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Glossary – Mum, what does that mean?

We thought you might find it useful to have a list of common cooking terms with a brief description of them. 

A lot of the terms are French and have simply been added to the English language over time. 

This list has been compiled from New Zealand, English and American recipe books produced in the mid 20th century, including “Better Cookery” by Aileen King and “New Basic Cookbook” by M. Heseltine and U. Dow.  These books were my cooking bibles as a new mother in the 1960s. 

Baking terms 

To caramelize sugar

Spread the sugar in a thin layer over the surface of a clean shallow pan. Place over a very low heat and let stand with out stirring until a light brown liquid has formed.

 To chop sticky food

To chop dates, raisins, marshmallows, use wet scissors. 

To cream (usually butter and sugar)   

The butter needs to be soft, but not melted. Mix with an electric beater until it is smooth and much lighter in colour than at the start of the process.  If you heat the butter to hasten the softening process, and you melt it, then put the bowl into a bigger bowl or sink of cold water (with ice if you can) so that the butter hardens up a bit. 

To glaze 

 To brush over the tops of pies, buns etc to improve the finished appearance.  An egg and water mix is put on before cooking, a sugar and water mix is brushed on after cooking. 


A mixture of flour, liquid (usually milk or water) and often sugar and an egg. The mixture is beaten well and air is incorporated in the mixture during this process.  The air expands during cooking to give a light cake.


A stiffish mixture of flour, water and other ingredients used in baking and often stiff enough to knead, roll out or cut into shapes.

Cooking terms 

A ‘pinch’   

A pinch of salt is the amount of salt left between you first finger and thumb after you have squeezed them together in the jar of salt. 

Au gratin 

 This is a French term that means food coated with sauce( usually white sauce), sprinkled with breadcrumbs, cheese , dotted with butter or margarine( or brushed with oil) and browned in the oven or under the grill. 

Bouquet garni 

 A small bunch of herbs tied together and added to soups and meat dishes to add flavouring.  The bunch is removed at the end of cooking and the herbs as not eaten. 


Fruit served in syrup, or a brown stew of small game birds 


A clear soup made from meat or vegetable stock and garnished with herbs or small pieces of vegetables.


Minced meat or fish mixed with other ingredients such as flour to bind the mixture and herbs for flavouring, rolled into a cylinder shape, coated with egg and breadcrumbs and fried. 


 Small diced or fancy pieces of fried bread used as a garnish ( eg of Caesar Salad) 


Usually a vegetable mixture with egg and flour to bind the mixture together.  Dropped in spoonfuls in a lightly greased shallow pan and cooked till brown on both sides 


 A dish of fish and rice flavoured with onions and herbs or spices.  Often the recipe includes slices of hard boiled egg on top! 


A mixture of liquids, spices or herbs used for soaking food, such as meat so that the flavour permeates the food being marinated 


A  puree is a smooth pulp that you get when food is whizzed in a food processor, liquidizer or pushed through a sieve. 


Minced meat or fish mixed with other ingredients such as flour to bind the mixture and herbs for flavouring, rolled into a ball shape and fried in a deep or shallow pan.  Also called meat balls or fish balls. 

Roux sauce 

The Roux method takes equal quantities of fat (Butter, margarine or oil) and flour cooked together to thicken a sauce. The roux sauce is the basis of white sauce, cheese sauce and pan gravy. 

To baste 

Pour hot liquid over the surface of foods to keep them moist during cooking 

To blanch 

To cover food with cold water, bring to the boil then remove the food and plunge immediately in cold water. Very useful to remove skins from tomatoes, almonds and some fruit, or if you want to freeze vegetables 

To braise 

A combination of roasting and stewing. The food is cooked in the oven in an ovenware dish with a tight fitting lid so no juices are lost. 

To parboil 

To partly cook by boiling then complete the process using some other cooking method such as frying, or baking. 

To poach

Poaching is the term used when you cook food in liquid in an open pan to simmering point (that is almost boiling, very small bubbles). Commonly poached foods are eggs or fruit that you want to remain in shape, such as pears, rhubarb.  

To saute

 To toss in butter or oil in a frying pan over high heat. This is done quickly so the food does not burn. 

To simmer 

 To cook in liquid that is boiling very slowly so that the bubbles burst at the sides of the pan only. 


 The thin outer layer of skin on citrus fruit. This does not include the pity white layer between the skin and the flesh.

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