Essential French cooking terms

French cooking terms explained

Here is the definitive list of common French cooking terms — a useful partner to cookbooks, or watching your favourite cookery show. If we have missed any let us know.

A la Meuniere

This translates as “in the style of the millers wife”, and refers to fish that is floured, sautéed in butter, and then served up with the butter, lemon juice and some parsley.


The allumette measures approximately ⅛ in/2 mm by ⅛ in/2 mm by 2½ in/6 cm inches. It’s also the starting point for the brunoise.


A roasting pan or baking dish partially filled with water to allow food to cook more slowly and be protected from direct high heat. Used for custards and terrines.


Batonnet translates to “little stick”. The batonnet measures approximately ¼in/5 mm by ¼in/½ mm x 2½-3 inches or about 8cm. It is also the starting point for the small dice.


A creamy pudding made with cream and eggs, then set using gelatin.


A classic french white sauce, made with milk, flour and butter and then flavoured with bay leaves, and nutmeg. You can read more about the french mother sauces here.


Small dollops of dough that are fried — very much like fritters.

Beurre Manié

Butter and flour mixed together in equal parts and used to thicken stews, soups, and casseroles.

Beurre Noisette

Browned butter.


A smooth, creamy soup made from a base of shellfish stock.


To place fruit or vegetables in boiling water so the skin can be removed more easily.


A stew made from meat that has not been browned or fried. Usually refers to stews made of lamb, chicken or veal.


Small puff pastry cases with a savoury filling, usually served as an Hors d’Oeuvre.


A broth or stock, usually a meat, some vegetables and a bouquet garni boiled in water.

Bouquet Garni

A mixture of fresh herbs tied together with string and used to flavour stews, soups etc. It refers to a mix of parsley, bay leaf, thyme (and sometimes celery stalk). The bouquet is removed before serving.


To burn a food to caramelize the sugar on a foods surface.


Vegetables cut into very small diced pieces, based on a julienne cut, but just turned 90° and diced.


An appetizer consisting of a small bread or biscuit base covered with a flavoured topping such as Pâté.


The carafe is a container without handles used for serving wine and other drinks. Unlike a decanter, a carafes does not have a stopper at the top either.


A beautifully concise example of French cooking terms, Cartouche is a French term that basically means “scroll” or “packet.” It’s a paper lid that is used to slow down the reduction of moisture in cooking. A lid only lets a little moisture escape, whereas using no lid lets lots of moisture escape.


Charcuterie refers to cooked meats or patés.


Browned breadcrumbs.


A French term describing a dish that is first cooked and then chilled for service.


A chauffoir is warming pan or stove.


Another one of my favourite French cooking terms. A chiffonade is made by rolling up herbs, or leafy greens like spinach and cutting them into very fine shreds.


To remove the backbone from a rack of ribs.

Choucroute garnie

Choucroute garnie is French for dressed sauerkraut, and is finely cut cabbage that has fermented and is served with sausages or fresh meats.


Choux Pastry, or Pâte à Choux, is a light pastry dough made from butter, water, flour, and eggs. Instead of a raising agent its high moisture content creates steam during cooking to puff the pastry. Amongst others, choux pastry is used make profiteroles, croquembouches, and éclairs.


Another one of the French cooking terms which is now common in English language too, a compote is a dessert consisting of fruit stewed in a sugar syrup, originates from the 17th century.


The process of cooking a meat in its own fats, and sometimes then storing that meat covered in those fats. 


A French term for rough chopping ingredients — usually referring to tomatoes.


A richly flavoured, clear soup. To achieve this, egg whites are added and the soup is simmered to allow the inpurities to be skimmed off.


A thick sauce usually made from one main ingredient, such as raspberry coulis.

Court Bouillon

Flavoured liquid used for cooking fish.

Crème brulée

A rich egg custard, which is them topped with sugar, and then under heat (like a blowtorch or grill) to caramelise the sugars into a crisp layer.


Very thin pancakes.


A mixture of potato with ground cooked meat, fish or poultry formed into balls, patties or other shapes and coated with a breading before frying.


Bread piece dipped in butter and baked until it is crisp.


Crust. Sometimes refers to a pastry crust, sometimes to toasted or fried bread.


Small cubes of fried, or recooked bread used as a garnish in salads and soups.