 1/8”.

11. Butterflied – cut partially through and spread open to increase the surface area and make the item thinner.

12. Capon – a castrated male chicken

13. Caramelization – the browning of sugars contained in a food caused by applying heat.

14. Carpaccio – very thin slices of meat, fish or vegetable, usually served raw.

15. Carry-over cooking – the continuation of cooking after an item is removed from the heat source as a result of residual heat.

16. Cartouche – a lid for cooking made of a piece of parchment paper.

17. Chiffonade – cut into fine shreds, usually done with leafy vegetables or herbs.

18.  Clarified butter – purified butterfat, with water and solids removed. This is done by slowly cooking the butter until the water evaporates and the solids float to the top and are scooped off or sink to the bottom and are strained off, leaving a clear yellow product with a higher burning point than regular butter.

19. Compound butter – butter mixed with other flavorings such as herbs.

20. Concasse – the process of blanching a vegetable, usually tomato in boiling water to loosen the skin, after which it is plunged into ice water to stop the cooking. Then the skin is peeled from the vegetable and the seeds are removed.

21. Coral – the eggs of a shellfish

22. Coulis – a puree of fruit or vegetable used as a sauce.

23. Creme Fraiche – a thick, slightly aged heavy cream, much like sour cream.

24. Deglaze – to swirl a liquid in a pan where food has been cooked to dissolve cooked food particles or food remaining on the bottom of the pan.


Chicken Cacciatore

serves 6

1 1/2 pounds plum tomatoes, coarsely chopped

8 ounces sliced mushrooms

1 sweet yellow onion, thinly sliced

2 green bell pepper, cut into thin strips

3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped or pressed

5 tablespoons olive oil, divided

2 tablespoons Sherry wine vinegar

4 1/2- to 4 3/4-pound chicken, cut into pieces, excess fat trimmed

1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary, divided

1/2 cup dry red wine

14 1/2-ounce can diced tomatoes in juice

1 cup low-salt chicken broth

1/3 cup sliced green olives

1/3 cup thinly sliced basil, divided

2 tablespoons drained capers, divided

12 ounces penne pasta, freshly cooked

1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Combine plum tomatoes, mushrooms, onion, bell pepper and garlic in large bowl. Add 3 tablespoons oil and vinegar; toss to blend. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Spread vegetable mixture in single layer on large rimmed baking sheet. Roast until onion slices are golden brown and all vegetables are tender, stirring frequently, about 50 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F.

2. Sprinkle chicken with salt, pepper, and 1 tablespoon rosemary. Heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in heavy large deep ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken and sauté until golden brown, about 6 minutes per side. Transfer chicken to bowl. Add wine to skillet and boil until wine is reduced by half, scraping up browned bits, about 1 minute. Stir in canned tomatoes with juice, then broth and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer 10 minutes to blend flavors.

3. Return chicken to sauce in skillet. Place skillet in oven and roast uncovered until chicken is cooked through and juices run clear when pierced with knife, about 25 minutes. Remove skillet from oven. Stir in roasted vegetables, olives, remaining 1/2 tablespoon rosemary, half of basil, and half of capers. Simmer over medium heat until vegetables are heated through. Season with salt and pepper.

4. Place pasta in large shallow bowl. Top with chicken and sauce. Sprinkle remaining basil and capers on top.