A cooking glossary for beginners

What does al dente mean?

Al dente usually refers to pasta that has been cooked until just tender with some bite. Not too soft! You can cook your pasta al dente if you boil it for 1-2 minutes less than stated on the packet or recipe, but times will differ depending on the type of pasta you are cooking.

What does blanch mean?

Blanching means cooking an ingredient very quickly in boiling water. It is commonly a process used for vegetables, when being used cold in a salad or it has a second cooking step, such as stir-frying. Normally you will boil the ingredient for 1-2 minutes. Sometimes the food is then plunged into iced water to stop the cooking process. This will help to retain the texture and colour.

What does reduce mean?

You will probably see or hear the word reduce in cookery when referring to a sauce. You boil or simmer liquid until it reduces in volume as the water evaporates. The flavour will be more concentrated and the sauce will thicken.

What does render mean?

Rendering means to melt fat from meat over a low heat. You might see this when cooking fatty cuts of meat, such as bacon.

What does sauté mean?

Sautéing is to fry something quickly over a high heat. It is quite similar to stir-frying.

What does simmer mean?

Simmer means to gently boil something. You can look for little bubbles in the water but not too many!

What is sweating food?

This term simply means to gently fry without browning. For example, you sweat finely chopped onions, carrots and celery together until they are soft and sweet to make a sofrito, which is the base of many Italian dishes.

What is cutting in when baking?

Cutting in means to mix together flour and fat, such as butter, to make a breadcrumb-like texture. This can also be referred to as rubbing in.

What does creaming butter and sugar mean in baking?

Creaming is when you beat butter and sugar together in a bowl until pale and fluffy. You will normally use a wooden spoon to cream butter and sugar, but you can also use a whisk or an electric whisk.

What does whipping to soft peaks mean?

Whipping cream means using a whisk, manual or electric, to beat cream until is it thick. Whipping cream “to soft peaks” means when you lift the whist the peak left will curl over.

Some experts suggest using a whisk for most of the whipping but then swap to a spoon and stir the cream towards the end, preventing it from becoming stiffer than you intended by accident.

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