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A beginner’s guide to speaking like a chef

Brush up your cooking terms, so you can talk the talk and keep up once MKRNZ starts!

  1. Al dente – how all pasta should be served. More on the side of underdone, rather than over. (It helps if you make flamboyant hand gestures when you say it). 
  2. Caramelise – stop drooling, we’re not just talking about dessert. Caramelising is heating sugar until it liquefies. Fruit and vegetables can be caramelised because of their natural sugars, giving them a bit of a glaze and a sweet flavour.
  3. Confit – pronounced “kon fee” (get it right). This is essentially cooking food in a bath of its own fat. A popular way to serve duck. Potentially heart-attack-inducing, but undeniably delicious. 
  4. Cure – a method of preservation, usually with salt or vinegar. E.g smoking meat or pickling cucumbers.  
  5. Emulsify – when you slowly combine two liquid ingredients together. E.g mayonnaise is an emulsion. Make sure your whisk is up to scratch. 
  6. Flambé – when you pour alcohol into your cooking, then light it on fire. More of a theatrical technique than a practical one. Impress your guests, just make sure you don’t singe their eyebrows. 
  7. Jus – a type of sauce that’s made from stock, and thickened over time. Basically a delicious meat juice. 
  8. Nose to tail – when you literally eat every part of an animal, e.g cheeks, offal and pigs’ trotters. Nothing goes to waste. 
  9. Parboil – boiling something to give it a head start before you roast it. E.g potatoes, you don’t want those babies to be hard in the middle. 
  10. Reduce – to thicken or concentrate a liquid, by boiling it quickly. Reductions make for intense flavours.
  11. Roux – when your sauce is too runny, so you add flour or butter to thicken it up. 
  12. Quenelle – A plating technique, using two spoons to whip the food into a neat oval shape. Works best with mushy ingredients i.e. puree or mousse. 
  13. Sauté  - to cook food really quickly over a high heat. A popular method for onions and the like.
  14. Score – (not just the points awarded by the judges). To score is to cut narrow gashes in the fat on meat. This stops it shrivelling up in the pan. 
  15. Sear – similar to sautéing (see above). Searing is cooking food on a high heat, to give it a tasty crust on the outside.  Be careful, there’s a fine line between sautéed and just plain burnt. 
  16. Sous vide – a fancy-pants method of cooking, where the food is sealed in a plastic bag then lowered into a warm, temperature-regulated bath. It allegedly retains the moisture of the food, and allows it to cook evenly all over. 

Now that you’ve had a crash course on cooking, grab your apron and get into the kitchen!

MKRNZ starts Monday 28 September, at 8pm on TVNZ 2.

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