Decoding Difficult Menus: What the Heck Is a Meuniere?

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

Photo by Polytheorist
Peruvian chicken adobo
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

Photo by Kui-Doraku
Chicken consommé
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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The "holy trinity" used in Cajun cooking is not mirepoix. It is onion, celery and bell pepper.


I could see Ghee out on the lake, the boat lilting gently through an emulsion of dappled sunlight and mist, her crudites bouncing with the rocking craft, her mirepoix shining as though dampened by her own jus. I entertained the idea of seeing her ashore, of turning this evening into an intimate fricassee, just us, an unabashed sailing nudist and me, the innkeeper. I let the idea macerate for a bit and discovered my emotion toward her simmering sous vide beneath my devil could care attitude. I finally waved to her, and when she nodded back and raised an inverted peace sign, I felt my nabe stiffen like yakitori, a current of heat par boiling through my blood.

paval topcommenter

Maybe this list should be done organized by languages or regions of the world. As is it more seems a mirepoix. 

I am sure you will find enough terms in the Food Lovers Companion tome for each region

KaitlinS topcommenter

@lalechterhoff  Oh goodness, you're right! I can't believe I mixed that one up. My mother pounded that in my head as a child. She'd be so disappointed. Thanks for catching!

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