Brief guide to cooking terminology

What does sautè mean? And how do you incise a fish? Even experienced cooks find some recipes mysterious. Below, we explain some important cooking terminology. After all, you can only cook gourmet food if you understand the recipe.

A brief guide to cooking terminology

Binding
This really means thickening soups, sauces or purées, for example using flour, to achieve a desired consistency. This works best if you first sieve or dilute the flour (see below) to rid it of lumps, so that it can be blended smoothly into the sauce or other liquid. Using yarn in the kitchen, on the other hand, for example to prepare fowl for roasting in your oven, is called "trussing" (see below).

Another technique is to make soup more viscid by adding cold butter to it when it's fully done using a whisk. This must be done under constant stirring, and the soup may not boil during the process because that would make it curdle. This is why you should do it just before serving.

Trussing
This means tying up foods like poultry, roasts or fish with yarn (sometimes using a needle) to set them up in the desired shape. For example, you also tie up poultry roulades with kitchen yarn to keep them in shape and preferably make them all look more or less the same.

Scaling fish
This needs doing if your fish is not ready for cooking yet. You have to remove all fins from the belly and back of the fish using kitchen scissors. Then hold the tail fin firmly in a cloth and scrape off the scales with a large knife in the direction of the head. Make sure to always move the knife away from your body! 

Julienne
Is done quickly and looks very pretty. Julienne means cutting vegetables into very fine strips - for example like you do to prepare Asian wok vegetables (carrots, China cabbage, spring onions, peppers etc.). This type of preparation has two advantages: cooking time is reduced and the vegetables look far more attractive when served. Vegetable strips are also often used for soups or for decoration.

Straining
Straining isn't really a strain. All you do is pass soups, sauces, fonds or other liquids that contain solids very slowly through a very fine sieve or, even better, a cloth. That filters out even the finest particles. The result is a wonderfully clear broth or sauce. To strain a liquid, you pour, smooth or press it through the sieve or cloth.

Poèle
This is a cooking method somewhere between braising and stewing. Meat is braised by first searing it at a high temperature and then adding water. Stewing means cooking it at a low temperature in a closed pot or pan just in its own liquid. Poèling combines both these methods. The meat is first fried in fat and then cooked in a small amount of liquid (without a lid). This creates a light brown colouring. This method is generally used to prepare poultry, veal, game birds or fish.

Sauter
is a French verb and literally means "to jump", which comes pretty close to what you are meant to make your ingredients do: When "sautéing", you let the vegetables or diced meat jump around in your pan or, more exactly, toss them in a little butter, lard or oil. The best receptacle for this operation is a "sautoir" - a tossing pan made of cast iron or stainless steel with a high rim. It permits tossing vegetables or meat without risk of landing them on your floor or cooking range.

Diluting
This is a special technique for stirring flour into liquids without creating lumps. Simply fill flour and cold liquid into a closed receptacle and shake it until the flour is completely diluted. You can then use the mixture to thicken soups, sauces and other liquids.

Bain-Marie
This lady always shows up when delicate concoctions - for example your sauce béarnaise -need to be cooked, heated or kept warm very gently. Simply heat some water in a pot and then place a smaller heat-resistant receptacle containing the delicate matter into the warm water. This ensures that it won't burn, or cook too quickly. 

Incise
This is what you do with both meat and fish. Incisions are made in the skin side in opposite directions to create a rhomb pattern. What for? To improve the absorption of marinades or spices, so that the meat or fish can take on their aroma better. The other benefit is that the incisions create a wonderfully crisp crust during roasting or grilling.