What happens when there is a recipe you are dying to make, but the instructions contain a cooking term that you can't seem to understand? For all the beginner cooks out there, this guide will help you maneuver some of the confusing and complicated terms that are inherent to good cooking. So read up and start cooking!
1. Chopped vs. Diced, Minced vs. Sliced
So what really is the difference between all of these cutting instructions? Although you may think that the small difference between these different kinds of cuts may not make a difference, size really does matter when it comes to flavor in cooking. The writer of a recipe usually picks a size because it influences the cooking time, texture and taste of the dish. Here's what they really mean with all of these confusing cutting terms:
Chopped: This usually means that you are supposed to cut your vegetables into large squares. Generally, this means 1/2 to 3/4 inch pieces, but usually a recipe will tell you exactly how large the chunks should be. This method is more generous with the size of the pieces than other methods.
Diced: This term usually means small chops, about 1/4 to 1/8 inch chunks of food.
Minced: Mincing means cutting the vegetable as small as you can with a knife. Usually, a recipe will ask you to mince things like garlic and onion because the small pieces bring out the flavor.
Sliced: This is the least confusing of the cutting methods because it is exactly as it sounds. To slice, cut vertically down on the vegetables, and that's it!
**Rule of Thumb**: If the vegetable is pungent (like garlic or onions), you will usually need to cut it into smaller pieces.
2. Broil or Bake
Every oven has two settings (and sometimes more), broil or bake. There is an important difference in these two functions that you should know about.
Baking: Baking means surrounding your food with a consistent temperature and cooking it from all sides. When you are baking something, the entire oven will reach the temperature that you set it to.
Broiling: Broiling exposes the food to direct heat much like a grill. When you turn on the broiler, a large flame will ignite at the top of your oven, and if you place your food under the flame, it will cook it rather quickly.
In General: Broiling is best when you are trying to cook something thin or quickly melt something - for steaks or for melting cheese. Baking is better when you need to cook everything at once, like for cakes or a pizza.
3. Simmer vs. Boil
This is a crucial difference that every pasta lover should be aware of.
Simmer: To make a pot of liquid simmer, you want to bring it to a boil and then reduce the heat slightly to a point where you don't see anymore bubbles - usually at around 200 degrees Fahrenheit (93 degrees Celsius). Simmering is good to get food hot quickly without the harshness of boiling.
Boil: Generally, water boils around 212 degrees Fahrenheit (100 degrees Celsius), which will usually require you to turn up your stove to the maximum heat so that the water bubbles. Boiling is usually good for vegetables, rice, noodles, or chunks of tough meat.
When it says - "Bring pot to a boil and insert X, and simmer or X minutes" - this means that you should boil the water at a high temperature, put in whatever you need to cook, and then turn down the temperature so to a simmer.
4. Sauté vs. Pan Fry
When you fry foods, one of these two directions is usually given. Although the difference between them is slight, it can dramatically change the way that the food tastes.
Sauté: This means cooking small chunks of food over medium-high heat with oil or butter in a pan. You should move the food around with a spatula until the food is browned.
Pan Fry: This is used for larger chunks of food like chicken breasts or steaks. Heat the oil over medium heat, and flip your food only once to cook both sides.
5. Shredded vs. Grated
Usually for cheese, vegetables or spices, shredding or grating is important for the texture of the food that you are set to cook.
Shredding: This is usually done with a grater that has bigger holes. The end result should be long, smooth strips that cook or melt slowly due to their size.
Grating: This can make the food look like powder and is usually best when you want something like cheese to melt quickly over a dish, or to hide a vegetable in the sauce. To grate, use the side of the grater with the tiny holes.
5. Liquid Measuring Cup vs. Dry Measuring Cup
For any bakers out there, this measurement can be critical to the success of the dish. A liquid measuring cup gives you ounces, while a dry measuring cup usually gives you cups.
6. A Dash vs. A Pinch vs. A Smidgen
You may think that your grandmother invented these terms to make her recipes more confusing, but in fact these are proper culinary terms used to measure out spices in recipes. They are not technical terms, but they are used in a number of recipes.
Dash: 1/8 teaspoons
Pinch: 1/16 teaspoon
Smidgen (barely any): 1/32 teaspoon
Salt to taste: one three-fingered pinch