Research: Food Terminology #1

Wednesday, December 7, 2016
After my friend Kyle and I ate a lovely winter meal at a somewhat upscale restaurant, we noticed that we were woefully uneducated about some of the culinary items and terms that the menu described. Normally, that wouldn't be overly embarrassing, but we were supposed to speak knowledgeably about the meal on our podcast, which led to some hemming and hawing. Unacceptable! As with any specialty profession, the world of food is chock full of lingo and argot and code. Food terms can be downright daunting, and home cooks may well be intimidated to read a recipe that calls for confit. That is, until they realize that all that means is “cooked in oil”. So, after the fact, I decided to look up a few of these terms that I've heard plenty of times, but never thought to explore the details. Now we have them.

Orecchiette: From the Italian for “small ear”. This pasta takes its name from its shape, which does, indeed, look kind of like an ear. The main issue Kyle and I were dealing with is how to pronounce it. As often happens with foreign words, it can be tackled multiple ways. If you’re trying to be traditional, go with the Italian hard-K sound (aw-rehk-KYET-tay). Some regions soften the accented syllable (aw-reh-shee-EHT-ay). And if you don’t hold with those foreign pronunciations and want to go full American, you could say (or-CHET-tee), which at least would end it on the same vowel sound as a lot of other pastas (macaroni, rigatoni, ravioli, etc). We’re romantic types, so we prefer that second pronunciation.

Gastrique: One of the menu items we discussed was a roasted pork loin offering that was served with greens, an apple cider gastrique, and Yukon gold potatoes. So what the hell is a gastrique? In the technical sense, a gastrique is caramelized sugar, deglazed with vinegar. That mixture is then used to flavor a sauce (sometimes with stock). That may be the textbook definition, but when you see it on a menu, what it probably means is that the sugar/vinegar mixture just has the ingredient mentioned added to it. So this apple cider gastrique? Was a sauce made from sugar, vinegar, and apple cider. Voila!

Crème Anglaise: There were a few desserts to choose from at our meal, and Kyle chose the chocolate bread pudding with caramel and crème anglaise. That term is simply French for “English cream”, and is chiefly used as a dessert sauce. It’s made by whipping egg yolks and sugar together – then slowly adding hot milk. Vanilla is sometimes added for extra flavor. The sauce is then cooked over low heat and stirred constantly until it becomes thick. In addition to being poured over desserts as a sauce, it can be eaten on its own, or used as a base in other desserts (ice cream, for example).

Pot De Crème: Meanwhile, I opted for a different dessert; the caramel pot de crème with sea salt. I had initially assumed pot de crème was something akin to crème brûlée without the brûlée, and I wasn't too far off. Pot de crème is a loose custard, made with eggs, egg yolks, cream, milk, and a flavoring such as vanilla or chocolate. The milk and cream are heated and flavored, then mixed into the egg and egg yolk. The mixture is then strained and baked in a water bath at low heat.