American Cooking Terms Explained

To celebrate the safe release of our kitchen equipment and other freighted belongings from JFK customs and the arrival of our first piece of bought furniture – a table – I decided to make the H1B a good home-cooked meal, a traditional English cottage pie.

An act which neatly brings me to a blog which I’ve been meaning to write about for a while – American cooking terms and what ‘broiling’, ‘braising’ and cup measurements actually mean.

Broiling – Google tells me that broiling is “[to] become very hot, esp. from the sun: “the countryside lay broiling in the sun””, which makes me think of a short tongued 17thC pioneer fanning himself in the shade of an American oak, exclaiming, “I’m absolutely bruddy broiling…”. However, broiling actually means anything that is cooked from direct heat – say a grill or an open flame (ie: if you were cooking with a skillet or frying pan). If you broil in an oven, you use the grill setting to brown your cottage pie, for example.

Braisingfrom the French “braiser”, thank you Wikipedia. If you brown off meat by searing it before casseroling (aka the “Malliard reaction”, for you gourmands out there), that’s braising. Pot roasting, casseroles, French oven… anything that cooks in something like a Le Creuset enamelled pan, etc.

Americans will also say that braising is also done in a “Dutch oven”, but as any purile-minded Brit will know, that is something else altogether…

Cup measurements – there’s something very quaint about the cup measurement; a more honest offering than the mathematical exactness of grams and ounces. However, cups are an exact weight – you can’t just grab the nearest mug (although, in theory, you can – if your recipe is about relative measures).

Because the weight of a food differs according to its mass and density (hang on, this is all getting a bit like a science lesson for my liking), there are no standard cup measurements for everything. So, a cup of flour will weigh less than a cup of brown sugar.

This handy table is from www.hintsandthings.com:

COMMODITY

BRITISH
MEASURE

METRIC EQUIVALENT
(APPROX)
AMERICAN
EQUIVALENT
Flour 4 oz. (ounces) 115g 1 cup
Cornflour 1 oz. 30 g 4 tablespoons
4 1/2 oz. 130 g 1 cup
Icing sugar (sifted confectioners) 7 oz. 200 g 1 cup
Soft Brown Sugar 4 oz. 115 g 1/2 cup (firmly packed)
Castor or Granulated sugar 4 oz. 115 g 1/2 cup
Butter, Margarine, Fat etc. 1 oz. 30 g 2 tablespoons
8 oz. 225 g 1 cup
Stick of butter 4 oz. 115 g 1/2 cup
Grated cheese – cheddar type 4 oz. 115g 1 cup
Grated cheese – Parmesan 8 oz. 225 g 1 cup
Pearl Barley/Tapioca 8 oz. 225 g 1 cup
Semolina/Ground rice 6 oz. 175 g 1 cup
Fresh bread or cake crumbs 3 oz. 75 g 1 cup
Dried bread crumbs 2 oz. 60 g 1 cup
Oatmeal 2 oz. 60 g 1 cup
Carrot – coarsely grated 4 oz. 115 g 1 cup
Sweetcorn – cooked 4 oz. 115 g 1 cup
Celery 4 sticks 1 cup chopped
Tomatoes – chopped 7 oz. 200 g 1 cup
Apples – Cooking 1 lb. (pound) 450 g 3 medium size
Apples – Eating 1 lb. 450 g 4 medium size
Mushrooms – button 4 oz. 115 g 1 cup
Beetroot 6 medium 1 cup – diced
Cucumber 1/2 average size 1 cup – diced
Strawberries – crushed 6 oz. 175 g 1 cup
Clear Honey/Golden syrup/Molasses/Black treacle 12 oz. 350 g 1 cup
Maple Syrup 11 oz. 300 g 1 cup
Jam/marmalade/jelly 8 oz. 225 g 1 cup
Currants/Sultanas/Raisins 6 oz. 175 g 1 cup
Candied Peel 4 oz. 115 g 1 cup
Almonds – shelled 5 oz. 150 g 1 cup

Note that butter is often sold in “sticks” in the USA. Butter is normally bought in packs of a pound, with four sticks in each pack. Each stick is 4 oz. Your recipe might ask for “half a stick of butter”, thus 2 oz.

The easiest thing for a trailing spouse cook would be to ditch the Delia Smith and Jamie Oliver books and invest in some American cookbooks (The New Brooklyn Cookbook is on my Christmas wishlist, Santa baby) and buy yourself a good cup measuring device (I prefer the individual metal ones, like this one from Amazon). Or, just as easily, buy some metric scales and stay old school (I bought mine out with me but I have seen them for sale in Bed, Bath & Beyond).

One last bit of info: cups should be lightly packed and levelled off with a knife so the food is not in a mound. Don’t pack it down to lightly or bang the cup on the kitchen surface to settle the food stuff too much. Keep sieved flour aerated, for example.

> Read my post on food shopping to find out what plain flour, corn flour and broad beans (and more) are called in the USA…

> See my post on oven temperature conversions

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