This page will be a work in progress, designed to explain any French words or other common terms I may use in the course of my storytelling. I will also be including any words I learn along the way.
Aligot- A traditional Auvergnat dish made by beating cheese into mashed potatoes until the mixture is homogeneous and stretchy. It may sound awful, but it’s fantastic.
Alsace – A region in northeastern France, along the German border. The cuisine is heavily influenced by that of Germany, as the region has traded hands between France and Germany many times. Lots of great charcuterie.
Amuse-Bouche - A small dish served pre-appetizer to wake up the palate and show off the kitchen’s skills. Also referred to simply as “amuse.”
Apéritif – Something you drink before you eat to stimulate your appetite.
Apéro – “Cocktail hour.” Drinks and snacks.
Apprenti/Apprentissage – Apprentice/Apprenticeship. These usually last about a year in French pâtisseries. Generally, a bit of schooling is required before and during the apprenticeship.
Auvergne – A rural, mountainous region in central France. The food is hearty and very good. Any menu item described as auvergnat or d’Auvergne probably contains pork products and/or potatoes. Close to my heart because I lived there for 7 months after college.
Bavarian – (or bavarian cream) A dessert component made by stabilizing crème anglaise (and any added flavorings) with gelatin and lightening it with whipped cream.
Béchamel – One of the five “mother sauces” of classic French cuisine. Made with white roux and milk, traditionally flavored with an oignon piqué and seasoned with salt, white pepper, and nutmeg.
Biscuit – Thin sponge cake, usually made with almond meal. It is primarily used in entremets.
Blanch – To cook vegetables very quickly in boiling water, then cool them rapidly, preferably in an ice bath. This technique is used to set the color and prevent overcooking in green vegetables, and to loosen skins on such fruits as peaches and tomatoes.
Bleu d’Auvergne – A rich, soft blue cheese with bold, peppery flavor. Sometimes referred to as “poor man’s roquefort,” but I really like it and eat it on its own merits.
Boulangerie – Literally, “bakery.” Specifically, a bakery that focuses on bread.
Braise – To cook over low heat in a small amount of liquid for a long time. Also, any dish produced by this method.
Brochette – Skewer.
Canard – Duck.
Casonnade – Coarse sugar made from evaporated cane juice. Similar to turbinado sugar.
Celeriac/Celeri-Rave - A variety of celery grown for its large root. Can be eaten raw or cooked, and has a mellow celery flavor.
Charcuterie- Any of a number of cured meats, usually pork, including bacon, sausages, hams, pâtés, and so on. Also the shop where you buy said items.
Chèvre – Goat. Also cheese made from goat’s milk.
Choucroute – French for Sauerkraut.
Choucroute garnie – An Alsatian dish of braised sauerkraut and multiple pork products.
Choux – Cabbage. See also Pâte à Choux.
Crème Anglaise- (or just anglaise) Vanilla custard sauce. (Think melted ice cream.)
Crème Brûlée - The richest of the baked custards, made using egg yolks and cream (and sugar and flavoring ingredients). Garnished with a thin layer of caramelized sugar, ideally to order.
Crème Caramel – Also known as “flan,” the lightest of the baked custards, made with milk and whole eggs. Almost always baked with a layer of caramel on the bottom of the mold, so that when it is turned out the caramel sauces the dessert.
Crème Fraîche – France’s answer to sour cream. Similar, but with a looser texture and more refined flavor.
Croquembouche – A centerpiece dessert, tradtionally served at French weddings, composed of many small cream puffs attached together with caramel. Often garnished with spun sugar.
Cuillère à soupe/cuillère à café - Soup spoon/coffee spoon, measurements used in French recipes which I approximate as tablespoon and teaspoon, respectively.
Deglaze – To use a liquid to loosen the tasty browned bits left after cooking meat from the bottom of a pan. This liquid can be water, wine, broth, etc., and can even be in the form of vegetables such as onions or tomatoes.
Digestif – Something you drink after a meal to stimulate digestion, supposedly.
Diplomat – or crème diplomat – pastry cream lightened with whipped cream. Used as a filling for millefeuille, St. Honore, éclairs, and so on.
Dorée – One of my favorite French food words. Where in English we say “browned,” in French they say “gold.” The dictionary I have gives 7 definitions for dorée, depending on what it refers to. Gold (paint); gilt (frame); gilded (dome); golden (hair); tanned (skin); golden brown (bread); and luxurious (exile(?)).
Emmenthal – Perhaps the most widely used cheese in France, this is a mild, Swiss-type cheese.
Entrecôte – A steak whose name literally translates to “between ribs.” Similar to an American Ribeye steak.
Entremet – A dessert consisting of several layers of cake and mousse, presented in a refined, structured way.
Épicerie – A small shop specializing in fruits and vegetables.
Fond – The delicious browned bits left in the bottom of the pan after browning meat or vegetables. Incorporated into dishes by deglazing (see above).
Fromage Blanc – A fresh, soft cheese the consistency of sour cream or thick yogurt. It is often eaten for dessert but since it is sold in tubs in the yogurt aisle, we eat it for breakfast with jam or muesli mixed in.
Fromagier – Cheese shop or cheesemonger.
Fumé – Smoked.
Ganache – A mixture of chocolate and cream. Can be used as glaze, frosting, filling, or truffles, depending on the consistency.
Garriguettes – A particular type of strawberry grown in France, of which the locals are justifiably proud. They are fragrant and juicy, with a funny torpedo-like shape. Absolutely delicious on a picnic with the freshest goat cheese you can find.
Gastrique – A sweet-and-sour sauce made by caramelizing sugar and adding vinegar (and sometimes fruit juice or purée) to stop the cooking. Alternatively, it can be made by reducing vinegar (usually balsamic) and sometimes fruit juice or purée to a syrupy consistency.
Gaufre – Waffle. Becomes a more important vocabulary word the further North you go.
Glace – Ice cream. Also ice, just to confuse you.
Gougères – Savory choux puffs traditionally made with gruyère cheese.
Gremolata – An Italian garnish most commonly composed of minced garlic, lemon zest, and parsley. Gives a bright flavor to heavy dishes, and interest to bland ones.
Guimauves – Marshmallows. In France they are often house-made and come in a wide variety of flavors and colors.
Halal - In accordance with the dietary restrictions of Islam, i.e. no hog.
Haricots verts – The literal translation is “green beans,” but the green beans in France are smaller, thinner, and juicier than the ones back home.
Herbes de Provence – Any number of a set of herbs typically used in Provençal cooking. Almost always contains thyme. Other common herbs include, but are not limited to: rosemary, lavender, sage, savory, marjoram, basil, and bay leaf.
Hors d’oeuvre – “Outside the work,” small bites served to accompany cocktails before a meal.
Jambon de Paris - Standard deli ham.
Lait Cru – Unpasteurized milk.
Langoustine – A small crustacean, closely related to the lobster and the prawn. Delicately flavored, tender tail meat. Claw meat is edible, but a real pain to get out, although probably worth the trouble, as langoustines can be expensive.
Lardons – Cured pork belly (aka bacon) cut into pieces about 1 cm by 1 cm by 2 cm.
Levain – Naturally occurring yeast starter.
Levure chimique – Literally, “chemical yeast,” refers to baking powder and/or baking soda.
Macaron – A macaroon, almost always made with almonds, popular in France to the point of national obsession. Frankly, I dont get it.
Marc – As grappa is to the Italians, marc is to the French. Basically a spirit distilled from winemaking leftovers.
Market – I know, this is an English word. I just want to clarify that when I say “market,” I don’t mean supermarket. I mean an open-air, bustling, loud marché. (That’s pronounced mar-SHAY.)
Mignardise – Tiny post-dessert bites served in fancier restaurants.
Millefeuille – Literally, “thousand leaves,” a pastry made by stacking puff pastry and vanilla pastry cream lightened with whipped cream or buttercream. Also known as Napoleon.
Mirepoix – The base for many classic French dishes: consists of diced onion, carrot, and celery.
Mise en Place – All the stuff you need to get your cooking done efficiently. As in: produce peeled and chopped, necessary condiments and seasonings pulled from the cupboard, pans and other tools clean and at the ready.
Moelleux – Another awesome French food word, it literally transltes to “soft,” but it is used to describe a texture that is pleasant to the palate, be it in reference to a wine, the crumb of a baguette, or the center of the chocolate dessert which has appropriated the name for itself.
Mont Blanc – A quintessentially French dessert made of chestnut mousse squeezed out through tiny holes into a mountain shape. Named for the tallest mountain in the French Alps.
Monter au beurre – To finish a sauce by swirling in cold butter.
Montmartre – A hilly neighborhood in the 18th arrondissement of Paris surrounding Sacre-Coeur. Traditionally an arty district, it was most recently made famous by the film Amélie. The Lapin Agile cabaret is here, as well as the Moulin Rouge.
Navarin - A traditional French dish of braised lamb and spring vegetables. Paradoxically, a light stew.
Oignon piqué – An onion half with a bay leaf attached to it by way of a clove.
Os – Bone or bones.
Pain – Bread.
Pain d’épices – “Spice bread.” Similar to gingerbread, but made with honey instead of molasses, and the range of spices that can be used varies widely.
Pain Tradition – A baguette made the old-fashioned way, the one you want to buy in any given boulangerie. Also called tradi.
Panna Cotta – An eggless custard of Italian origin, which uses gelatin to bind the dairy instead of eggs.
Paris-Brest - In honor of a famous French bicycle race between the cities of Paris and Brest, a pastry made to resemble a bicycle wheel and filled with praline (hazelnut) cream.
Pâte à Choux – Named for its resemblance, when baked, to little cabbages, this is the incredibly versatile pastry dough used in cream puffs, éclairs, gougères, réligieuses, paris-brest, and so on.
Pâte Brisée – The classic flaky French pie dough.
Pâté en Croûte – Pâté baked in a pastry crust. Usually served sliced.
Pâté de Campagne - Country-style pâté, i.e. not as finely ground, with chunkier bits of meat incorporated into it.
Pâtisserie – Literally, “pastry shop.” In practice, a pâtisserie is a bakery that doesn’t make bread (except maybe brioche).
Petit Fours Secs – bite-size sweets such as palmiers, macaroons, meringues, tuiles, etc.
Pichet – A smaller than bottle-sized pitcher, usually 50 centiliters, of a restaurant’s house wine.
Piment – Any hot pepper.
Pissaladière – A common sight on the streets of Provence, this rustic pizza-like tart flavored with caramelized onions, anchovies, olives, and thyme makes a delicious snack or light meal. Of course, the “true” ingredients are a source of contention among locals. Tomatoes and garlic may make appearances, as well as other local vegtables.
Poitrine - “Chest,” most often used on this blog as a reference to pork belly or bacon.
Poivron – Any non-hot pepper. More often than not, categorized by color. See also piment.
Pot de Crème – A rich baked custard containing milk, cream, whole eggs, and egg yolks (in addition to sugar and flavoring ingredients). Ideally, somewhere between crème brûlée and crème caramel/flan in consistency.
Potiron – A French pumpkin with thick, flavorful, bright orange flesh.
Poudre à lever – “Baking powder” or “raising powder.”
Praline – French praline bears only slight resemblance to New Orleans’ confection of the same name. It is one of my favorite flavors, and consists of hard caramel, toasted almonds, and toasted hazelnuts. It can be used whole as a garnish, crumbled, or ground to a paste and used to flavor icings and fillings.
Praliné – Refers to a confection made with praline paste. Various other ingredients, including, but not limited to, nuts and chocolate are added to provide additional flavor and texture contrasts.
Provence/provençal – Provence is a region in the South of France, near Italy. Its cuisine is marked by the use of olive oil, garlic, tomatoes, and herbs. To me, provençal cuisine smacks of summer, though I’m sure they cook in the winter as well…
Purée – Unless otherwise specified, on a menu this means “mashed potatoes.” In France, this means very smooth, buttery, potato purée.
Quenelle – A football-shaped scoop of food. Usually made with two spoons, the very talented can do it with one.
Quignon – The end bit of the baguette. Often torn off and eaten upon exiting a bakery with a fresh loaf.
Réligieuse – Naughtily named (they are supposedly made to resemble nun’s breasts) pastry made by stacking a small cream puff on top of a larger one. Usually filled with chocolate or coffee cream.
Rillettes – A charcuterie product made by emulsifying shredded cooked meat with the fat of the animal from which it came. Or pork fat.
Rond – A French wine-tasting term Nick and I have latched onto, meaning smooth, full-bodied, and otherwise pleasant without marked acidity or tannin. We have taken to applying it to all kinds of things – it’s fun, give it a whirl!
Roux- A mixture of melted butter and flour, cooked to varying degrees of color: white, blond, brown, and black (aka cajun nitro or “two-beer roux”).
Saint Honoré - The patron saint of pastry chefs. Also, a dessert composed of pâte à choux, puff pastry, pastry cream, whipped cream, and caramel designed to highlight the skills of the pastry chef. It is often used as a mastery test of basic skills in pastry courses.
Salade tiède - A warm or room temperature salad.
Seigle – Rye.
Speculoos - A crisp, lightly spiced cookie. (The most common brand in France, Lotus, is sold as “Biscoff” in the United States.)
Stage – Someone learning a trade for the first time, usually a student who works for free for a short period of time.
Suprème – When used in reference to citrus fruit, a suprème is a section without any white pith attached.
Tarte Tatin – Also known as “La Tarte des Soeurs Tatin,” (tart of the Tatin Sisters), basically an upside-down apple pie. The apples are caramelized in sugar and butter, then topped with puff pastry dough and baked. When the tart is done, it is turned out of the pan so that the apples are on top. It is traditionally served with crème fraîche.
Tisane – Could be called “herbal tea,” but technically, contains no tea. Instead, the flavor comes from other plants, flowers and/or fruits.
Tradi – See pain tradition.
UHT – (as in “UHT milk”) Stands for Ultra Heat Treated. In France, most of the milk falls into this category. Unlike UHT cream in the US, this stuff is shelf stable, meaning no refrigeration necessary until you open it. I have never tried it, but the whole idea sounds pretty unpalatable to me.
Velouté – One of the five mother sauces of classic French cuisine, made by thinning blond roux with the stock of your choice. (Or thickening the stock with the roux, depending on how you look at it.)
Vidé – Literally, “emptied.” In reference to fish, means “cleaned” or “gutted.”
Winstub – Meaning “wine room,” this is the quintessential Alsatian dining experience. They are usually cozy, homey places serving hearty traditional cuisine alongside typical Alsatian wines.
Originally published on Croque-Camille.