Cooking Tips · Techniques

French Terms in our Kitchens

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

In the culinary world, there are many French words that are commonly used. As I discovered recently when talking to a friend, many home cooks are not familiar with these terms. That is the subject of this Cooking Tip. There are too many terms to list them all in this Tip. Rather, I will focus on those that the home cook will most likely run across. Whether you are trying to understand an item on a menu or trying to get an idea about a recipe, an explanation of these terms should prove helpful.


This is the French word for Butter and you will see many variations of this mainly dealing with sauces.

  • Beurre Blanc – This translates to “white butter”. It is a light sauce made with a reduction of white wine, vinegar and shallots and finished by whisking in butter to create a smooth and emulsified sauce.
  • Beurre Rouge – As expected, the translation of this is “red butter”. It is made similarly to Beurre Blanc but made with red wine instead of white.
  • Beurre Manie – This roughly translates to “butter by hand”. It is an uncooked roux and is made by kneading softened butter and flour together until combined. It can then be whisked into hot sauces or soups as a thickening agent.
  • Beurre Noisette – browned butter. Butter is cooked gently until the milk solids settle out and turn brown and nutty in flavor. Can be used as a sauce on its own or as an ingredient.

Other sauces

  • Béchamel sauce – This is a classic thickened white sauce made with a roux and milk. It can be used as a pasta sauce on its own or as a component of souffles and traditional lasagna.
  • Mornay sauce – If you take Béchamel sauce and add cheese, you have Mornay sauce. The classic cheese used is Swiss or Gruyère but you can vary it based on your tastes. If you have ever made mac & cheese from scratch, you have made a Mornay sauce whether or not you knew that was the name.
  • Velouté – If you make a white sauce with roux and a light stock instead of milk, you have made Velouté. Think Thanksgiving gravy. Velouté may also be applied to a type of pureed soup.
  • Hollandaise – This is a rich sauce made with egg yolks and butter and classically served as part of Eggs Benedict.
  • Béarnaise – If you add tarragon to your hollandaise sauce, you have béarnaise.
  • Coulis – a fruit or vegetable puree and served as a light sauce or garnish.
  • Sabayon – This sauce is traditionally made with egg yolks, sugar and wine, normally Marsala. In Italian, it is known as zabaglione,


  • Papillote – a term used to describe food that is cooked and served inside a packet such as parchment or foil.
  • Bain-marie – a method of cooking over a hot water bath. It provides for gentle and even heat and is used in melting chocolate and in cooking items such as custard and crème brulée.
  • Confit – a cooking technique where food is cooked covered in fat at a low temperature. It is usually defined as a method of cooking duck or pork in its own fat. It is also stored in the same fat.
  • Deglaze (deglacer) – a simple technique that involves adding a liquid to a pan that has been used to roast or sauté meat and scraping up the fond that has stuck to the bottom of the pan. It is the first step to making a delicious pan sauce.

French Dishes – here are just a few classic French dishes that you are likely to see on a restaurant menu.

  • Boeuf Bourguignon – a slow-cooked French stew made with beef, red wine, pearl onions, mushrooms and bacon.
  • Bouillabaisse – a traditional Provençal fish soup originating in the port city of Marseille.
  • Cassoulet – another French stew but classically made with sausage, confit (typically duck), pork and white beans.
  • Coq au Vin – translated as “rooster with wine”, this is a French chicken stew made by braising chicken with wine, bacon, mushrooms and red wine.
  • Croque Monsieur – an elevated ham/cheese sandwich layered with Bechamel sauce. If you put an egg on top, it is called a Croque Madame.
  • Gougeres – French cheese puffs
  • Profiteroles – cream puffs
  • Ratatouille – a traditional vegetable stew made with summer vegetables such as tomatoes, zucchini, peppers and eggplant.
  • Tarte Flambée – also known as Flammekueche or Flammkuchen, it is an Alsatian-style pizza. With a thin crust and spread with cream, onions and smoked pork bits, it is delicious.

Miscellaneous Terms

  • Bouquet Garni – a mixture of fresh herbs (normally thyme, parsley & bay leaf) tied together with string or wrapped inside a leek leaf and used to add flavor to stews and soups. The herbs may also be enclosed inside cheesecloth or a spice bag. In that case, it would be known as sachet d’épices (spice bag or sachet).
  • Aioli – this is usually described as a garlic flavored mayonnaise and served with vegetables and fish.
  • Roux – a mixture of fat and starch (usually butter and flour) cooked to desired color and then used to thicken sauces and, at times, add flavor. This is the basis for many sauces.
  • Mirepoix – used as the base for soups, stews and sauces, it is composed of chopped vegetables. The typical composition is onions, carrots and celery. Variations on this are discussed in this Tip.

I hope this brief foray into how we often see the French language creep into our kitchens will save you time as you look at recipes or restaurant menus.