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
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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