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Fancy Restaurant Menu Jargon Decoded Part 1

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So, you’re relaxing and unwinding at a fine restaurant, maybe you’re on a business lunch with your boss, or perhaps you’re trying to impress a first date, or you’re simply enjoying some chill-out time with family and friends. Suddenly, the waiter approaches you with an elaborate menu detailing all the dishes on offer, and you panic. There are so many words you cannot understand or decipher the perplexing jargon, so what do you do?

Okay, you may not be out of your depth as you might think, but when you’re presented with the menu, you won’t want to admit that you don’t understand half the verbiage on there, neither would you want to bombard the waiter with a barrage of questions. This is why Marina Club wanted to provide its faithful clientele with a quick guide and jargon buster of some of the things that can bewilder you.

A La Carte – literally translated from the French means ‘according to the card’. Each dish will be listed separately and individually priced.

Aioli – a paste of garlic cloves in a mortar & pestle and then continues with an emulsion of egg yolk and oil.

Baste – a technique where fat/drippings from the pan are poured over top of the food to develop the flavour.

Béarnaise – a type of hollandaise sauce with the addition of tarragon.

Bisque – a rich, creamy, smooth soup usually made with crustaceans. Traditionally, the shells of the crustaceans are sautéed and then ground into a fine paste to thicken the soup.

Canapé – a one or two bite hors d’oeuvre served on a type of bread, cracker, or pastry.

Cannon – the eye of the loin with all the fat removed. It’s the leanest and most tender cut of lamb or venison.

Carpaccio – an Italian dish made with raw beef, sliced or pounded extremely thin.

Cassoulet – a rich meat-and-white-bean stew originating from southern France.

Ceviche – a dish of South American origin, ceviche consists of diced, raw fish or seafood marinated in a citrus juice, with salt and chillies.

Charcuterie – is the branch of cooking devoted to prepared meat products, such as bacon, ham, sausage, terrines, galantines, ballotines, pâtés, and confit, primarily from pork.

Chateaubriand – several definitions exist, but generally considered to be a thick cut from the tenderloin.

Chèvre – French for goat cheese.

Daikon – a mild flavoured radish.

Deconstructed – means when components of a dish remain separate on the plate for presentation to give you the experience of putting them back together however you choose.

En Papillote (Italian: Al cartoccio) – a method of cooking where food is baked inside a sealed pouch of greaseproof paper, allowing the food to be steamed in its own juices.

Fricassée – most commonly chicken or poultry, but also veal; the meat is cut into pieces, dusted in flour, sautéed in butter or oil and then cooked with vegetables in stock often including wine. Again, there are many variations.

Ganache – a sauce/icing made from chocolate and cream.

Garganelli – a type of pasta formed by rolling a flat square noodle into a tubular shape.

Hollandaise sauce – is an emulsion of egg yolk and liquid butter, usually seasoned with lemon juice, salt, and a little white or cayenne pepper. In appearance, it is light yellow and opaque, smooth and creamy.

Julienne – a French term for a method of cutting vegetables into thin, matchstick-like strips.

Kimchi – a spicy Korean side dish made of fermented vegetables (mostly cabbage). Very often this is added to dishes for that extra punch of spicy and sour flavour.

Lardon – a small strip of pork fat.

Mirepoix – a roughly chopped vegetable cut, usually a mixture of onions, carrots, and celery; the traditional ratio is two parts onions.

Mizuna – a Japanese lettuce in the mustard family.

Osso bucco – literally translated means ‘bone with a hole’, this is a thick cut (approximately an inch and a half) veal shank. When cooked, the marrow in the centre melts into the sauce leaving a hole in the middle; hence the name. It’s usually braised with vegetables and one of the traditional accompaniments is ‘risotto alla milanese’. It’s often garnished with Gremolata.

Pâté – is a smooth mixture of cooked meat & fat – sometimes cooked in a terrine mould, which is oblong in shape and forms the food inside it.

Petit fours – small cakes and biscuits served as an accompaniment to coffee.

Pistou – a French version of pesto that doesn’t contain pine nuts.

Ragout – a commonly (sometimes overly!) used term that has become difficult to define. A well-seasoned stew that may contain meat or fish – with or without vegetables….or vegetables – with or without meat or fish.

Rémoulade – a mayonnaise-based sauce often flavoured with herbs, mustard and capers.

Roux – is flour and fat cooked together and used to thicken sauces. The fat is butter in French cuisine, but may be lard or vegetable oil in other cuisines.

Sauce Vierge – this ‘Virgin sauce’ is made using olive oil, lemon juice and chopped tomatoes and basil.

Sauté – fried quickly in a little hot fat.

Sous-vide – technique of cooking where food is vacuum-sealed in an airtight container and then placed in a temperature controlled water bath for long periods of time. The desired outcome is perfectly (evenly) cooked food.

Velouté – a white sauce which is made from a ‘white stock’, such as chicken or seafood stock and a roux. Cream and seasoning is added once the velouté is ready to serve.

Za’atar – a traditional eastern Mediterranean spice blend.

We hope you found this list of restaurant jargon useful, and if you feel that it hasn’t been as exhaustive as you might have expected, fret not, because we have an extended list we’ll be uploading very soon. So make sure you check out our blog regularly. In the meantime, why not come and sample one of our specialities at the Marina Club, situated at the breath-taking Valletta Waterfront. And don’t worry, if you don’t understand any culinary terms on the menu, you can always ask our waiting staff. We don’t judge.