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Published: Monday, 6/2/2008

Coming to terms with food

Every generation seems to have its own cooking terms. The words we use to define how we eat and prepare food are often based on where we were born and where we grew up, and our family s heritage.

Long-time cooks may feel like the culinary world is changing around them. Some feel that after 50 years of cooking, they now need a dictionary to understand the terms that we toss around on the Food page, on television cooking shows, and in cookbooks.

One reader noted 10 words that were unfamiliar to her. She wrote: As I typed them, I noticed my spell check feature couldn t recognize them either. Her list (with explanations from the Food Lover s Companion) is:

Crostini: Italian; slices of crusty bread spread with savory topping.

Fontina: Italian; semisoft to hard cheese.

Tapenade: hors d oeuvre spread of olive, anchovy, capers.

Baguette: French bread shaped into long, narrow loaf.

Arugula: Italian; spicy lettuce.

Panini: Italian for small bread or roll.

Ciabatta: Italian for slipper, a long, wide loaf of bread with soft interior and thin, crisp crust.

Taleggio: From Italy s Lombardy region, rich, rich semi-soft cheese made from cow s milk.

Prosciutto: Italian; ham.

Focaccia: Italian; pizza-type bread with seasoning.

Novice and young cooks may be familiar with those terms because they ve seen them on restaurant menus but may be unfamiliar with terms from their grandmother s generation. Often these terms involve cooking techniques:

Chiffon: (See main story at right) An airy, fluffy mixture achieved with stiffly beaten egg whites and gelatin.

Fold: Technique used to gently combine a light, airy mixture with a heavier mixture.

Cream (verb): To beat an ingredient or combination of ingredients until smooth, soft, and creamy.

Cut in: To mix a solid, cold fat with dry ingredients until the combination forms small particles.

Aspic: A savory jelly made with clarified fish or vegetable stock and gelatin (such as tomato aspic).

Sweat: Technique by which ingredients (especially vegetables) are cooked in small amount of fat over low heat.

One generation is more likely to see a custard, while a younger cook will see a brulee. Few younger cooks know how to cut up a chicken, make candy to a soft-ball stage, or make salisbury steak.

Yet restaurant menus have taught contemporary cooks so much about ingredients.

We ve learned to recognize ahi as a type of tuna; albondiga as Spanish for meatball, and andouille as a spicy Cajun smoked sausage.

Ceviche is an appetizer of raw fish marinated in lime or lemon juice, but it s also spelled seviche.

Regional words filter into our lexicon of food terms, such as walleye in Ohio and pickerel in Michigan.

The restaurants in one area where I lived once used the term scrod in place of cod. I could never figure out the difference between cod and scrod until I found the explanation in Fish Without A Doubt by Rick Moonen & Roy Finamore (Houghton Mifflin, $35). There is no such fish as scrod. The term refers to juvenile members of the cod family.

It is important to know what some of these terms mean. Recently I was in a restaurant in Columbus and ordered burgoo, the thick Kentucky stew with meats and vegetables. What arrived had okra, rice, and shrimp. It was definitely a gumbo, that creole stew made with a dark roux, okra, file, shellfish, and meats. Surprisingly, the waitress had no clue about the difference.



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