Wednesday, December 24, 2008
You’ve been there before. We all have. Sitting at a high-end restaurant, perusing the menu, you come across an unfamiliar word. You haven’t the slightest clue what it means – you don’t even know if it’s an ingredient, a preparation or some obscure adjective from your SATs. (You didn’t know it then, either.)
On the sly, you scan your tablemates. Oddly, no one looks confused. Bastards. How did they get so food-savvy? You could ask them, but you’re not even sure how to pronounce it. Looks French. Or Spanish. Hungarian? Definitely not English.
You could risk a condescending eye roll and ask the server. Maybe just avoid the unknown and order within your vocabulary. Then again, you could select the mystery dish with confidence, and if anyone inquires, simply announce in a lofty tone, “Wait ’til you see.”
But menu roulette is dangerous. To help avert future dining calamities, the Weekly has assembled a selection of terms you should know but were afraid to ask, complete with a pronunciation guide.
Aïoli (I-oh-lee or Ay-oh-lee): Emulsion sauce of garlic and olive oil, having many variations, most commonly seen with egg yolks and spices added to form a flavored mayonnaise.
Broccoli rabe/raab (rob), or rapini (rah-pee-nee): All refer to the same vegetable; it’s not broccoli. Rather, it’s a green leafy vegetable with a slightly bitter taste. Although its flowering heads resemble broccoli florets, rabe is more closely related to the turnip.
Compote (cahm-poht): Not Truman or a black bin to recycle vegetable trimmings. Compote is a preparation of fresh or dried fruit, cooked whole or in pieces in a sugar syrup.
Confit (cone-fee): Meat (duck, goose, pork) cooked in its own fat.
Coulis (coo-lee): Purée of cooked seasoned vegetables, also seen as fruit coulis, made from raw or cooked fruit to accompany desserts.
Demi-glace (dem-ee glahss): Not the paint you chose for your kitchen, but rather a rich, brown sauce made by slowly reducingseasoned vealstock and Madeira or Sherry to concentrate the flavors.
Foie gras (fwah grah): Are you sure you want to know? Foie gras is goose or duck liver that is grossly enlarged by methodically fattening the bird, often served seared or as a pâté. You’ll either love it or hate it. Some hate the people who love it.
Gastrique (gas-treek): Thick sauce made by reducing vinegar and sugar (and sometimes fruit) until the liquid is almost entirely evaporated.
Pâté (pah-tay) vs. Pâte (paht): The former is French for pie but refers to a mixture of minced meat, seasonings and fat, usually served as a spreadable paste with toast points. If first molded and sliced, it is referred to as terrine. Without the extra accent, pâte refers to dough, batter or pastry. Order carefully…
Ragoût (ra-goo): Not our childhood spaghetti sauce, but a thick, rich, well-seasoned stew of meat, poultry or fish, with or without vegetables.
Aubergine (oh-bear-jean): In French, eggplant; while courgette (coor-jet) means zucchini, and haricot vert (air-ee-coe vair), green bean. Those French have a different word for everything!
Soubise (sue-beez): Onion sauce or purée (often béchamel, a sauce made from milk thickened and made rich with butter and flour, with onion purée added).
Sweetbreads (sweetbreads): This isn’t dessert. Sweetbreads are the thymus gland of beef, lamb or pig, veal sweetbreads being most common. Pretend you didn’t read this and order them anyway – they’re quite tasty.
Tartare (tar-tar): Finely chopped raw meat or fish with a variety of herbs and seasonings.
Perhaps the most important word in the world of food is gastronomy, the art of good eating, famously referred to as “the joy of all situations and of all ages.” The best way to tap that joy – whether you remember these definitions or not – is to keep exploring, experimenting and experiencing. Food rewards the brave.