03/21/2012 09:08 am ET Updated Aug 31, 2012

Understanding Basic Cooking Terms: Chopping and Boiling

While most of us can get by in the kitchen, the truth is that we're often just making things up as we go along. And while there's absolutely nothing wrong with that, and we at Kitchen Daily definitely see the value in creative exploration while cooking, we felt that getting a few basic kitchen terms down could help significantly improve your game.

Today, we're focusing on clarifying water temperature and knife-skill terminology. So, if you sometimes wonder what the difference is between dicing a tomato or chopping it, or if you just allow your soups to always bubble at the same high intensity, you may want to read on to get a few things straight.

Simmer: Some of us only know one setting on the stove -- really, really hot -- and this just won't do. You're missing out on the deep flavor of slow-cooked foods and you're probably eating many burned dishes. When a recipe asks you to simmer, it's essentially asking you to draw out the flavors of your ingredients. And to bring something to a simmer means to let it cook slowly, gently, with only small bubbles reaching the surface.

Boil: To bring something to a boil is almost the opposite of simmering. When you boil, you want big, active bubbles reaching the surface -- and the temperature will be set significantly higher. Often times you want to reach a boil when you've just added ingredients to a pot, and then you'll eventually bring it back down to a simmer to finish cooking.

Rolling Boil: A rolling boil is when you've reached the maximum amount of bubble production. It means that, no matter how much more heat you add, you won't get any additional bubble activity. You'll want to use this type of a boil when making pasta: it ensures that you'll have minimal temperature loss when you add the pasta, allowing for the same cooking duration each time.

Blanch: To blanch something is to partially cook it -- normally done to fruits and vegetables to avoid overcooking, or to remove a bitter flavor. To blanch you just plunge an ingredient into boiling water for a few seconds, up to a minute or two (depending on what you're blanching) and then immediately transfer it to cold water. The cold water halts the cooking of the ingredient, which would normally continue cooking until it cooled down.

Chop: Chopping means to cut food into (more or less) bite-sized pieces using the quick, heavy blows of a knife. If a recipe calls for something to be finely chopped, the pieces should be smaller than bite sized, and if it calls for roughly chopped, they should be slightly bigger.

Cube: Cubing something means to cut into little cubes, from about 1/2-inch to an inch in size.

Dice: Dicing food means that you're chopping into tiny cubes, roughly 1/4-1/8 of an inch in size.

Mince: To mince something is to chop it as finely as possible. A minced ingredient is at most 1/8 of an inch, and doesn't require a uniformity of shape.

Grate: Grating is not only relegated to cheese you buy in a plastic re-sealable bag. Many recipes call for grated ingredients. Grating refers to the outcome of using a larger piece of food and reducing it in size by rubbing it against a coarse, serrated surface such as a microplaner or box grater.

Julienne: This particular way of cutting produce was, at one point in time, very popular. Julienne is also sometimes referred to as matchstick and it means to cut produce -- normally potatoes, zucchini or carrots -- into long, skinny strips that are approximately 2 inches long and 1/16 of an inch in diameter.

Do you still have questions? Leave a comment below and we'll do our best to answer them.

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