A Guide To Essential French Cooking Terms From A To Z
French gastronomy was inscribed on the UNESCO Cultural Heritage list in 2010 and is arguably the most famous in the world. One thing is certain: French cuisine is as rich as the lexical field that defines it. When it comes to talking food in French, there’s no lack of words for it! Truly, French cooking words are stuffed with highly specific technical terms.
On today’s menu, we offer you a complete guide to French cooking vocab. Some of the culinary terms on this list, widely popularized by the success of TV cooking shows like La Cuisine des Mousquetaires, Top Chef, or Cauchemar en Cuisine, will probably seem familiar to you. Others may take you by surprise. From abaisser to zester, discover our complete guide to French cooking words. Ready…steady… cook!
An A To Z Of French Cooking Words
To roll out a pastry to the desired thickness (using a rolling pin, perhaps).
Commonly refers to poultry giblets. That is, the less “noble” parts of a bird: legs, neck, heart, kidneys, liver, gizzards, etc.
The mix of ingredients used to make a recipe. In baking, the appareil often consists of a mix of flour, egg, sugar and a liquid.
To slather with egg yolk using a brush.
A cooking method where the ingredients are placed in a receptacle set over a pan of boiling water in order to avoid direct contact with the heat source.
Wrapping meat in thin strips of bacon or other fats to avoid it drying out during cooking.
Culinary term referring to the brief immersion of food in boiling water. For example, you can “blanch” meat to tenderize it, or a vegetable to make it easier to peel.
An essential term in both French hairdressing and cooking, this refers to the act of quickly frying food in fat or oil to turn it golden brown (or “blond”!).
Brider involves the use of kitchen twine to truss the wings and legs of poultry against the body to ensure it cooks more evenly.
In French cooking jargon, brunoise refers to the technique of chopping vegetables into tiny pieces.
This involves coating or covering the sides of a container to make your dish easier to remove from its mold.
A conical (and iconic) strainer used to filter — or “passer au chinois” — a liquid mixture, like a sauce or a jus.
To grind a solid ingredient (nuts, peppercorns, pistachios, hazelnuts) into smaller pieces.
An aromatic broth used to cook certain types of food, such as fish or crustaceans. A classic of French cuisine!
A pork casing used (like barder — see above) to wrap poultry or game, ensuring the meat retains its juices and flavor.
This word from Brittany (darn means “piece” in Breton) refers to a thick slice of meat cut raw from a large fish, such as salmon or tuna.
Decoction generally refers to an infusion of plants in liquid in order to extract its active ingredients.
After cooking meat, déglacer, or deglazing, is the act of pouring liquid into a hot pan to dissolve the cooking juices in order to make a particularly tasty sauce. You can use water, cream, wine, stock or lemon juice, depending on what you’re making.
To dissolve something (butter, for example) in liquid.
Less about keeping zen (although…), this refers to removing the nerves from meat.
In culinary terms, détailler refers to the act of cutting up food into smaller pieces: cubes, rounds, dice, strips, etc.
Making a mix less thick by adding some form of liquid. Loosen up…or go with the flow?
The finishing touch to a recipe! Once all the elements are ready, it’s time to “dress” the plate or the dish. It’s all about presentation.
In French cooking vocab, écosser refers to shelling bean or peas, that is, “removing the envelope.”
This simply means removing the shell from an egg.
Removing the skin or foam that forms on the surface of a liquid or mixture as it cooks, normally using a skimming spoon or…écumoire.
An everyday French cooking term, égoutter refers to removing surplus liquid from food by passing it through a strainer, a sieve or a chinois (see above).
Removing seeds from something. One French idiom (les minutes s’égrainent) uses this image to illustrate the inexorable march of time. That is, the idea of minutes scattering like seeds.
Although related to the French word for “skinny” (mince), this has nothing to do with fad diets or beach bodies. In French cooking terms, émincer simply means cutting up into slices, strips or rings of varying thickness.
A staple of French gastronomy, this method refers to slow cooking food in a closed container.
A flavored, unfatty broth usually made with veal, beef, poultry or vegetables.
Vigorously beating a mixture using a manual or electric whisk to make it smooth and consistent.
This is a sauce or glaze often used in baking, normally made of chocolate, cream and butter. It also mean “face” in French slang.
Nothing to do with ice cream, but close enough linguistically…this is icing! This involves covering your creation, hot or cold, in a layer of icing to make it even richer and tastier.
To chop food into tiny pieces using a knife or cleaver. You’ll sometimes see hachis menu, meaning “finely chopped.”
In French cooking jargon, incorporating an ingredient simply means “adding” it to your mix.
Another classic of the French cooking words, this refers to the technique of chopping vegetables into fine strips.
Kouglof is a sweet specialty of the Alsace region, easily recognizable by its characteristic fluted shape.
Making cuts in meat and filling them with small pieces of bacon to keep it moist during cooking. Not to be confused with the term barder (see above).
This is a cutting technique used in cooking to separate the bones from fish or poultry.
In everyday French cooking vocab, lier is the act of thickening a sauce by adding a liant or thickening agent: cream, flour, starch, egg, butter, etc.
As well the homeland of Alexander the Great (Macedonia, that is), macédoine describes a mix of chopped up vegetables or fruit, served either hot or cold.
Not just a pretty first name in French! It also happens to be a curved type of spatula used to scrape the bottom of a dish.
A mix (or appareil — see above) of cream and eggs, used in making the famous quiche Lorraine.
Simmering, meaning cooking on a very low heat. A must!
Monder involves removing the skin from a tomato after plunging said tomato into boiling water.
A well-known French culinary term, particularly among bakers, this refers to whipping your egg whites vigorously in order to increase the volume of your mix.
Mouiller (lit. “to moisten”) means adding liquid to your cooking. This could mean adding stock to your vegetables à hauteur, meaning just enough to cover them in the pot.
A cooking technique for different forms of rice, stirring it uncooked into butter or oil before heating it slowly. This is the recommended way to cook up a tasty risotto! Side note: nacré (meaning “pearly”) is also how you’d describe white fish that’s been cooked to perfection.
This is perhaps one of the best-known French cooking words for English speakers. A classic of the French bistro, an omelette (or omelet) is made by beating and cooking whole eggs, before serving them plain or with a filling.
A cooking method where the food is cooked wrapped in vegetable leaves, crepe or aluminum foil.
A baking term, pétrir means kneading flour with one or other elements (water, salt, yeast) using your hands or a mixer in order to make a smooth, consistent dough.
To grind into powder, sometimes using a pestle.
To poach, a way of cooking food in liquid on a gentle simmer. You can poach anything, including meat and fish, as well as fruit and vegetables.
A culinary specialty of the Lyon region, quenelle refers to the molding technique achieved using two soup spoons.
In French cooking jargon, rectifier means adjusting the seasoning of a dish as it cooks.
In French cooking vocab, réduire is the act of reducing the volume of a jus or a sauce by evaporation in order to concentrate the cooking juices.
Literally “to pick up,” this is giving your dish a little something extra, with salt, pepper or spices, for example. You could describe a spicy dish as relevé!
In cooking terms, réserver means putting certain ingredients to one side with a view to reusing them later. No need to call ahead in this case!
This is the act of cooking ingredients on a low heat in a little oil, continuously stirring until golden brown.
A roux refers to a mix of flour and butter, used especially as a base for a Béchamel sauce. A tip to get it right every time: make yours under the watchful eye of the Angel Oliver, who everyone knows is the protector of roux.
A little forest amphibian, but also a type of grill used to brown food.
The sucs are the juices that form during the cooking of meat or fish. These are then deglazed (déglacer — see above) using vinegar, wine, water or cream to make an exquisite sauce.
Nothing to do with its literal meaning of “falling down,” though that is its literal translation. When used among French cooking words, this refers to cooking down vegetables (e.g. spinach) on a very low heat. A definition that gives new meaning to a classic French song.
Unilatérale (Cuisson À L’)
A method of cooking meat or fish on one side only, without ever turning it over.
With it Latin origins (venator means “hunter” in Latin), venaison, or venison, refers to the meat of game animals, often deer, but also wild boar. Smaller game animals, such as rabbits or hares, can be described as basse-venaison, or “low venison.”
This pan of Chinese origin — wok means “cauldron” in Cantonese — is easily recognizable by its unusual shape, particularly its high edges. An essential tool in Asian cooking!
Scraping little bits of peel — the famous zest — from a citrus fruit. Perfect for enhancing (or relever — see above) the taste of your dish.
A version of this article originally appeared on the French edition of Babbel Magazine.