I love to cook, and I consider myself pretty knowledgeable in the culinary arts, but when I tune into cooking shows like Top Chef and contestants start spewing a plethora of terms that I don’t understand (most of the time in French), my head starts spinning. What the hell is rémoulade and why does it look like plain old tartar sauce? I’ve found myself googling culinary terms and pouring over my cookbook collection trying to figure out what those chefs are talking about.
So, in honour of Top Chef Canada Season 4 starting March 10th, I put together a little survival guide for those of us who are less knowledgeable in the culinary arts and who are more concerned about how good that steak tastes than the complicated terms of its production. Behold:
15 Culinary Terms You Should Know For Top Chef Canada:
Ballotine sounds way fancier than it is: a deboned chicken thigh that is stuffed with ground meat and other ingredients. I is then poached or braised and can be served hot or cold. Meh.
Caul fat is the thin layer of fat that surrounds the internal organs of an animal. It is traditionally used for sausage casing, but more and more chefs are using it for different dishes, like wrapping roasts! It looks gross, but taste yummy:
The method of slicing herbs or leafy vegetables in long strips. Wow, that sounds way more complicated than it actually is!
Crudo means raw. That’s pretty much all you need to know.
Traditionally a dessert, compote is basically fresh whole or diced fruit that is cooked in water with sugar and spices until its stewed. Many chefs use this method to make compotes for garnish or as a condiment.
Consommé is a super flavourful clear soup made from rich broth or bouillon that has been clarified.
Another simple term: Entrecôte means ‘between the ribs’ and is a premium cut of beef otherwise known as rib-eye. Oh those Frenchmen make everything sound prettier don’t they?
A very fancy cooking technique that involves combining two liquids that don’t normally mix easily together, like oil and fat. An emulsion is the sauce that results from this technique. Hollandaise is a simple example of an emulsion, and it is oh so delicious.
Estouffade is the granddaddy of all stocks: a delicious brown sauce that is made by roasting bones and vegetables. Everything will taste better if you use estouffade, period.
The technique of maceration is used to break something down or soften it into pieces using liquid. Not to be confused with the more familiar term, marinate, maceration is a technique normally used with fruits instead of vegetables.
Rémoulade is similar to tartar sauce and is a condiment that is popular in France. It is a yummy sauce that is typically mayonnaise-based and flavoured with curry, mustard, or tarragon and chopped pickles. Another fancy name for a simple condiment!
Ragout means stew. Simple (but time consuming).
When I first heard this term, I thought it was similar technique to emulsify. WRONG! Salsify is actually a root vegetable! Also known as an oyster plant, salsify tastes a little like oysters, who friggin’ knew?
Another French cooking technique, sous-vide is the means of placing food in plastic bags, submerging them in water and heating them at a consistent temperature to ensure an even cook. This term is all over the place lately!
One of the 5 French ‘mother sauces’ (along with tomato, Hollandaise, Bechamel, and Espagnole) Velouté is a fancy white sauce that is made with a roux and a stock.
And there you have it folks, the 15 culinary terms that you need to know so you don’t feel stupid while watching Top Chef! Sit back, put away the culinary dictionaries, and relax, you now know enough to watch any cooking show without too much confusion. Enjoy!