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Culinary Dictionary

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a la Creole: a dish that is prepared in typical Creole fashion with tomatoes, green peppers, and onions as focal points

a la mode: a French term meaning "in the manner of." Desserts a la mode are traditionally served with ice cream. Meats a la mode are braised with vegetables and smothered in gravy.

a la Nage: a French term usually used to refer to seafood in a flavorful broth.

a la Provencale: a dish inspired by Provence, France. Tomatoes, onions, garlic, and olives are all classic ingredients.

aceite de oliva: olive oil, (Spanish)

aceituna: olive, (Spanish)

agnello: lamb, (Italian)

agnolotti: small, half-moon shaped ravioli, Italian

agujas: The Spanish term used for ribs of beef in northern Mexico.

ahi (AH-hee): A Hawaiian term for yellow fin tuna. The word ahi is used to distinguish yellow fin from blue fin tuna.

aiguillette: Long, thin slices of poultry or fish.

ail: The French term for garlic.

aioli (a-YO-lee): A French term meaning garlic-flavored mayonnaise containing garlic, egg yolks, oil, and various seasoning. It is usually completed with lemon juice and water immediately prior to service. The word aioli originates from the French word for garlic, "ail." It is believed to have originated in Provence, France.

ajo: The Spanish term for garlic.

ajonjol: The Spanish term for sesame.

alcaparras: The Spanish term for capers.

al dente (ahl-DEN-tay): An Italian phrase meaning "to the tooth." It is used to describe the perfect amount of doneness when refering to pasta, risotto, and even vegetables.

al forno (ahl-FOR-no): An Italian term for a dish that is oven baked.

aliolio: Spanish aioli.

allioli: Italian aioli.

allspice: A spice with the aromas of cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and nutmeg. Dried allspice berries resemble large brown peppercorns. It is grown exclusively in the Western Hemisphere. The evergreen tree which produces allspice is indigenous to the rainforests of Central and South America where it was first used by the Mayans as an embalming agent and to flavor chocolate. Today it is used in jerked meats, pates, smoked meats, pumpkin pie, and Indian curries to name a few.

amuse-bouce (ah-mewz-BOOSH): A French term meaning mouth amusement. It is a bite sized dish served before a meal to whet the palate and offer a preview of the cooking philosophy of the meal to follow. Can also be refered to as an amuse-gueule, amusee, petite amuse, and loosely as an hors-d'oeuvre.

andouille (ahn-do-ee): Traditionally in the Brittany and Normandy areas of France andouille is a sausage like dish made of the large intestines and stomach of a pig seasoned and smoked. In the Cajun world andouille is a smoked sausage made of pork butt, shank, and pork fat. It is then seasoned with salt, black pepper, and garlic stuffed into beef middle casing and smoked over pecan wood and sugar cane. It is believed that over half of the Acadian exiles who came to Louisiana in 1755 were originally from French coastal regions such as Brittany and Normandy. Germany also uses the term andouille to traditionally refer to sausage made with remaining intestines and casing that are then pulled through a larger casing to be seasoned and smoked and then served sliced into hors d'oeuvre sized pieces.

anejo: The Spanish term for aged. It can be used to refer to the age of liquor and cheese.

antipasto: An Italian term meaning "before the meal." Traditionally antipasto refers to salami and cheese based dishes, but in the United States it has developed into a term that can refer to most appetizer sized dishes.

aperitif (ah-pear-a-TEEF): A French term for an alcoholic beverage served as an appetizer.

arborio rice (ar-BOH-ree-oh): An Italian short grain rice very similar to risotto.

Architectural Cuisine: Also known as Vertical Cuisine it is the practice of adding visual height to a dish.

arepas (ah-ray-pay-rahs): A cornmeal patty made of precooked corn flour. It is popular throughout South America, but is actually considered the national dish of Venezuela. Arepas originated among the Indian cultures of Columbia and Venezuela as a type of food for the poor. Today arepas are considered comfort food that is easy to eat on the go and can be stuffed with your favorite ingredients.

aromatic: A vegetable, herb, or spice used to enhance the flavor of food and drinks. Although it is usually used to refer to onions, carrot, and celery it can be used to mean any flavor enhancer.

arracheras: The Mexican term for fajitas or skirt steak.

arroz (AH-roz): Spanish long-grain white rice that is very popular in Mexican cooking.

arroz con pollo: A Spanish chicken and rice dish that is a paella.

asiago (ah-see-ah-go): A semi-firm Italian cheese. It is similar to parmesan cheese and made with cow's milk. Asiago has a rich and nutty flavor. It can be used as a table cheese at a young age, but can be grated when aged for more then six months. It was originally made from ewe's milk in the village of Asiago in Vicenza, Italia.

aspic (ASS-pick): Originating from the Greek word aspis meaning shield. It is a clear jelly made from meat stock, fruits, or vegetable juice thickened with gelatin. Traditionally Southern preparation is a tomato aspic.

atun: The Spanish term for tuna.

au: A French term used in conjunction with another word to describe the preparation of a dish.

au beurre (burr): with butter.

au bleu: a process where freshly killed fish is plunged into boiling water and poached until the skin of the fish has a bluish tint.

au fromage: with cheese.

au gratin: with bread crumbs or grated cheese broiled or baked until browned.

au jus: with juice. Usually describes meat's natural cooking juices.

au lait: with milk.

au naturel: simple, natural food. Can refer to food that is simply prepared and even uncooked.

au poivre: with pepper.

bagna cauda (BAHN-yah-KOW-dah): An Italian term meaning "hot bath." It is a dish similar to a Swiss fondue containing anchovy fillets, olive oil, garlic, cream, butter, and vinegar. It always includes a member of the cabbage family and then can be topped with ingredients such as steak, shrimp, and cheese.

balsamic vinegar: The first historical reference to balsamic dates back to 1046 when Emperor Enrico III of Franconia received a bottle as a gift. Balsamic vinegar is an aged reduction of white sweet grapes, Trebbiano for red and Spergola for white sauvignon) that are boiled to syrup. Balsamic must be produced in the regions of Modena and Reggio, Italy. They are cooked in copper cauldrons over open flame and then aged in wooden barrels. The only approved woods are oak, cherry, chestnut, mulberry, cacia, juniper, and ash.

Bananas Foster: Originally createdin 1951 by Chef Paul Blange at Brennan's in New Orleans to promote bannanas which were prevalent because of the port. It was named for Richard Foster a New Orleanian who was a frequent customer of Brennan's. The dish consists of bananas and rum, flamed and served over vanilla ice cream.

bavarois: A light mousse, usually made with chocolate, praline or fruit.

Bearnaise Sauce (bair-nez): A variation of hollandaise sauce. White wine vinegar, diced shallots, tarragon, and peppercorns are cooked together and then added to a classic hollandaise sauce. It is usually served on beef, but can be used on shellfish as well. Originally created by Chef Jules Colette at Le Pavillon Henri IV in the nineteenth century in Paris. It was named after Henri's birthplace Bearn, France which is in southwestern France in the Pyreness mountain range.

beau monde: A seasoning salt containing ground dried onion and celery seed.

Bechamel Sauce (besh-ah-mel): One of France's "meres" which are the four basic sauces used to derive all other sauces. It is a smooth, white sauce made from a roux of flour, boiled milk, and butter. It is primarily served with white meats, eggs, and vegetables.

beignets (ben-YAYS): Puffy rectangles of deep-fried dough dusted with powdered sugar. The word originated from the Celtic word "bigne" which means "to raise." Beignet is also the French word for "fritter." It is a classic New Orleans dish that has been made famous by Cafe du Monde located in the French Quarter across from Jackson Square.

Betty or Brown Betty: A baked dessert dating back to Colonial America. It is a baked pudding made with layers of spiced sweetened fruit and buttered breadcrumbs. It is usually made with apples.

beurre (burr): butter, (French)

beurre manie (burr mahn YAY): kneaded mixture of butter and flour, (French)

beurre noir: Browned sweet butter with wine vinegar, capers, and parsley, (French)

biscotti: "twice cooked," (Italian) It is the generic term for cookies in Italian. The dough is formed into logs and baked. They are then sliced and baked again to give them their dry, crunchy characteristic.

biscuit (Bis kit): Non-yeast bread made of flour, milk, and shortening. In England a biscuit is the equivalent of an American cookie and the U.S. biscuit is a scone.

bisque (bisk): Shellfish soup, (French) A thick, rich, creamy sauce in the form of puree.

blackened: A cooking technique where meat and fish seasoned with a Cajun spice and then cooked in a cast-iron skillet heated to amlost red-hot. Thank you to Louisiana's own chef Paul Prudhomme who introduced this technique to the world in the early 1980s. He began with blackened redfish which caught on so quickly that redfish almost disappeared from the Gulf Coast waters. This led chefs to begin blackening all sorts of meat.

blanching: To plunge water into boiling water followed by cold water in order to stop cooking.

blend: To mix ingredients together thoroughly by hand or mixer.

bleu cheese: Fromage bleu, (French) The term for a Roquefort type cheese which is a blue-veined cheese made in the Roquefort area in southeastern France. Americans refer to this as blue cheese.

blini (B lee nee): Russian pancakes made with yeast and buckwheat flour.

blintz: Small pan-fried battercake rolled with meat, potato, cheese, or fruit filling, (Yiddish)

blood orange: Usually sweeter than its orange cousin with a slight raspberry aftertaste. Often used in desserts.

blue cheese: see bleu cheese

bocconcini: A mouthful, (Italian) Refers to a small nugget of fresh mozzarella.

boil: To cook submerged in a boiling liquid.

boiled peanuts: Green or raw peanuts boiled in salty water for multiple hours over open flame. A traditional snack in the states of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. Although the history is slightly unsure, boiled peanuts date back to the Civil War when peanuts became very popular food for the soldiers. Look for your nearest boiled peanut stand on the side of the road between May and November all over the deep south.

bon appetit (bon a pe teet): Good appetite, (French) Has adapted to mean "enjoy your meal."

bonne femme: Cooked simply with vegetables and stock, (French)

Borscht: A beef soup originating in the Ukraine. Also known as borsch.

Boston baked beans: Beans baked slowly over a long period of time.

bottarga: A salted Mediterranean tuna or mullet roe. It is a specialty of the islands of Sardinia and Sicily.

bouchees: Puff pastry shells used for holding fillings and stuffings.

boudin blanc (boo-DAHN): White boudin is a cajun sausage stuffed with pork and rice.

boudin rouge: Red boudin or blood sausage.

bouillabaisse (BOO-yuh-BAYS): A soup that comes from the Provence region of France. The soup is based on local fish, but has come to have many meanings depending upon location.

bouillon (BOO-yahn): broth, (French). A clear soup made from cooking meat, vegetables, poultry, or fish in water. The bouillon is the liquid strained after cooking to be used as a base for a sauce or soup.

braise (brayz): A slow-cooking method for tough cuts of meat or poultry. It can even be used to cook vegetables.

bread pudding: It dates back to prehistoric times because it was a way to use stale bread to avoid throwing anything away. It was popular on both sides of the Mason Dixon Line during the Cival War. Most recipes create a mixture of bread cubes, milk, eggs and other liquids to create a baked dish. Recipes use a wide variety of fruits to flavor the bread pudding according to the season.

Authentic New Orleans Bread Pudding Recipe

see photo of Bread Pudding

brie (bree): A cheese from France made from cow's milk. It is creamy, smooth, and has a natural white rind which is also edible.

brochette: Small portions of meat, chicken liver, or seafood which is cooked on a skewer.

brunoise (broo-NWAHZ): A French word used to describe a mixture of vegetables which have been finely diced and then slowly cooked in butter.

bruschetta (brew-SKEH-tah): Traditional Italian bread brushed with extra virgin olive oil and fresh garlic. It is often used in the U. S. to refer to garlic bread which has been covered in a tomato based topping.

brut (broot): Very dry or unsweet in reference to Champagne or sparkling wine.


cabernet sauvignon: Red wine associated with the Bordeaux region in France, although the grapes are now grown worldwide.

calamari (kah-lah-MAH-ree): Squid. Usually prepared cold in a citrus type dressing.

calas: Fried balls of rice and dough then covered with powdered sugar. Similar to a rice filled beignet.

California Roll: Sushi roll containing crab, avocado, and cucumber.

calzone: A pizza crust topped with typical pizza toppings and then folded over to create a half-moon shape.

Camembert cheese: A soft, ripe, French cheese made from cow's milk. Similar to brie, but more pointed in flavor and richer in texture.

canape (KAN-uh-pay): French term meaning bite sized bits of savory food spread on edible bases such as toast. Usually served as snacks or appetizers.

capellini (ka-pel-LEE-nee): Thin spaghetti. Also known as angel hair pasta.

caponate (kay-poh-NAH-tah): A Sicilian vegetable dish made of various ingredients which usually include eggplant, celery, capers, anchovies, chile peppers, olives, tomatoes, vinegar, and onions.

caprese (kah-PREH-seh): As a sauce it is made from lightly cooked tomatoes, basil, olive oil, and mozzarella. A caprese salad is a common appetizer meaning a plate with sliced tomatoes and mozzarella cheese. Greenery is usually added and it is drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

cardoon (karh-DOON): A vegetable which is popular in France, Italy, and Spain. It resembles a large bunch of wide flat celery and is silvery-gray in color.

carpaccio (karh-PAH-chee-oh): Classic Italian dish of paper-thin slices of raw beef, usually filet. Traditionally it is served with salt, pepper, and olive oil. In the U.S. many toppings have been added such as capers, various cheese, and even mustard based sauces. The term carpaccio can also refer to other types of meat and seafood which are thinly sliced and left raw. The dish was invented by Giuseppe Cipriani of Venice, Italy in the 1950s. He named the dish after a 15th century painter, Vittore Carpaccio, who was known for using red and black with shades of brown in his paintings.

cassolette (kaso-lay): A small dish for food sufficient for one person usually made from earthenware. It can also mean a small case made from fried bread, pastry, egg, and breadcrumbs which are then filled with a savory mixture.


Tarragon: A perennial herb in the Asteraceae family related to wormwood. It is somewhat like licorice yet minty. It is known for its intense flavor. Comes from the French word estragon, meaning little dragon. Tarragon is one of the fundamental fine herbs in French cooking and is a key ingredient in Bearnaise Sauce.

"I believe that if I ever had to practice cannibalism, I might manage if there were enough tarragon around." -James Beard

I would like to thank Linda Stradley and her website What's Cooking America for helping compile this page.