Basic Cooking Terms & Techniques

Instructor: Christine Gyovai

Christine has taught elementary, middle school and adult learners in a variety of settings, and she has a master's degree in urban and environmental planning.

In this lesson, we'll explore basic cooking terms. Knowing a variety of common cooking tools and techniques will open up a world of culinary delight. Read on to learn more now.

Basic Cooking Overview

There are few things more satisfying on a cold day than a bowl of warm soup and a perfectly made grilled cheese sandwich. Creating a dish from scratch isn't difficult, but learning some basic cooking terms and techniques will allow you to experiment and perfect your own soup and grilled cheese recipes.

While cooking terms change quite a bit from country to country, there are several cooking styles and terms that are consistent across continents and are well worth knowing. The basic act of cooking involves making raw food digestible, and frequently utilizes some form of heat in cooking.

Cooking Techniques

Common cooking techniques include the following:

  • Basting involves brushing meat with a marinade or sauce (or with juices from the meat that are in the pan), often every 30 minutes (but the time varies depending on the recipe), as it cooks to keep the meat moist.

  • Blanched foods are cooked very briefly and are generally dropped into boiling water for just one to two minutes. Some foods are briefly blanched to remove the skin (such as peaches or tomatoes).

  • Browning food generally involves cooking it until it is brown over relatively high heat (medium to medium-high). For example, you might brown chicken before adding it to chicken noodle soup. While browning generally refers to meat, it can include other foods as well.

  • Marinating food involves soaking food in a liquid mixture, which can include oil, citrus juice, spices, vinegar, and/or other ingredients, to enhance the flavor and make it tender. The marinade ingredients will differ depending on the recipe and desired taste. The time to marinate food can also vary quite a bit, from 30 minutes to a few days, depending on the desired result.

  • Poaching food involves using water or another liquid to cook food gently. Liquid is first heated to a simmer, and then ingredients are added. Poaching eggs or fish are common uses for this technique.

  • To sauté food, you'd generally cook the food in oil over relatively high heat (medium to medium-high). For example, this might involve saut`eing onions before adding them to a soup.

  • Seasoning food involves adding spices to food, often salt and pepper. Examples of other seasonings that might be included in a recipe are basil, thyme, and oregano.

  • To simmer food, first a liquid is heated--commonly water--close to a boil but not enough to have bubbles rise up in the liquid (which would occur in boiling). Stirring the food is important to avoid it sticking while simmering ingredients. A recipe might call for simmering a soup for a specific amount of time.

Cooking Terms

Cooking with chopped ingredients
Cooking with chopped ingredients

Common cooking and food preparation terms include the following:

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