Reading a recipe can sometimes feel like reading a foreign language. Here are some common words in many cookbooks and what they really mean.

Things You Do with a Sharp Tool


To remove the outer skin, rind, or layer from food, usually a piece of fruit or a vegetable. Often done with a vegetable peeler.


To remove the flavorful colored outer peel from a lemon, lime, or orange (the colored skin is called the zest). Does not include the bitter white layer (called pith) under the zest.


To cut food with a knife into small pieces.

Chopped fine = ⅛- to ¼-inch pieces.
Chopped = ¼- to ½-inch pieces. Chopped coarse = ½- to ¾-inch pieces.

Use a ruler to understand the different sizes.


To cut food with a knife into ⅛-inch pieces or smaller.


To cut food with a knife into pieces with two flat sides, with the thickness dependent on the recipe instructions. For example, slicing a celery stalk.


To cut food (often cheese) into very small, uniform pieces using a rasp grater or the small holes on a box grater.


To cut food (often cheese but also some vegetables and fruits) into small, uniform pieces using the large holes on a box grater or the shredding disk of a food processor.

Things You Do in a Bowl


To combine ingredients in a bowl or cooking vessel, often with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon.


To gently combine ingredients with tongs or two forks and/or spoons in order to distribute the ingredients evenly. You toss salad in a bowl (you don’t stir it).


To combine ingredients with a whisk until uniform or evenly incorporated. For example, you whisk whole eggs before scrambling them.


To combine vigorously with a whisk, fork, or electric mixer, often with the goal of adding air to increase the volume of the ingredients (such as beating butter and sugar together to make cookie dough).


To combine vigorously with a whisk or electric mixer, with the goal of adding air to increase the volume of the ingredients (such as whipping cream or egg whites).


To push ingredients on the sides of a bowl, pan, blender jar, or food processor back into the center. A rubber spatula is the best tool for this job.

Things You Do with Heat


To heat solid food (think butter) on the stovetop or in the microwave until it becomes a liquid.

Heat until Shimmering

To heat oil in a pan until it begins to move slightly, which indicates the oil is hot enough for cooking. If the oil starts to smoke, it has been overheated, and you should start over with fresh oil.


To heat liquid until small bubbles gently break the surface at a variable and infrequent rate, as when cooking a soup.


To heat liquid until large bubbles break the surface at a rapid and constant rate, as when cooking pasta.


To heat food (often nuts or bread) in a skillet, toaster, or oven until golden brown and fragrant.