5 cooking terms that no longer frighten me

There are only so many amusing anecdotes you can squeeze out of hot dogs, chicken burgers, tacos, and pizza; and if cooking the same things every week is tedious, then writing about cooking them is enough to make you want to hurl yourself into a cooking pot.

Thus, my weekly “What’s for Supper?” posts (see sidebar), which are hurtling toward Vol. 100 in a matter of months, have propelled me to learn more about cooking than I picked up in the first fifteen+ years of marriage.

To my delight, lots of cooking terminology that seemed so complicated and sophisticated is pretty basic stuff, and well within my grasp– as long as I look it up ahead of time, and don’t attempt to learn a new technique on the fly. Here are a few:

1. Braising

 I was under the impression that braising required leaping flames, arcane implements made out of brass or copper, and possibly some shouting. Turns out I have been braising all my life. It’s is a two-step process for cooking flavorful meat, where you use high, dry heat first (searing), then low, moist heat (stewing). For more details, see “Four Simple Rules for Braising Anything” from Bon Appetit.

2.  Deglazing

In my head, deglazing could only be accomplished by a subtle but masterful motion of the wrist and split-second timing. Actually, it just means you’re done cooking something up in a pan, and you don’t want to waste all those yummy little blackened scraps and flavorful gunk that’s stuck to the bottom. So you dump in a cup of broth or wine or whatever, and scrape it up, incorporating all the good stuff. That’s it. Adds tons of flavor and makes the pan easier to wash, too.

3. Caramelizing

  I always thought this involved some kind of sugar syrup, because, duh, “caramel.” I was half right. Caramelization is an irreversible chemical process wherein water is released and sugar is broken down, producing a characteristic flavor. Sometimes you do add sugar, as when you’re caramelizing carrots or nuts; but onions already have sugar in them. (Many vegetables have sugar in them, actually, but wonderful things happen when you call it forth from onions in particular.)

The only thing you need to know about caramelizing onions is that it takes forehhhhhhhver. I always figure on 40 minutes. If you see an article titled “How to caramelize onions quickly,” spit bitterly upon the floor and turn away, because it’s a dirty lie. More tips for caramelizing onions well from Bon Appetit. More grousing about the fog of deceit surrounding the issue from Slate.

4. Chiffonade

Not, it turns out, a term for those weird paper booties they put on the turkey in Amelia Bedelia. Nope, a chiffonade is just what you get when you take a bunch of edible leaves, roll them up, and then slice them into thin ribbons. Pretty important if you still have Instagram friends who won’t blacklist you on account of your wantonly frequent photos of soup. WANTON soup, get it?

But seriously, adding a garnish of greens on top of a dish isn’t just to make it pretty. Fresh herbs have a different taste from the ones cooked in, and they will give the finished dish lovely boost in flavor.

5. Pickling

This one doesn’t quite belong in this list, oh well. Everyone knows what pickling is (and I tried it once. Only once. Mold, salt, broken glass, crushed dreams, and a cabinet that will never smell the same. So now I buy my pickles), but did you know you can quick pickle stuff? Like, you can pickle in the morning and eat it for dinner?

Take some carrots, radishes, cucumbers, daikon, or whatever, and slice it thin, and chuck it in a jar with some vinegar (any kind) and a little water, and stir in some sugar or honey. By meal time, they will be exciting, and you can make a boring sandwich feisty and fun.

How about you? Have you gotten past some intimidating technical terms?
And how do we feel about that pig eating the wolf who ate his brothers, anyway? Can we assume that, since the three of them went their separate ways and had such widely divergent worldviews vis a vis homebuilding and security, maybe the third pig actually derived some brutal satisfaction from knowing what that wolf’s flesh was made of? Or did he just boil him EXECUTION SYTLE but not eat him? Or what?

Pig and wolf picture by Leonard Leslie Brooke (1862-1940) (http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/15661) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
ood images:
Caramelized onions: Stacy Spensley via Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/notahipster/7376763436 (Creative Commons)
Chiffonade: Stacy Spensley via Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/notahipster/7376763436 (Creative Commons)
Deglazing: Scott Feldstein via Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/scottfeldstein/5635765929 (Creative Commons)
Braising: via Pexels https://www.pexels.com/photo/red-meat-dish-25273/
Pickled veg: ih via Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/irisphotos/14680773562 (Creative Commons)

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7 thoughts on “5 cooking terms that no longer frighten me”

  1. Haven’t yet, but perhaps one day I will actually spatchcock a chicken. I know what it means, but haven’t quite dared. Plus, I don’t have a grill anymore…you can’t spatchcock a Cornish hen on a waffle iron, can you?

  2. The scary word I conquered is “butterfly.” Turns out is doesn’t have to mean “find a perfect line of symmetry and deftly slice the chicken breast precisely down that line in one smooth cut so it opens like a well worn book with a soft but sturdy spine, creating a single large flat chicken circle of even thickness.” In our house butterfly just means ” cut it thinner as best you can so that it cooks more quickly, even if it ends up in small jagged looking pieces.” Nobody eats the exact same amount of chicken anyway, there’s always someone who prefers it overcooked a little, and if you do slice into a bigger piece and (gasp!) find some pink, you can always throw that piece back in the oven for another 5-10. It takes that long to pour all the milk and scoop all the peas anyway.

  3. I can’t say that I’m afraid of anything in the kitchen anymore. I mean, if I can butcher a deer (and I can) and bake sourdough bread every dang week that is literally nothing more than flour, water, and salt (and I do), then anything else seems pretty tame.

    That said, I do have a rather long list of things that I am far too impatient to deal with. Pretty much anything fussy is a no-go for me. Oh, and real frying, like chicken. That one I leave to my husband. I hate the spatters and smell, and he loves fried food so much I can’t begrudge him the satisfaction of doing it himself. 🙂

  4. You can caramelize onions in a crockpot! Bonus: it makes the house smell amazing. I tend to use a one quart crockpot because I have a tiny family, but you could do a whole bunch at once and fridge or freeze them, too. Just slice your onions thinly, add whatever butter or oil you would have used in a skillet (mix around when melted) and ignore for 8-10 hours on low.

  5. You mean a chiffonade is not a fluffy dessert? Or a French citrus beverage? Or a ’60’s hairstyle?

    Those were my guesses.

  6. I can usually caramelize onions in about 25 to 30 minutes. I use frozen chopped onions. I put the bag in the microwave for a few minutes and then they’re basically cooked. Then I dump the contents in a pan with some butter. I have to pay attention to them for the next 20 to 25 minutes but they come out great.

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