Understanding recipes

You can’t use recipes if you don’t understand what they mean. Below is an explanation of the most common words you will find in recipes. There are links to videos showing exactly what is involved where we have been able to find them.

Bake cook in the oven; used especially for cooking cakes, biscuits and bread.

Beatwork an ingredient (such as an egg) or mixture (such as a cake mixture) vigorously with a fork, spoon, whisk or electric mixer, to make sure that the ingredients are well mixed and/or to add some air.

Boilcook in liquid (usually water) at a temperature of 100°C.

Braise – cook in a small amount of simmering liquid in a tightly covered pan.

Chop cut food into pieces. Recipes usually tell you what size pieces to cut.

Creambeat butter and sugar together until they look like cream. This is often the first step in making cakes or biscuits. Use an electric whisk or a wooden spoon and make sure that the butter is very soft before you begin.

Dicechop into small cubes (around 5-10mm cubed).

Drain – pour away all the cooking water after boiling or simmering an ingredient. This can be done most easily by tipping into a sieve or colander held over the sink.

Fold incombine a light, whisked or creamed mixture with other ingredients so that the mixture keeps its lightness and air; usually done with a metal spoon or rubber spatula, using a gentle lifting motion rather than vigorous stirring. Used in recipes such as chocolate mousse.

Fry cook in hot fat or oil. Most frying is shallow frying – use a small amount of fat, in a wide frying pan; the food is generally turned during cooking to cook both sides. For deep-frying, a deep pan is used with enough fat to cover all the food completely (this is the method used for cooking home-made chips); this has to be done with particular care.

Grate – rub food on a grater to produce fine shreds. Most graters have different sized holes for different foods; normally use the biggest holes for cheese (except Parmesan) and vegetables and smaller holes for Parmesan, ginger and fruit peel.

Grease – coat the surface of a dish or tin to be used in cooking with a small amount of fat to prevent sticking (for example, before cooking cakes or biscuits).

Grill –  cook by direct, radiant heat (on a barbecue or in an electric or gas grill).

Parboil  – half-boil, or partially soften by boiling, before finishing the cooking with some other method, as for roast potatoes.

Roast like bake, cook in the oven using dry heat. ‘Roast’ (rather than ‘bake’) is normally used for cooking foods which are already solid, especially meat; you can also roast vegetables.

Sealbrown meat rapidly, on high heat, for flavour and colouring.

Seasonadd salt and pepper, sometimes other herbs and spices, to flavour food (‘seasoning’ in recipes normally means salt and pepper).

Simmercook in liquid at a temperature just below boiling point. The liquid is normally brought to the boil first, then the temperature lowered until the surface of the liquid just moves very gently.

Stew cook slowly, for a long time, in plenty of simmering liquid which is served with the finished dish.

Stir mix with a circular action, usually with a spoon, fork or spatula. Often a recipe will tell you to stir a mixture while it is cooking, to help it blend together and to stop it sticking to the pan. ‘Stirring constantly’ means you have to stand over the pan and stir the whole time that the food is cooking. ‘Stirring occasionally’ means you can do other things at the same time, but keep an eye on your pan.

Stir-frycook quickly in a little hot fat, stirring constantly; usually in a wok.

Sweat – cook gently, usually in butter or oil, but sometimes in the food’s own juices, without frying or browning. This is often done with chopped vegetables at the beginning of savoury recipes (for example in soups and Bolognese sauce); it allows the flavours of the vegetables to develop and infuse the rest of the ingredients.