The French were the first to develop a precise language to describe cooking with specific nouns and action verbs. It explains why they cook at perhaps the highest level. And some of the lexicon is brilliant, such as “chemiser” (to give a shirt), to describe buttering and flouring a ramekin before adding the soufflé mixture. My favorite is “sol y laisse” (the fool leaves it), referring to that most tender nugget of meat between the chicken thigh and backbone, mentioned a few times in the movie Amelie, often left on behind. Of course we know the standard ones, such as “sauté”, “mirepoix”, “jus”, “mise en place”, “flambé”, etc..
There is one that gets confused. It’s come up in class and I’ve been noticing it on the airways. It’s the word “fonds” (pronounced “foe” + soft “n”). It literally means foundations, specifically referring to stocks. I’ve recently heard referred to as those brown bits stuck to the pan after searing or browning something in it. The correct term for those brown bits is “sucs” (pronounced “sue” + a quick “ks”), from the word “sucre” (sugar), and specifically referring to the caramelized sugars, charbohydrates, and/or proteins that stick to the pan, which are “deglazed” with wine or stock to form a “jus”.
I can’t emphasize how important it is for students, or even the home cook for that matter, to learn the terms. It opens the mind to dissect a recipe into its parts, its essential techniques with just a few words rather than a few paragraphs. In all disciplines, if we don’t know the language, we don’t know what it’s about. If you don’t know what a carburetor is or does, it will cost you that much more at the mechanic shop. Language can be powerful, especially in understanding how things work. Notice the difference between the English “brown bits” and the French “sucs”: the French version sounds like good stuff in the pan, real good stuff; the English sounds like it might simply end up in the wash. English is my thinking language, but when it comes to cooking French makes it clearer and tastier.
Ciao, salut, cheers,
Tony Minichiello, Cook (“cuisinier”) Instructor