When you first step into the kitchen and prepare a dish you love for the first time, things can be a little overwhelming; often the last thing you want to do is translate what a technique actually means as you're knee deep in the kitchen. I get it: there are some French cooking methods and terms that scared me so much when I started cooking that I let go of the dream of creating a certain recipe and moved on to something that felt more accessible.
Truth is, fancy words aside, you'll be surprised how many of these techniques are actually fairly simple concepts once you get a little confidence in the kitchen. Like most things we're afraid of, it's never as bad when you tackle the problem head on and figure out what you need to succeed.
So don't sweat the technique right away; once you get into the swing of these, you'll feel like a kitchen queen. Get acquainted with these French terms and techniques, and they'll soon seem like no kitchen biggie.
- Julienne. To julienne (pronounced "joo-lee-en") is to cut food into long, skinny, pretty strips. The item is sliced to length and trimmed on four sides to create a thick rectangular stick; that stick is cut lengthwise into slices, stacked, and then cut lengthwise again. The outcome is super-thin, uniform matchstick-sized strips. Typically, the method of julienne applies to common veggies like carrots, celery, and potatoes, but it can also be used to prepare meat or fish, especially in stir-fry techniques.
- Chiffonade. Here's another doozy that sometimes throws people off. The oh-so-fancy term chiffonade (say it: "shif-uh-nahd") refers to shredding the leaves of herbs and vegetables into skinny ribbons. This is accomplished by stacking leaves, rolling them tightly, like a cigar, then slicing the rolled leaves thinly and evenly with a sharp knife, producing long, rag-like strips. If you like working with basil and other fresh herbs as much as I do, it's a must-have, super-simple skill. See our tutorial here.
- En papillote. En papillote (which sounds like "ahn pah-pee-yoht") is a technique that produces elegant, healthy results. Literally translated, it means "in parchment." The process is that simple; food is put into a folded pouch and baked. The parcel is typically made from folded parchment paper, but other material such as a paper bag or aluminum foil may be used. Try cooking en papillote over an open fire.
- Tournée. Root vegetables like potatoes, carrots, turnips, rutabagas, and parsnips are all ideal and suitable for the French technique of tournée (pronounced "tour-nay"), or "turning" vegetables into elegant elliptical shapes that will braise evenly. Check out our full tournée tutorial.
Are there any other cooking techniques that have scared you off in the past? Any that you've mastered? Share them below!