A-Z Terms for Every Restaurant’s Back of House
When you work in a commercial kitchen, there’s so much on your plate both literally and figuratively that it can be challenging to keep all the lingo straight. Often, and especially when it’s busy, your coworkers in the back of the house or servers trying to juggle tables out on the floor will write shorthand on their tickets or call out slang terminology to the cooks.
It’s essential to know some basic culinary terms if you’re going to pursue a career in a fast-paced restaurant kitchen, whether you go into fine dining or stay in the back of QSRs. Here are 26 terms you should familiarize yourself with to excel at your job.
- Al dente: You’ve heard of cooking steaks medium to rare, but al dente refers most often to cooking pasta so it’s firm, although you can say this about any food.
- Baste: Prevent food from getting too dry as it’s cooked to perfected by pouring or rubbing juice and fats over meats while they’re cooking
- Chop: Cut up an ingredient, usually vegetables, into big but usable pieces.
- Dice: Cut up an ingredient into smaller pieces about a quarter to an eighth of an inch.
- Emincer: Cut up an ingredient into thin slices, but not as long as julienne cuts.
- Filet: Debone meat or fish before serving it.
- Galette: Flat, round pastries that are usually topped with fruit or some other food in a similar style.
- Halloumi: A kind of cheese made from goat or sheep’s milk, sometimes a combination of the two, and can also include traditional cow’s milk. It’s unripened, brined, and slightly salty.
- Infused: Cooks extract flavors or chemicals from a vegetable, water, oil, or alcohol, so a particular ingredient steeps in it and gets all that flavor.
- Julienne: Cut up an ingredient into short, thin strips.
- Knead: Work dough into a cohesive mixture by stretching, massaging, and folding it.
- Larding: The act of putting fat into meat so it will melt and prevent the meat from drying as it’s cooked.
- Marinate: Soak foods in a seasoned liquid before cooking to add those flavors to the dish.
- Needle: Inject fat or flavors into food to make its taste more powerful.
- Ort: The food left on a plate once guests leave at the end of a meal, which can be composted.
- Parcook: To lightly cook food, but not fully, so that someone can finish it when it’s ready to be served.
- Quadriller: Criss-cross lines on the surface of food, as with a fork, as part of your overall presentation.
- Render: Meltdown and cook out the fat from something by simmering it over medium heat.
- Sauté: Cook food quickly over high heat. This technique is named after the way food “jumps” in a hot span.
- Temper: Add hot or boiling liquid to a food a little bit at a time to slowly raise its temperature.
- Unleavened: Usually referring to bread, this means that it’s been made without yeast or any other ingredient that causes it to rise.
- Vol-au-vent: A pastry that’s baked and then filled with meat or vegetables.
- Whip: To beat an ingredient or mixture until it has air and volume, typically with a whisk or mixer.
- Xanthan gum: A common food additive used to thicken salad dressings. It’s produced by fermenting sugar.
- Yakitori: A Japanese term for food that’s been marinated in sauce, grilled and skewered.
- Zest: Scrape or grate the skin of the fruit to add flavor to a dish.
It can be hard to learn the ins and outs of a new kitchen, memorize the specific duties that come with a new job, and keep all of the relevant terms straight in your head. The restaurant industry is saturated in specific lingo and terminology that any cook can pick up—but they’ll need to study hard to keep it all straight.
Make your new job a successful one. This A-Z list of twenty-six simple culinary terms to memorize will help you start your new restaurant career knowledgeable and ready.
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