10 French Terms Every Cook Should Know

Since diving back into The Escoffier Cookbook, I have realized that the book is filled with techniques and terms that are used often, but maybe not fully understood.  The truth is, many of the words are just fancy synonyms for what people are already doing in their kitchen.  Check out a list of French cooking terms, and what they really mean.
By Jennifer Post

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1. Bisque

A bisque is basically shellfish cooked in mirepoix (see #2).  The term bisque, and its true meaning, have become diluted over the years.  It has pretty much become a term for any creamy soup such as “tomato bisque.”  However, for it to be an authentic bisque, it must contain shellfish.

2. Mirepoix

Mirepoix refers to two parts onion to one part each of celery and carrot, chopped.  This is used as a flavoring agent in soups, stews, or to cover meat when roasting.  Sometimes bacon or salt pork is added to the mirepoix, but it is not needed.

3. Canapés

You hear and see this term a lot, most likely at cocktail parties.  But what exactly is a canapé?  The term canapé has the same meaning as the term hors-d’œuvre, which is something smaller than an appetizer.  Almost like a one-biter.  In classic French preparation, canapés and hors’dœvre consist of small slices of bread slightly toasted and with a garnish on one side.  The garnish is subject to taste and the ingredients that are on hand.

4. Fondue

Fondue is most commonly heard referring to cheese.  Which is correct.  Fondue can mean a cheese preparation but it can also mean a pulpy state to which vegetables like tomatoes are reduced to by cooking.

5. Mise-en-Place

It is a general name given to those elementary preparations which are constantly resorted to during the various stages of most culinary operations.  So basically, it means to have all of your ingredients ready to go when you are cooking so they are easily accessible and properly prepared according to the recipe or chef’s preference.

6. Pâte a Choux

When you think of chocolate eclairs or cream puffs, you might be wondering what the dough is that is used to make those pastries.  Well, the dough is pâte a choux.  It is a dough that consists of water, butter, salt, sugar, flour and eggs.  The process of making it can be difficult to perfect at first, but just knowing what it is is a great start.

7. Poach

To poach a food item means to cook very slowly in a small amount of water at the lowest temperature.  Many things can be poached such as eggs and poultry.

8. Purée

A purée refers to any food that is strained through a sieve, so that it forms a complete mass.  The consistency of the purée will depend on the ingredient being puréed.  Any food can be puréed, not just soups and sauces.

9. Soufflé

Soufflé is a name given to a class of light, hot or cold preparations of fish, meat, poultry, etc.  Also to sweets to which the whites of eggs are added if the preparation is served hot, and to which whipped cream is added if it is served cold.

What many people associate with just dessert, a soufflé can also be savory, including ingredients such as spinach.

10. Petit Four

A petit four is a french term for a small confectionery or savory appetizer.  These can be small cakes, cupcakes, truffles, quiches, etc and is literally translated to “small oven.”  There are thousands of recipes out there for petit four and each are unique, but for a true petit four, all items should be uniform.

Use classic French resources from the great chefs, such as Auguste Escoffier, in your own kitchen to learn and grow as a cook.

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