All the French cooking terms you need to know for making fantastic meals

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Do you ever come back from the supermarket with a new vegan find, look at the instructions and end up scratching your head? Or maybe you’ve spotted an interesting recipe that you’d like to try out, but the instructions are in French. It’s time to check out some common French culinary terms.

French cooking terms
Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay

Weights and measures

France uses the metric system of measurement. In fact, France was an early adopter of the decimal system based on the kilogram and metre during the French Revolution in 1799. Most people will be familiar with grams and kilograms but do watch out for the French practice of referring to the measurement of liquid in centilitres. Here, 1 centilitre (1 cl) is equal to 10 millilitres (10 ml).

Using spoons

In UK and US cooking we’re used to tablespoon and teaspoon measurements. A tablespoon is 15 ml and a teaspoon is 5 ml. Halfway between the two is the dessertspoon, although this crops up less often in recipes; it’s 7.5 ml. Apparently, French recipes are not so precise with the use of spoon measurements, but you will come across cuillére a soupe, which is a tablespoon and cuillére a café which is a teaspoon. And, there’s also pincée for a pinch. Cup measurements aren’t common and most dry ingredients in recipes are given in gram weights.

Basic equipment

It always amuses me that my French neighbour does not possess a kettle (une bouilloire) and places a saucepan of water on the hob if she’s making a cup of tea. At least kettles are available in the electrical shops nowadays, which is an improvement on a few years ago. Other utensils you’ll come across are saucepans (with handles), which are known as la casserole and their lids are le couvercle. Frying pans are generally called la pôele or, less commonly, une sauteuse, although this is also the name for a jigsaw. As for appliances, an oven is un four, with the variants of un four à chaleur tournante for a fan oven and un four à micro-ondes being a mircowave. The hob is un cuisinère or un table du cuisson, and if you’re using gas the burners are brûleurs. Whereas, a small portable hotplate, like you’d take camping, is une plaque électrique. Finally, for grilling (gratiner) there’s no change with le grill.

Cooking terms

I’ve taken these cooking terms off actual packaging, rather than dictionary translations, so they are terms that you’re likely to encounter. Let me know if there are any more you’d like me to add. There’s a good dictionary here, although you might find it a little meat-centric 🙂

couvrircover (a saucepan)
deja lavéeready washed
en fines rondellesthin circles
en remuantstirring
faire revenirbring back (ie. to the boil)
feu douxlow heat/flame
incorporeradd in
laisser cuireleave to cook
porter a ébullitionbring to the boil
pret a degusterready to eat

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