Food has a language all its own, and not speaking it fluently can make anyone feel flustered. There’s all that scientific jargon that’s in vogue, and all the confusing ingredients, and, of course, all that French. But fear not! We’ve defined five common-yet-confusing terms so you can order with confidence.
Pronounce it: con-FEE.
What it is: Preserved anything, but it’s most commonly meat or fruit jelly.
Where you can find it: At Virtue Food & Grain, chef Ryan Wheeler serves a traditional duck confit. Duck legs are first cured overnight in the fridge with a mixture of salt, sugar and herbs, then brushed off, covered in duck fat and cooked in a low-heat oven for three to four hours, then stored in their own fat. “After that, it’s good for a month,” says chef-owner Cathal Armstrong. “We killed bacteria with the salt, killed bacteria with temperature, and eliminated any oxygen that’s present.” (The restaurant keeps the confit refrigerated as an extra step against contamination.) This is a rich dish: The meat pulls apart like a pot roast, and the potatoes lyonnaise — which are crisped up in duck fat — provide a nice contrast.
Virtue Feed and Grain, 106 S. Union Street, Alexandria; 571-970-3669. (King Street)
Pronounce it: soob-EEZ.
What it is: A cream sauce with onions.
Where you can find it: CityZen has a lamb dish in which the meat is served with pickled watermelon rind, fried okra and a mustard variation of the soubise. “We like a lot of things that offer a new interpretation of classical elements,” says chef Eric Ziebold, who notes that mustard isn’t a traditional ingredient of soubise. In the lamb dish, the soubise adds a pleasant zing that complements the earthiness of the lamb and cuts through the sourness of the house-made pickles.
CityZen, 1330 Maryland Ave. SW; 202-787-6006. (Smithsonian)
Pronounce it: cool-EE
What it is: A strained liquid, usually made from vegetables or fruits that are pureed, then strained to remove seeds or peels.
Where you can find it: John Manolatos, chef at Cashion’s Eat Place, says “we use a lot of coulis, because it’s a great way to use vegetables and turn them into sauces, which is great if you don’t have an army of people making stocks and reducing them.” For his sardine appetizer, Manolatos makes a tomato coulis that also includes red onions, carrots, basil and garlic. “We put that in a cold pot and then cover it and stew them down. And then we just put it in a food mill.” The acidity of the tomato perks up the fattiness of the sardines. When you attack the fish, by the way, draw the knife horizontally to remove most of the bones from the fish (but the bones are very soft, so don’t worry if you accidentally eat one or two).
Cashion’s Eat Place, 1819 Columbia Road NW; 202-797-1819. (Woodley Park)
Pronounce it: Just like it looks, unless you’re actually French.
What it is: Technically, it’s two elements that shouldn’t go together that are whipped until they do (like eggs and oil in mayonnaise). For chef Michel Richard, “it’s so simple. It’s a sauce, and you beat it.”
Where you can find it: At Richard’s Citronelle, you can order hake (a mild fish) surrounded by a ginger emulsion. “We take fresh ginger, lobster consommé [clear soup], a little bit of butter” and use an immersion blender “like a bubble bath.” The result is a sunset-orange sauce that is first heavy on the tongue — and then the ginger kicks in, tickling the top part of your mouth and your nose.
Citronelle, 3000 M St. NW; 202-625-2150. (Foggy Bottom)
Pronounce it: zhu
What it is: “‘Meat juice’ is the literal translation,” says Jeffrey Buben, chef-owner of Vidalia.
Where you can find it: On Buben’s “sweetbreads and waffles,” where a lemon caper veal jus accompanies deep-fried sweetbreads that sit atop waffles and a sticky, sweet bacon “fondue.” Buben is obeying the spirit of the culinary law, if not the letter. “A strict French chef would have to say [the jus] has to come from a roasted piece of veal. I respect the idea, but I don’t want to roast a piece of meat and throw [it] away,” so he instead roasts veal neck or shank (which would otherwise be pitched). “I’m saving my soul by using the meat on the veal neck as a replacement” for a large piece of meat. The lemon and capers serve to lighten the sauce, making it the element that cuts through the heaviness of the sweetbreads and the waffles.
Vidalia, 1990 M St. NW; 202-659-1990. (Farragut West)