At the middle school I attended, you had two choices for foreign language: French or Spanish. I chose French for a number of reasons, but primarily, I just thought it sounded cool. Oh, and I wanted to go to Paris someday.
While I am glad I had the chance to learn French, I have had far, far more opportunities where a working knowledge of Spanish could have come in handy. But when it comes to cooking, there is something to be said for having a basic idea of French terms.
But even with my years of studying French, there were two terms that as I learned to cook intimidated me unnecessarily. Both are common cooking terms and both are really easy concepts that I share with you today...
First, "Mirepoix." It is not a French word per se, but a town from which it derives its name. But thinking because it has a fancy name it must be a fancy french technique is deceiving. It means:
Onions, carrots and celery. Yep, it is that simple. It is the base to many soups, stocks and stews, and it provides a rich flavor base.
Second, Mise En Place, which translates to "putting in place," a French term for preparing your ingredients before cooking. This term is especially apropos when doing something like a stir fry, where a lot of ingredients must be cooked in a short amount of time. Having all your ingredients mise en place allows you to cook, uninterrupted, and with less stress.
There are countless other french terms you come across while cooking and eating, like amuse bouche (literally, "happy mouth") and chiffonade, a way of thinly slicing rolled herbs. Once I discovered that most of these fancy-schmancy french terms have simple meanings, it help demystify cooking and made me more confident in the kitchen. I hope it does the same for you!