If you're an enthusiastic home cook — you read the latest food magazines, watch television shows centered on culinary endeavors, and peruse cookbooks for fun — you've likely picked up oodles of cooking terms along the way and are nearly conversant in all the techniques. But there may still be some terminology that you're not quite sure about. Is sautéing the same as braising? Can I broil something instead of browning it? And what exactly is a "pinch" of salt?
If you're stumped by a recipe, or just want to expand your culinary knowledge, we've gathered up 25 common cooking terms to help you become a better cook. From charring to blanching, we breakdown the basic cooking terminology that will give you more confidence in the kitchen.
Before you actually start cooking, you need to prepare your ingredients. For foods that require being cut up, your recipe should instruct you on what size you're aiming for, whether it's a small dice or large chop.
A slice is when a large ingredient — such as potatoes or onions — is cut into large, flat pieces of a similar size. Depending on your recipe's directions, the slices can be thin or thick. For example, you'd want thinner slices for au gratin potatoes, but thicker slices for homemade cottage fries.
The most common prepping direction by far is to chop. This fairly generic term doesn't always refer to size, so unless otherwise directed you can assume that "chop" means to cut similar sized square pieces that are roughly half an inch in diameter. When chopping a more tender food, such as greens or herbs, directions will often add a modifier such as "finely chop" which means to make the pieces super small, or "roughly chop" which indicates to leave the food in larger pieces.
Dice means to prep ingredients into small, precise pieces that are square-shaped. A diced ingredient, such as onions, will often break down easier when cooked, helping distribute its more evenly in the final dish instead of having a mouthful of one ingredient. If your recipe doesn't specify a size, a good rule of thumb to follow is that small dice is 1/8 inch, medium dice is 1/4 inch, and large dice is 1/2 inch.
Mince is the tiniest cut, basically referring to the smallest pieces you can create. It's commonly used on garlic, herbs, and ginger. Since minced food is so small, you don't really have to worry about each piece being precisely uniform, simply run your knife over the ingredient in a back and forth motion until very fine.
Some recipes may be precise, but others leave adjusting the seasonings up to the cook. While basic measurements like a teaspoon and half cup aren't vague, there are more hazy terms that can lead to confusion.
A dash is roughly 1/8 teaspoon.
A pinch, based on the amount of spice you can literally "pinch" between your fingers, is around 1/16 teaspoon.
Barely worth mentioning, a