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Culinary Lingo

Reviewed By Jill Kohn, MS, RDN, LDN
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Braise, broil, poach, simmer — what does it all mean? Whether you are new to the kitchen or just need a refresher, understanding the basics of common cooking techniques will help you navigate through recipes and get healthy meals on the table with ease. Here are some terms and definitions to get you started.

The Terms

  • Braise: to brown, then simmer over low heat in a small amount of liquid-water, broth or even fruit juice in a covered pot for a lengthy time on the stove or in the oven.
  • Broil: to cook with direct heat, usually under a heating element in the oven.
  • Grill: to cook with heat directly over hot coals or another heat source.
  • Panbroil: to cook uncovered in a preheated, nonstick skillet without added fat or water.
  • Poach: to cook gently in liquid, just below boiling, until the liquid’s surface starts to shimmer.
  • Roast: to cook uncovered with dry heat in the oven.
  • Sauté: to cook quickly in a small amount of fat, stirring so the food browns evenly.
  • Simmer: to cook slowly in liquid, just below boiling, until tiny bubbles form on the surface.
  • Steam: to cook with steam heat over (not in) boiling water, or wrapped in foil or leaf (such as lettuce or banana leaves) packets over boiling water or on a grill.
  • Stew: to cook in liquid, such as water, juice, wine, broth or stock, in a tightly covered pot over low heat.
  • Stir-fry: to cook small pieces of meat, poultry, seafood, tofu and/or vegetables in a very small amount of oil, perhaps with added broth, over very high heat, stirring as you cook.
Knowing these culinary techniques can help to bring out the flavor of foods without the need to add a lot of extra ingredients or calories. The healthiest cooking methods require only a little amount of fat, if at all. For example, sautéing and stir-frying use a small amount of oil, compared with frying or deep-frying. Steaming helps foods retain more nutrients, since they are not soaking in water, as is the case with boiling. Grilling can also influence the flavor of foods, but it's important to avoid charring them, which occurs when they turn black. Marinating meats and vegetables prior to grilling can help. It's also important to remember that cooking all foods to the appropriate internal temperatures is important, regardless of how the food is prepared.