How to Decode a Menu!

me, ordering at a local restaurant, actually as I recall, that particular restaurant was not very good...what a shame

I’m so sorry but today I dont have some unique, creative, recipe!

Dont expect me to whip one up EVERY day, I will do it OFTEN but everyday can be stressful. I’m going to spend time with my dad this evening and I was buying some essentials today for my 300 hr teacher training tomorrow (since its yoga, a trip to Lululemon IS essential, I have to at least look cute for potential straight, male yoga instructors!).

But what I do think will be useful is sharing some of my culinary school knowledge with all y’all.

One thing that I notice with non-chefs (ie, most people) is that they have no clue what certain things are when they go to a fancy restaurant. Or even if you watch an episode of Top Chef, you hear them throwing around words like “confit” or “gastrique” and I bet some of you have wondered what they are talking about.

Well, it would be funny if they made it up to try to look pretentious but no, these are indeed culinary terms that maybe you should know. Plus, you’ll know what your getting next time you go to a restuarant without having to ask your actor, I mean, your waiter (in la, actors=waiters).

Alphabetically….shall we…….

a Carte – (1) a menu on which each food and beverage is listed and prices separately, (2) foods cooked to order as apposed to foods cooked in advance and held for later service (and yes, most sauces and soups are cooked way in advance, yo dont think they start making it when you actually order it? its not Jack in the Box!)

Au gratin – food that is prepared with a browned or crusted top.  A common technique is to cover the food with a bread crumb/sauce mixture and pass it under a broiler, like in french onion soup.

Broiling – a dry-heat cooking method in which foods are cooked by heat radiating from and overhead source, kind of like in a tanning booth only way hotter.

Confit – meat or poultry slowly cooked and preserved in its own fat. This sounds very unhealthy and maybe gross, but I PROMISE its actually very delicious, never had a bad confit in my life.

Consomme – a richly flavored soup stock that has been clarified and made transparent by the use of egg white. Egg whites have this unique capability of soaking up fat so its completely grease-less. I call this the “diet-y” soup of the gourmet world. I had to make dozens of them in culinary school, its time consuming and annoying to make, so I never order it cause I feel bad for whoever is back there degreasing my soup.

Ganache – a rich blend of chocolate and heavy cream and, optionally, flavorings, used as a pastry or candy filling or frosting, and in other words, a PMS cure.

Gastrique: a VERY yummy sauce which is an equal part vinegar and sugar reduction. Can be in savory or sweet dishes.

Genoise – a form of whipped-egg cake that uses whole eggs whipped with sugar and is basically a French spongecake, usually very delicious and hard to share 🙂

Paillard – a scallop of meat pounded until thin, usually grilled.

Rillette – meat or poultry slowly cooked, mashed and preserved in its own fat; served cold and usually spread on toast. Again, sounds gross and I hate to admit, very very delicious and expensive (and if its not expensive, you should be worried).

Roulade – a slice of meat, poultry or fish rolled around a stuffing. I made a turkey roulade my first thanksgiving out of culinary school. I stuffed it with the cornbread and cranberry sauce, avant guard right?

If you have any other questions about certain things you’ve seen on menus, let me know and I’ll decode em!

See, now you can impress your friends next time you order and save your “actor” the embarrassment of having no clue whats on the menu.

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12 thoughts on “How to Decode a Menu!

  1. Wow this is very helpful! Sometimes I go to a fancy restaurant and I’m just about clueless at all those adjectives! I’d definitely like to know how a certain dish is prepared before ordering ’em!

    No one is pressuring you to whip out a new recipe each day. That is wayyy too time-consuming. Sometimes you just want some simple eats right? 😉 (talking about a PB&J sandwich!)

  2. Awesome tips! Menu lingo can make your head spin. What would also be helpful is sushi menu decoding!! Some people think it’s healthy no matter what..but if they knew the meaning behind the roll names they might think differently!

  3. I do hear a lot of these terms on Top Chef and while I did know some of them, this list is very helpful!! I’ll take a genoise and a ganache please!!

    I must say though that confit grosses me out, mainly because I associate it with duck and I could never eat a duck!

  4. Is it sad that I knew most of this just from watching Food Network a bit too much? I haven’t actually had any of them, but that’s a different story…

    And here’s hoping there’s some hot yogi in your future (mine too, but you have a slightly better shot at it)!

  5. i want you to be my personal professional chef. well mainly just friend who cooks for me and invites me over hahahaha

    the only word that matters to me “bon appetite!”

  6. Trick question (but not really, since I don’t know): Can you make a roullade using a paillard? I’m asking because one of the first things I ever made was flattened chicken rolled and tied around basil and sun-dried tomatoes. I have no idea what one would call that…

  7. This was such a fun post! I love calling everything a ‘reduction’ lol!! The only one I didn’t know was Gastrique- and now I have to use it in my next ‘culinary adventure’! Thanks Eden!
    Completely unrelated- I was watching the Matchmaker rerun with you in it yesterday, and I actually got really upset watching it! The editing was so obvious. The way Patti cornered you to ‘reprimand’ you was pathetic. I am so sorry they skewed it to look that way! You are so strong for going on there and opening up! Evidence is that BOTH guys picked you for there mini date! I hope anyone watching has enough common sense to know that you are nothing like that (from what I have seen with interacting with you). You are a lovely, smart and hilariously witty girl! Furthermore, if anyone should have been taken aside on film, it should’ve been ms ‘Loves It’. omg. I didn’t think ppl like that truly existed! Seriously!???
    Barbara

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