Food Dictionary

A la mode
Served with or in the fashion of. Desserts served a la mode are served with ice cream; meats served a la mode are braised with vegetables and served with gravy.
Abaisse
A piece of dough rolled to a required size.
Abalone
This gastropod can be found along the coasts of California, Mexico and Japan. The edible portion is the "adductor muscle" (false foot) by which it clings to rocks. Its iridescent ear-shaped shell is the source of mother-of-pearl.
Abattis
Winglets, giblets of poultry.
Absorbent paper
Paper towel.
Acerola
A cherry-like fruit from a small tree in the West Indies and adjacent areas. This fruit contains a high concentration of vitamin C. Also called "Barbados cherry" and "Puerto Rican cherry."
Achar
Very spicy relish from the cuisine of India and the Caribbean Islands. Achar may be made from fruits and vegetables.
Achiote
Dried brick red seeds of the annatto tree, used as a seasoning and to give food a deep red color. Achiote is used to add a yellowish-orange color to dishes, especially arroz con pollo. Substitute a little turmeric, paprika or saffron in a recipe if achiote is unavailable.
Achiote paste
Ground seeds of the large and shady annatto tree; earthy flavor with a hint of iodine; used as a coloring agent and commercially to color Cheddar cheeses and butter; used in slow-cooked sauces and stews.
Acid
A substance having a sour or sharp flavor. Most foods are somewhat acidic. Foods generally referred to as acidic include citrus juice, vinegar, and wine. Degree of acidity is measured on the pH scale; acids have a pH of less than 7.
Acidophilus Milk
Milk that has had lactobacillus acidophilus bacteria added to it. Many experts believe that this addition of bacteria helps restore or maintain "nature's balance" in the digestive tract.
Acidulated water
Water to which an acid substance such as lemon juice or wine vinegar is added. Once peeled, vegetables such as celeriac, globe artichokes or salsify are immersed in it to stop them discolouring.
Ackee
A bright red tropical fruit ("blighia sapida") that features a soft, creamy white flesh. Captain Bligh brought the fruit from West Africa to Jamaica in 1793. Certain parts of the fruit are toxic when under-ripe.
Acorn
Fruit of the oak tree. This nut may be eaten raw, roasted, or baked. It can be chopped to the size of coffee beans, roasted until brown, ground, mixed with a small amount of butter, and prepared as a coffee substitute.
Acorn Squash
An oval winter squash with a ribbed, dark green skin and slightly sweet orange flesh. May be eaten baked or directly from the shell. The word squash comes from the Massachusetts Indian word "asquash," meaning "eaten green."
Additives
Products that are added to meat to produce a certain flavor or result. Anything added to a meat or poultry product other than meat, poultry, or meat and poultry by products.
Adobado
In Texas, a sour marinade paste made with chiles, herbs and vinegar; in New Mexico and El Paso, a marinade for pork made with red New Mexican chiles, Mexican oregano and garlic.
Adobo
Piquant sauce or paste used as a seasoning for meats, seafood or poultry. It includes chiles, tomato, vinegar and spices; adobo may also be used for pickling.
Adulterated food
Food that has been contaminated to the point that it is considered unfit for human consumption.
Aduski beans
A small (one-quarter inch long or so), oval, brown or reddish-brown dried bean. This is an Asian bean usually made into flour, sprouted or used in desserts. Its slightly sweet flavor makes it an odd choice for a dinner bean.
Aerobic Bacteria
Bacteria that requires the presence of oxygen to function.
Agar
A tasteless dried seaweed that is used as a thickening agent. Sold in blocks, powder, or stands. Agar can be used in place of gelatin, but less is required. Also called "kanten" and "Japanese Gelatin."
Agave
Agave americana; botanical name for the maguey cactus from which tequila, mescal and pulque are made.
Aging
As applies to hams - After curing and salt equalization are completed, hams are hung in an area protected from insects and has good air exchange. Temperatures should be 70-90° and humidity at 50- 60%. Hams can be aged for 6 months. The aging process imparts a flavor due to the enzyme activity in the ham. As applies to tenderizing meat - Meat is normally required to age for a period of up to three weeks in order for it to be commercially acceptable for human consumption according to generally accepted standards of tenderness and quality. During the aging process, the connective tissues and the meat are generally affected by the natural enzyme or bacteria action of the meat, thereby improving the tenderness and edibility. Several methods are employed to reduce the aging period and to increase the degree of tenderness. One of these is the regulated application of heat, light, or both of these, to the meat which speeds up the natural enzyme or bacteria action.
Agnolotti
The name for a dish of small half moon-shaped pasta shells filled (usually) with tortellini stuffing. It is boiled and served in a broth or in a sauce.
Aguacates
Avocados; alligator pear; name comes from the Aztec word "ahuacacuahatle," meaning "testicle tree" (avocados grow in pairs).
Ahi
These tuna reach about 300 pounds in weight. They feature a pale pink flesh that is relatively mild. Also called "Yellowfin tuna."
Aiguillette
Long, thin slices of poultry breast or some other meats or fish.
Aioli
Sauce - a cold egg and oil emulsion with olive oil and garlic. Many variations of this sauce are made. Basically is a garlic mayonnaise.
Airtights
Canned goods; term common used in the old West.
Aji dulce
sweet chile pepper.
Aku
This small tuna (6 to 8 pounds) has a light-colored meat similar to yellowfin. The Japanese call this fish "Katsuo."
Akule
This marine fish, found near Hawaii, is normally served salted and dried. Also known as "Bigeye Scad."
Al Dente
An Italian phrase used to describe the texture of pasta, rice and vegetables as tender or soft on the outside but still firm to the bite within.
Al Pastor
A term used in Spanish and Italian referring to a dish cooked in the style of shepherd cooking, usually vertically over a grill or spit.
Alaskan Cod
This saltwater fish, which is not a true cod, has a soft textured flesh and a mild flavor. Its high fat content makes it a good fish for smoking. Also called "Sablefish."
Albacore
A highly prized, mild-flavored tuna that weighs between 10 and 60 pounds. This high-fat fish is the only tuna that can honestly be called "white." It is the most expensive variety of canned tuna.
Albert
a French hot horseradish sauce.
Albondigas
Meatballs. Made of chicken, shrimp, beef or pork; usually used as a garnish for broth soups or served in tomato sauce as an appetizer or light entree.
Albumen
The white of an egg.
Ale
An alcoholic beverage that is brewed from malts and hops. It is generally stronger than beer and varies in color from light to dark amber. Because of the hops, ale is normally more bitter in taste than beer.
Alewife
One of the most popular members of the herring family, the alewife is anadromous (it spawns in fresh water). This fish provides high-fat flesh with a fine, soft, texture.
Alfalfa
One of the world's most important forage plants. It is widely cultivated and is increasing in popularity for human consumption due to its promotion as a dietary supplement. The seeds are often sprouted much like mung beans.
Alfredo sauce
A pasta sauce originally consisting of butter, cream, and the finest parmesan cheese available. Modern versions add garlic, peas, and less expensive parmesan. All of these will make fine sauces, but nothing can compare to the original version.
All-Purpose Flour
Half cake flour, half bread flour. Suitable for all applications.
Allemande
A rich cream sauce made of Veloute (usually veal), a liaison of egg yolks and lemon juice.
Alligator
A large aquatic reptile that grows up to 19 feet in length. The meat is generally only available in its native regions--Louisiana and the Gulf States. Alligators feature meat ranging from white to dark--mild to strongly flavored.
Allspice
An aromatic spice, also called Jamaica pepper or pimento, from the dried berry of the West Indian allspice tree. The berry is the size of a pea and, when ground, has the aroma and taste of a combination of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and pepper. It is used in both sweet and savoury dishes.
Almond
Nuts that can be bought as skin-on, blanched, whole, halved, flaked, chopped or ground. Used in sweet or savoury dishes, especially those with an Arabic influence. There are two main types of almonds - sweet and bitter. The flavour of sweet almonds is delicate and slightly sweet. They're readily available and, unless otherwise indicated, are the variety used in recipes. Bitter almonds are more strongly flavoured and contain traces of lethal prussic acid when raw. Processed bitter almonds are used to flavor extracts and liqueurs.
Almond extract
An intense flavoring made from bitter-almond oil, usually combined with ethyl alcohol. Keeps indefinitely if stored in a cool dry place.
Almond paste
A sweet paste made from finely ground blanched almonds mixed with confectioners' (powdered) sugar and enough glucose or syrup to bind it together.
Amaranth
Amaranth was a sacred food of the Aztecs and, in Asia, varieties of Amaranthus tricolor have been grown as a green vegetable since the beginning of recorded history. It is a tall plant with broad leaves that produces many thousands of tiny seeds. Both leaves and seeds are edible. The greens have a good, slightly sweet flavour and can be used both cooked and in salads. The seeds are used as a cereal or can be ground into flour. Amaranth seeds and flour can be found in health-food shops as well as in some Caribbean and Asian shops.
Amaretti
Small Italian macaroon biscuits. Some are made using ground sweet and bitter almonds, baked with egg and sugar, others from ground apricot kernels. They are a popular after-dinner treat, served with sweet wine and/or liqueurs. They can be used as a base for trifles and tiramisu. Amarettini are the miniature version.
Amaretto
A liqueur with the flavor of almonds (although it is often made from the kernels of apricot pits). The original amaretto liqueur came from Italy.
Amberjack
A lean, mild fish found along the South Atlantic coast. Difficult to find in markets; usually sold whole.
Ambrosia
"Ambrosia" means "immortality" and was the food of the gods on Mount Olympus. Today, it refers to a dessert of chilled fruit mixed with coconut. The fruits used are normally oranges and bananas.
Amchoor
Sour, unripe mangoes that are dried and sold in slices and powder. Their primary use is in Indian cooking, giving foods a sweet and sour flavor.
Americaine
A French sauce or garnish containing lobster meat.
American Buffalo
American Buffalos are presently raised on game farms. The meat is very tender and tastes quite a bit like lean beef. It has no pronounced gamey flavor. Also called "bison."
Anaheim chiles
New Mexican chiles; very few, if any, Anaheim chiles are grown near Anaheim, California now; mildly hot peppers; slim, ranging between five and eight inches long and sometimes twisted in appearance; not normally stuffed because their flesh is thin; dried and tied in strings (ristras), or ground and blended in commercial chili powder mixtures; may be purchased in cans labeled as mild green chiles.
Anaheim pepper, fresh
Slightly hot light-green pepper. Found in most supermarkets. There is also a Red Anaheim pepper. These are usually fond dried. Do not substitute the dried for the fresh.
Anasazi beans
Named after the ancient ones, ancestors of the southwestern Native Americans, this is one of the oldest varieties; developed by forebears of the Pueblo Indians in what is now New Mexico, these beans have a variegated cranberry and white coloring that adds color to bean dishes and salads.
Ancho chile
Wide, broad; ripened, dried poblano chile; wrinkled and dark reddish brown color, measuring about 5 inches long and 3 inches across the shoulders; most often used in sauces and stews; sometimes ground into a powder for use in chilis and spice rubs; pasilla chiles may be substituted. This relatively mild dried chile pepper is a deep reddish brown in color. In its fresh green state, it is known as a poblano.
Anchoiade
A dip made of pureed anchovies mixed with garlic and olive oil. Raw vegetables and bread are served with this dip.
Anchovies
Small, silvery fish that are usually cured with salt. Many are then tightly packed with oil in flat two-ounce tins, but salt-cured anchovies are also available. These should be rinsed, and may need to be filleted before using.
Anchovy
An oily fish related to the herring, anchovy fillets are covered in salt for anything between a month and a year; use sparingly as their saltiness goes a long way.
Anchovy essence
A natural juice concentrate from the anchovy.
Anchovy fillets, sweet pickled
Available in Scandinavian markets.
Andouille
A spicy smoked sausage made with pork and garlic, used especially in Cajun cooking.
Angel Hair
In Italian, this fine spaghetti is called capelli d'angelo. Goes best with light, delicate sauces. Cooks in six minutes.
Angelica
A biennial herb used mainly in dessert cooking but which can also be steamed and eaten as a vegetable. Frequently used to add to fruit when cooking to reduce the need for sugar; used in jams and preserves. Candied angelica is commonly used in cake and dessert decoration.
Angler Fish
This large low-fat, firm-textured salt-water fish has a mild, sweet flavor that compares with lobster. Sometimes referred to as "poor man's lobster." Also called "Monkfish," and "goose-fish."
Anise
A small annual plant from the parsley family was used as far back as 1500 B.C. The leaves and the seeds have a distinctive sweet licorice flavor. Used to flavor a number of confections and savory dishes.
Aniseed
Crescent-shaped seeds which are a member of the parsley family; used in both sweet and savory dishes; impart a strong licorice flavor and a lightly sweet tone to food.
Anisette
A very sweet clear liqueur made with anise seeds. The taste is that of licorice.
Anna potatoes
The name for a potato pancake made of thin slices of potato which are assembled in concentric circles and cooked with liberal amounts of butter. The cake is then baked until crisp and golden brown.
Annatto Seeds
Also known as 'achiote seeds', commonly used in South American cooking. The flavour of this spice is favoured less than its colouring properties. Commercially produced, annatto is used to give colour to cheese such as Cheshire and Leicester and also smoked fish such as mackerel and kippers.
Antelope
A large, deer-like animal that inhabits Asia, Africa, and Europe. Their meat is called "venison" and may be cooked by roasting. Plenty of fat is recommended to prevent the meat from becoming too dry.
Anticuchos
Marinated and grilled beef hearts.
Antioxidant
A substance that retards oxidation. Antioxidants are added to meat and poultry products to prevent or slow oxidative rancidity of fats that causes browning. Used with fresh meats.
Antipasto
The Italian word, meaning 'before pasta', for hot or cold starters or hors d'oeuvres. A mixture of antipasti could include cheese, smoked meats, salamis, olives, fish and marinated vegetables.
Aperitif
A French term referring to a light alcoholic drink taken before a meal to stimulate the appetite. Examples include drinks based on wine (eg vermouth) or alcohol (eg anise, bitters) and certain spirits and liqueurs.
Appetizer
A food or drink served usually before a meal to stimulate the appetite. Any small or bite-size food served before a meal, also called hors d'oevres.
Apple
Cultivated in temperate zones throughout the world for at least 3,000 years, there are now thousands of varieties of this popular member of the rose family.
Applejack
A brandy made from apple cider which, in the United States, must spend a minimum of two years in wooden casks before being bottled. It ranges from 80 to 100 proof in strength.
Apricot
A relative of the peach, this fruit has been grown in China since 2,000 B.C. 90% of the American crop comes from California. Select plump, relatively firm fruit with a uniform color.
Apricot Kernel Oil
Oil produced from the kernels of the apricot pit. Like bitter almonds, apricot kernels are poisonous until roasted.
Arbol pepper
Skinny, small, hot; red or green when fresh; reddish brown dried; adds heat and flavor to tomato and tomatillo salsas.
Arborio Rice
One of the Italian medium-grain rices used to make risotto. It absorbs a lot of cooking liquid yet still retains a good bite in texture. Once grown only in Italy, Arborio has become so popular it is now being cultivated in California and Texas.
Arbroath smokie
A whole smoked haddock with the backbone still inside. Good for poaching, grilling, fishcakes and pies, kedgeree and soup.
Arctic Bonito
This small tuna (6 to 8 pounds) has a light-colored meat similar to yellowfin. The Japanese call this fish "katsuo" and the Hawaiians call it "aku."
Argan oil
Oil from the Argan tree which is indigenous to Morocco. It is related to the olive but has a distinct flavour of its own.
Arm steak
A steak cut from the chuck which require rather long slow cooking.
Armadillo
A game animal indigenous to the Southwest, it has a flavor comparable to duck.
Aromatic
A vegetable, herb, or spice that gives food a lively fragrance and flavor. In classic cooking, a reference to "aromatics" most often means onions, carrot and celery.
Aromatic Rice
A broad term for a group of mostly long-grain rices with a pronounced nutty aroma. Basmati, Texmati, Wild Pecan and Jasmine are all aromatic rices.
Arracheras
The word used in Mexico for fajitas, or skirt steak.
Arrowhead
A Chinese water plant with arrowhead-shaped leaves. The starchy roots can be thin sliced, lightly fried, and used in various Chinese dishes. The roots can also be powdered like arrowroot.
Arrowroot
A flavourless starch extract of the maranta root, ideally used for thickening sauces, juices and syrups; when heated the starch turns to jelly and so thickens the liquid.
Artichoke
Three different, unrelated plants are all known by this name. The globe artichoke is related to the thistle - its leaves and the bottom part of the flower, called the heart, are eaten. Boil the vegetable to serve as a first course. Dip each leaf into melted butter, mayonnaise or a vinaigrette and scrape of the soft fleshy base with your teeth. When you get to the centre, pull or slice off the hairy 'choke' and then eat the base, the heart or fond, with the remaining sauce. The Jerusalem artichoke belongs to the sunflower family and it is the plant's underground tubers that are eaten. They are rather knobbly and irregular in shape, with a pale brown or purply-red skin. Scrub them and boil or steam until tender and then peel. If a recipe calls for peeled Jerusalem artichokes, peel them and drop into acidulated water until ready to use. The Chinese artichoke is a perennial herb in the mint family, grown for its edible tuberous underground stems. It has a sweet, nutty taste, similar to the Jerusalem artichoke.
Artichoke Heart
The tender center of the globe artichoke.
Artificial sweeteners
Numerous kinds and brands on the market. Available in liquid, granular, and tablet forms. Follow label instructions carefully. Not a good substitute for sugar in baked recipes. They may be stored indefinitely if kept tightly closed at room temperature.
Artisanal cheese
Made by hand, in small quantities, with respect for cheese-making traditions; frequently farmstead, but sometimes using others' known herds.
Arugula
This slightly bitter, aromatic salad green (also called "rocket," "Rugula," and "Rucolo") has a peppery mustard flavor. Look for bright green, fresh-looking leaves. Makes a lively addition to salads, soups, and sauteed vegetables.
Asadero
Rubbery white cheese originally made only in the Mexican states of Chihuahua and Michoacan, it is now made in the United States; a cooked cheese made from equal portions of fresh and sour milk; frequently sold braided; it melts in gooey strings; also called Chihuahua, Mennonite or Oaxaca cheese; Monterey Jack or Longhorn Cheddar may be substituted.
Asafetida
A gummy resin derived from a special plant. Also comes in powder form. Used as a flavoring or spice in Persian and Indian cooking or as a condiment to be sprinkled over food after it has been cooked. It has a bitter taste and a pungent aroma similar to garlic and truffles.
Asafoetida
An extremely pungent spice extracted from a plant of the giant fennel family, commonly used in Indian and Middle Eastern cooking. In fact, asafoetida's dung-like smell is quite off-putting (the Germans call it Teufelsdreck or devil's dung), but if you can overcome the stink, which disappears in the cooking process, the smallest amount of it transforms vegetable dishes, meat stews and fish.
Ascorbic-acid mixture for fruit
A crystalline or powdered mixture containing vitamin C and sugar. It is used to prevent darkening of fruits and vegetables after peeling.
Asiago cheese
This semi-firm cheese has a rich, nutty flavor. Made from whole or part-skim cow's milk. Young Asiago cheese is used as a table cheese. After it has aged for over a year, it is suitable for grating.
Asparagus
This vegetable is a member of the lily family. Normally green with purple-tinged tips. Europeans prefer white asparagus which is grown underground to prevent greening. Choose bright green or pale ivory stalks with tight tips.
Asparagus Bean
A pencil-thin legume from the black-eye pea family that looks like a very long green bean. These beans can grow a yard long, but are usually picked at 18" or less. These beans are slightly less sweet and crispy as the green bean.
Aspartame
A sugar substitute that is said to be 180 times sweeter than sugar. Aspartame, which is synthesized from tow amino acids, breaks down and loses its sweetness when it is heated.
Aspic
Aspic is the transparent jelly in which cold fish, poultry and meat are sometimes served. It is used as a garnish to glaze and protect fish and other foods from drying out (the clear aspic allows any decoration to be seen); and to set savoury foods in a mould. It can also be mixed with bechamel, cream or mayonnaise to make a chaudfroid sauce to coat cold pieces of chicken, fish and so on.
Atole
Pre-Columbian drink made from corn; corn gruel; made by boiling ground dry-roasted corn and water; traditionally served with tamales; may be flavored with chocolate, nuts or cinnamon and other spices and sweetened with sugar for a breakfast drink; sometimes blended with chiles to make a savory dish.
Au gratin
A French phrase that refers to food that is topped with grated cheese or breadcrumbs mixed with bits of butter. This food is then broiled until brown and crisp.
Au jus
The French phrase that refers to meat served in its own natural juices.
Aubergine
The most common type of aubergine, also known as eggplant, is fairly large, an elongated oval shape and purple in colour. Others are white, mauve and green, some even striped. Aubergines are available for most of the year. Look for a firm, bright, shiny skin and a green, fresh-looking stalk end. The flesh inside is white and spongy but it browns when cut. Salting them is meant to remove their bitterness, but varieties sold these days are less bitter than they used to be (although salting does make them absorb less of the oil in which they're cooked). Aubergines are common in Greek and Turkish cooking: dishes such as moussaka and imam bayildi (stuffed aubergines). They can also be used in vegetable stews such as ratatouille or on their own, sliced and fried or grilled.
Aurore
A term associated with a pink cream sauce, colored with paprika or that have tomato puree or concasse added to it.
Avocado
A rich fruit known for its lush, buttery texture and mild, nutty flavor. Comes from the Nahuatl word for "testicle," perhaps for its shape. 80% of the U.S. crop comes from California. Avocados are the chief ingredient in "guacamole."
Awa
An important food fish of the Indo-Pacific region that offers a tender, white flesh. Hawaiians use Awa for making fish cakes and sashimi. Also called "Milkfish."
Azafran
Used as a substitute for saffron; lacks flavor and is used only for color.