I have had the privilege of eating at some of the finest establishments in South Africa, from Luke Dale-Roberts’ Test Kitchen, George Jardine at Jordan Restaurant and Franck Dangereux at The Food Barn. They all served bold and beautiful dishes made using wonderful ingredients and techniques, but trying to decipher the terms on the menu can sometimes be a little tricky! I’ve decided to demystify culinary terms and techniques that you might find on the menu at fine-dining restaurants.
An amuse-bouche is a “teaser”, which is served to “amuse” your palate and tastebuds before the main meal is served.
Blanching refers to cooking vegetables in boiling water very quickly before draining and plunging them into ice-cold water to stop them cooking. Blanched vegetables are prepared in restaurants before service to be cooked through to order.
A chiffonnade refers to rolling up delicate leaves, such as basil or spinach, into a cigar shape to be finely sliced or shredded.
“Espuma” means “foam” in Spanish and it usually flavoured. It was made famous by El Bulli’s Ferrán Adriá, the champion of molecular gastronomy.
En papillote refers to a dish cooked and served in paper. Traditionally, the parcels are made from greaseproof paper and tin foil, and contain a knob of butter, vegetables and meat such as fish. The parcel is carefully sealed and baked until the parcel puffs up and the ingredients are cooked through.
Noisette of lamb is a round piece of lamb, usually made from a deboned loin, which has been rolled up before being cooked, sliced and served.
Petit-fours are an assortment of small bite-sized sweets or pastries that are served with coffee after a meal. They may include baby meringues, macaroons, fudge, chocolate truffles or nougat.
Sous-vide is a technique used for cooking meat such as duck or fillet in by vacuum-packing it and slowly cooking it in a water bath at a very low temperature.
Traditionally, a quenelle is an oval-shaped mixture of fish or chicken mousse that is made using two spoons. You turn one spoonful of the mixture into the other to create a beautiful oval shape. Today, the term simply refers to the oval shape and not the actual mixture, so don’t get a shock if you spot them on the dessert menu.
Turned vegetables are vegetables such as carrots or beetroot that have been carefully cut into barrel-like shapes with symmetrical sides. They are not often seen on menus anymore, and were originally made to ensure that vegetables cooked equally on all side when they were sauteed.