Essential French Cooking Terms for Aspiring Chefs

When you start studying in a professional kitchen, you are bound to hear French cooking terms. The history of French cuisine has left an indelible mark on culinary terminology and techniques. The following are some important French phrases to get you started, organized by category:

Menu Terms

  • À la Carte: Menu items that can be ordered individually rather than part of a set meal or tasting menu.
  • Amuse-Bouche: A single-serving hors d'oeuvre selected by the chef as a complimentary gift to every guest. This course typically precedes appetizers.
  • Hors d'Oeuvre: Small, bite-sized dishes that precede the entree course. They are meant to be eaten with minimal cutlery and are often passed at cocktail parties and receptions.
  • Prix Fixe: Multicourse meals that allow patrons to pay a total sum rather than for each course individually. In the United States, these meals are typically featured on holidays.

Food Names

  • Bisque: Creamy, rich soups that either feature shellfish or are made with pureed vegetables or fruits.
  • Bouquet Garni: A bundle of herbs, typically including thyme and bay leaf. It can also include an array of other herbs, spices or vegetables. Typically, a bouquet garni is used for stocks and soups — it is taken out before the plate is served.
  • Pâte à Choux: A type of pastry composed of eggs, flour, butter and water. It is used to create eclairs and profiteroles.
  • Demi-Glace: This decadent sauce typically accompanies cuts of beef, veal or lamb. It is traditionally made with equal parts espagnole sauce and dark stock and a bouquet garni.
  • Mesclun: A variety of leaves and dark lettuces served as the base of a salad.
  • Pâtisserie: Pastries that combine flour and some sort of fat product, typically butter. There are five types of pastries: puff, choux, shortcrust, filo and flaky.
  • Ragout: A stew of vegetables, meat and spices in a thick sauce.

Techniques and Styles

  • Gratin: A cooking technique that requires adding cheese or cream to ingredients (typically vegetables) in a shallow dish. The dish is then baked in the oven to a golden-crust finish.
  • Bain-Marie: A hot-water bath that cooks or bakes ingredients on a stovetop or in the oven. It is typically used for delicate dishes such as custards and terrines or to melt chocolate.
  • Chiffonade: To cut herbs in thin, long ribbons. Chefs often chiffonade basil and mint as accents for finished dishes.
  • Saute: To cook quickly in a frying pan with hot fat.

As you progress in your career, these French cooking terms will become second nature to you. Continue exploring these traditions as a way to embolden your skills in the kitchen and build on a foundation of culinary wisdom.

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