Welcome to Commercial Cooking @ Home 101. In this chapter we review some of the most commonly used words and culinary terms chefs use. Being familiar with these kitchen cooking terms will prove helpful when eating out and in everyday cooking, from recipes to impressing friends and family.
There is a lot of vernacular and specific language that is used in commercial kitchens. Anybody who has read Anthony Bourdaine knows there is also a lot of family un-friendly language too. We’ll address the first and not the latter. Within this will be a variety of lingo associated with the style of food and cooking that is going on.
In terms of staff hierarchy, just a couple quick notes.
The Chef is the one in charge, a Sous Chef is usually the number two person in the kitchen. Bigger operations will get into titling such as a Saucier, the one who makes the sauces, with various designations based on the specific activity of the position. The other side of this coin are ‘stations’, some right on the cooking line, some in close by areas. These are the typical station designations.
Culinary Cooking Stations
this is crucial in a steak house for example, this is the person doing the high heat cooking that is referred to as broiling. At home we are most familiar with the term as applied to the oven process of high heat directly above the food, which is close to the heat source. In the restaurant world there is a device called a salamander, after the mythical version of the animal credited with giving fire to humans. These units will easily get to 700 plus degrees with the food placed close and below the heat. The more common restaurant version of broiling is also more similar to outdoor grilling or barbecue at home. Very high heat sources, gas flame, even charcoal, especially mesquite, and the food is cooked on a grate directly over this heat. Watching a good broiler man cook 30 or more steaks of differing cuts, to the ordered doneness is really impressive.
this is another station on the cooking line, the one with flaming burners, usually called stars because of the iron star shapes holding the pans over the heat. Slapping pans, this is the showy part of a kitchen. Food is cooked in minutes, from aptly named Sauteed Prawns for instance, to anything that comes from a skillet. Recipes that call for alcohol add to the flavors and visuals as wine or such hitting a hot pan is allowed to flame on for a brief flash.
Take a guess? That’s right, all that crispy goodness, a big deal in a sports bar or a wing-based store, or such. While this is where some the food we love best comes from, it is also a primary source of the distinctive aroma for many commercial kitchens. All courses are cooked here; appetizers, entrees, sometimes even desserts. Plus, a ton of side items, and in some joints garnish from crispy onion strings to tortilla strips.
generally cold foods station, salads and desserts are the most common designations. Sit down restaurants, where folks have a couple, or a few, courses in their meal utilize this station the most. It brings items form each course, salad and appetizers, entrée salads, and finishing treats. Finer restaurants will often have a dedicated dessert chef that makes the sweet creations for this station.
The most general title is Prep cook. These folks are invaluable to busy meal time cooking. Dedicated workers will do everything from slice and dice, to soup building, dressings, sauce work in some restaurants, and endless more components of the meals being served.
There is a clear line of distinction between baking and cooking, funnily enough lots of staff are particular in saying that they are only one or the other. The bakers work with dough and batter and such creating oven baked goodness. Breads are the most common, although there are enough great dedicated bakeries out there that many places buy their bread products. Cooks handle everything else. Baking utilizes a little more science, and as a result requires much more adherence to specific recipe and measurements. Cooks can be a little fast and loose with when cooking on the line. There is a lot more cooking that is based on general guidelines, an approach that would not work in the baking world.
Common Cooking Words, Terms, and Meanings
Diced – food cut into symmetrical shapes, usually cube like, that are very uniform and similar in size.
Chopped – is cut into smaller pieces that may be irregular shapes, smaller than the starting point
Minced – usually the finest or smallest pieces as a result, many kitchens will refer to ground meats as minced for instance
Julienne – this most commonly refers to thinly sliced and lengthy results. Onions for example are often done julienne, cut each end off, cut in half, remove the paper and with the onion face down cut top to bottom in strips
Slice – cut into strips of uniform thickness
Cubed – cut larger and symmetrically. Also a reference to meat being tenderized with a bladed device that ‘cubes’ it
Mashed – straightforward as it sounds, there is usually some coarseness that will give the item more texture
Strained – food pushed through a wire strainer or perforated bowl to create a finer mashed result with less texture from the original state
Pureed – mashed taken to an almost liquid state, often pourable in texture
Ground – for meats this is put through a grinder to result in smaller particles of the meat that can be shaped. For dry items it is typically taking something to a granulated or powdered state.
Coarse grind – leaves larger particles of the item being ground
Fine grind – closer to or actually in a powder state after the process
Broil – high heat cooking with the source fairly close to the food
Bake – dry heat in a contained and controlled environment for cooking
Slow oven – an oven using a lower temperature, resulting in ‘slow’ cooking
Fast oven – probably obvious now, higher heat for ‘faster’ cooking
Steam – contained environment with hot water vapor creating a controlled moist cooking environment
Braise – cooking with some fluid, often in a sealed cooking vessel, at variety of heat levels
Simmer – cooking items immersed in fluid at a low temperature just barely at a boil
Boil – food submerged in a full rolling and continuous boiling liquid
Scald – to take a liquid just to a boil then remove from the heat
Poach – cooking immersed in fluid that is held at or near the boiling or at a ‘soft’ boil
Sous Vide – controlled water bath held at a specific temperature to cook food that is sealed, so not directly in contact with the water itself
Deep fry – to completely immerse in hot oil until cooked
Pan fry – to cook in a shallow amount of oil, usually turning the item over during cooking
Confit – to simmer in oil at a low temperature until cooked, often then stored in the oil for preservation
Smoke – to infuse with smoke at low temperatures, or the cooking process in a chamber using controlled temperatures and filled with smoke