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Decoding Difficult Menus: What the Heck Is a Meuniere?

You want the huitlacoche? Are you sure about that?
You want the huitlacoche? Are you sure about that?
Photo by F. Cuauhtemoc

With all of the unique ethnic restaurants in Houston, deciding what to order at an exotic eatery can be a challenge. Not necessarily because it all sounds amazing--sometimes you just don't know what the heck any of the words mean.

Listing every ingredient and cooking process used in every restaurant around Houston or even by every ethnicity with a restaurant in town would be insane (though very helpful). Instead, we've compiled a list of some of the words and phrases seen most commonly on menus at restaurants that range from Mexican to Indian to upscale American. We've defined them for you here, so next time you see huitlacoche on a menu, you can confidently say, "Yes, I'll have the corn smut, please."

Adobo - a seasoning paste used in Mexican cooking usually consisting of vinegar, garlic, ground chiles and spices

Al carbón - cooked over charcoal or coals made of wood

Al forno - cooked in the oven

Aspic - a savory gelatin made from consommé or meat stock

Bain-marie - also called a water bath or double boiler; a container used to cook food slowly by placing hot water underneath it

Bard - to wrap meat in a layer of fat (like bacon) before cooking it

Blanch - to quickly immerse food in boiling water to enhance color, remove fat or loosen skin (like on tomatoes)

Clarify - to refine a fatty broth and remove solids by simmering and adding an egg white to trap unwanted solids

Consommé - a strong, flavorful soup made from concentrated meat stock, often clarified with egg whites

Coulis - a thick sauce made from fruits or vegetables that have been cooked (usually), puréed and strained

Crudités - hors d'oeuvres consisting of sliced raw vegetables generally served with a dipping sauce

Crudo - uncooked

Dashi - a Japanese stock that forms the base of many other dishes

Deglaze - to add liquid to a pan to remove any food particles that are stuck to the bottom, often using wine or meat stock; the mixture is usually turned into a sauce

Emulsion - a mixture of two liquids that ordinarily would not mix, like vinegar and oil in vinaigrette or egg yolks and oil in mayonnaise

En papillote - French for "in paper"; generally refers to enclosing food in parchment paper to maintain moisture while cooking

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Escabeche - usually fish in Latin American or Mediterranean cooking that is marinated in an acidic mixture of vinegar and vegetables

Fricassee - to cook meat by cutting it into chunks, sautéing it, then braising it and serving it with the cooking liquid

Gastrique - a vinegar and sugar reduction often flavored with something else (anything else, really)

Ghee - clarified butter made by melting butter and skimming off the solids

Gremolata - Italian condiment made from parsley, garlic and lemon zest

Huitlacoche - corn smut; a fungus that forms on corn and is eaten as a delicacy in Mexican cuisine

Jus - often au jus, meaning in the roasting juices.

Macerate - to soak fruit (often broken up or smashed a bit) in sugar syrup or spirits to create an infusion.

Masala - an Indian spice mix

Meuniere - an item, usually fish, dredged in flour before cooking; also a sauce of lemon, brown butter and parsley

Mirepoix - the mixture of chopped carrots, onions and celery used in French and Cajun cooking

Nabe - a heated pot that cooks whatever is inside of it as it cools

Omakase - Japanese for "I'll leave it to you"; generally a chef's tasting menu

Par-boil - briefly cooking food in boiling water to prepare it for canning or pickling or to soften food while maintaining color before fully cooking

Poach - a manner of cooking delicate food between 140 °F and 180 °F

Sous vide - to seal food in a vacuum packed plastic bag and cook in a water bath or steam for longer than normal time at lower than normal temperatures to retain juice and cook evenly

Tsukemono - Japanese preserved vegetables

Yakitori - Japanese skewered food, usually chicken


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