Recently a staff photographer came to my home to do a food shoot.
"Don't photograph that lime pudding yet," I said, "I have to add some zest."
"Zest?" she queried.
"Right. You know what zest is?"
"Yeah, it's soap."
Another time I sent an intern to Boston's Italian section to pick up some sweetbreads.
"Checked all the pastry shops. Didn't have any," he reported.
More recently, a rather callow fellow worker defined allspice as "a kind of deodorant for men."
So, maybe it's time to review some ABCs of common food terms. An incomplete, but perhaps helpful, list follows:
Acidulated water Water with a small amount of an acid, such as vinegar or lemon juice. Often used to keep fruit, such as cut apple, from turning brown.
Al dente Italian for "to the tooth." Used to describe the doneness of pasta that has been cooked just enough to give a little resistance, but not overcooked to a pasty, limp stage.
Allspice A pepperlike berry so-called because it has the combined flavor of clove, cinnamon, and nutmeg.
ANTIPASTO Literally "before the pasta," it can refer to any food. Usually, a variety of cold appetizers such as olives, anchovies, roasted peppers, artichokes, and the like.
AU GRATIN A dish topped with bread crumbs and cheese, then browned.
BLANCH To place vegetables, or salted or smoked meat such as bacon, briefly in boiling water. The process parboils vegetables while keeping their color and crunch. The technique is also used to remove the skins of nuts such as almonds.
BOUQUET GARNI A small bundle of herbs, such as parsley, bay leaf, and thyme, used to flavor stews and soups.
CAFFEINE A stimulant that occurs naturally in coffee, chocolate, and tea.
CLARIFY To separate the clear liquid from solids. Butter is clarified by heating it then spooning off the fat from the milky solids (whey). Clarified butter burns at a much higher temperature than whole butter.
COULIS A cold, strained sauce, usually of fresh fruit.
CHINESE FIVE SPICE A popular seasoning in Chinese food consisting of ground star anise, clove, cinnamon, Szechwan peppercorn, and fennel.
CHINOIS A very fine conical-shaped sieve, also called a Chinese cap.
DASH An amount of a dried ingredient too small to measure; a scant 1/8th of a teaspoon.
DUTCH OVEN Somewhat archaic term for a heavy (cast-iron or enameled) covered pot.
DEGLAZE Removing the flavorful, concentrated drippings of a roast from the baking pan by adding a liquid and scraping with a wooden spoon. Often used as the basis of sauces.
FILET French for fillet. Any piece of fish or beef that has been removed from the bone.
FLAMBE A method in which a liquor (often fruit-flavored) is heated and ignited, burning off the alcohol but leaving the flavor, as in Cherries Jubilee or Crepe Suzettes.
FOWL A mature bird. In cooking terms it refers to a chicken that is flavorful, but considered too tough to roast; usually used in stew or stock.
FRICASSEE A stew, usually of white meat, with a white stock as its base.
GANACHE A mixture of melted or finely chopped chocolate and heated cream that are blended together until very smooth.
GENOISE A very rich, delicate French sponge cake often used as a base for fancy desserts.
GHEE The Indian term for clarified butter.
GIBLETS The gizzard, heart, and liver of poultry. Often used in making gravy.
GLUTEN The protein element in flour which, in its gaseous stage, makes it rise, as in bread making.
JULIENNE To slice vegetables, meat, and cheese to the size and shape of wooden matches.
KOSHER SALT A coarse, natural salt, similar to sea salt, often preferred by chefs. Common table salt can invariably be substituted.
LOX Yiddish for smoked salmon.
MACARON Any variety of hollow pasta tubes.
MAHI MAHI Dolphin; renamed to make it more marketable so as not to be confused with the lovable water mammal of "Flipper" fame.
MANDOLINE An old, now very fashionable, overpriced French slicing tool. It consists of a slanted board with an adjustable blade.
PHYLLO Also filo. Paper-thin sheets of dough used mainly in Greek cooking. Usually available frozen. Greek for leaf.
PINE NUT Also pignoli. Small, oval Italian nuts.
RICOTTA A mild, soft Italian-style cheese made from whey rather than the curds of milk. (The whey, by the way, is sold as pig fodder.)
SCALLION Another name for green or spring onion.
SWEETBREADS Not to be confused with brains, these are the thymus and pancreatic glands of young animals, such as calves and lambs. Rich, yet delicate in flavor, they are often sauted in butter and capers.
SQUAB The young of the pigeon family that have not yet flown. Their meat is rich, dark, and delicious. Very popular during Colonial times when dovecotes were kept for raising them.
VICHYSSOISE The classic cream, potato, and leek soup; usually served cold. (Pronounced vee-she-SWAZ, not SWA.)
WILD RICE Not even related to rice, Zizania aquatica is a native North American wild grass, prized for its nutty flavor.
ZEST The highly flavored, fragrant, colorful, outer layer of citrus fruit.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society