Spanish Cooking Vocabulary

Learn a couple dozen Spanish verbs and speak about cooking like a Spanish chef!

Not everyone is an amateur chef. However, food is one of the most popular small talk topics, so you can’t do without the steaming and mouth-watering part of the Spanish vocabulary. But we are here to ease your burden: learn to describe a couple dozen cooking processes in Spanish in a fun and easy way using our associations!

How to Cook in Spanish

Cocinar is a broader verb than cocer.

In Spanish, there are two basic verbs with a very similar meaning: cocer and cocinar. The latter has a broader meaning because it stemmed from the noun cocina meaning "kitchen" (just like in English we have the verb "to babysit," which derived from the noun "babysitter").

  • Cocinar is used to describe everthing that is going on in the cocina: peeling, rinsing, marinating, adding, mixing, coating, etc.
  • Cocer, in its turn, is only used to describe the process of cooking with the use of heat.

In fact, in order to cocinar one needs to go through two major stages: at first it’s preparar (preparing for actual cooking: chopping, dicing, deboning, etc.) and only then cocer (frying, parboiling, sautéing, etc.)

Fun Facts about Cocer and Cocinar

  • Both cocinar and cocer derived from the same Latin word coquō. Interestingly, the English word dates back to the same Latin ancestor!
  • In the Dominican Republic, cocina is a slang term for the back seats of a local bus. Would you want to try riding there?

Cooking in Action

Pelar is the Spanish for "to peel."

The verb cocinar umbrellas dozens of activities one can perform in the kitchen. Let’s sort through the most basic of culinary verbs and work on association that will help you easily memorize them.

Agregar = to add

Picture yourself assembling, or aggregating, a salad. What are you doing with all of its components after slicing and dicing and peeling? You are adding them, one by one, to the dish in progress!

Ahumar = to smoke

Sounds similar to the well-known Spanish verb fumar? That’s right, the action is similar, too, only the smoke is used to give a piquant smell to fish or, say, meat. To memorize the verb, try to pair it up with the English word "fume" – they share a common Latin origin.

Batir = to beat

No special trouble here – there is enough resemblance between the Spanish verb and its English counterpart.

Capear = to cover, to coat

This Spanish verb means "to cover," or, to be more precise, "to coat", like in butter before sautéing. So, the association that might help you memorize and retrieve the verb from your memory might be the English word "cape": first, it is a kind of coat, and second, it very much resembles the Spanish verb capear.

Congelar = to freeze

Remember gelato? Or jell-o, which needs cooling to set and become wonderfully wobbly? Or the verb "to congeal," which means "to become semi-solid, especially on cooling"? Here’s your association! 

Cortar = to cut

Remember the Spanish for short? That’s right, it's corto. And the action of cutting actually makes things shorter! One thing to remember here is that the verb cortar can be applied to more activities than just cooking – cutting grass, etc.

Cubrir = to cover with a lid

Another verb for covering, only now with an actual cover. The key to memorizing it is noticing the resemblance between the Spanish verb and its English translation.

Desvenar = to devein

Nothing tricky here, visual resemblance rules!

Enharinar = to coat in flour

Since the Spanish for flour is harina, coating in harina is quite logically described with the verb enharinar.

Flamear = to burn

Don’t picture the sickening smell of the food charred because of neglect just yet! Flamear is used to describe the process otherwise known as flambé. Note the resemblance between the Spanish and the English verbs to work out a solid association.

Freir = to fry

We’ll never be tired of saying this: Visual resemblance rules!

Guisar = to stew

Unfortunately, here is the word you’ll have to rack your brains about. It neither resembles its English counterpart nor can be traced back to an obvious ancestor. However, stewing is a mode of cooking, and guisar was derived from an old Germanic word "wise" meaning "a manner, a way". The association seems way too far-fetched, but sometimes these things work just as fine – after all, you’ve put so much effort into understanding the complicated connection!

Hervir = to boil

The Spanish word derives from an ancient Latin word meaning "fever" – an abnormally high body temperature. And boiling is also achieved by raising the temperature of the liquid.

Hornear = to oven-bake

Both the English word furnace and the Spanish horno derive from the Latin furnus. The association is not that obvious, but the combination of r and n in the middle of both words might help.

Llenar = to fill

The Spanish lleno ("full") derives from the Latin plenus, which bears a resemblance to a modern English word useв to describe a sufficient amount – "plenty."

Machacar = to crush, to grind

It must require enough force to pulverize foods, so picturing a macho crushing nuts to powder with his bare hands might help.

Mezclar = to mix

Back again to resemblance, this time auditory.   

Nevar = to beat egg whites

You are very likely to know that nieve is the Spanish for "snow." And what do frothy beaten egg whites look like?  Exactly! Please note that nevar also means "to snow" and use it appropriately in weather-related conversations.

Pelar = to peel

Visual resemblance and common origins work wonders!

Rellenar = to stuff

Remember llenar? This is almost the same case, only the prefix re- is used in Spanish to emphasize the thoroughness of an action, that is, rellennar is to fill very thoroughly, with a bit of extra effort, in other words, to stuff.

Fun fact:

Bearing this in mind, what should the proper translation for frijoles refritos be? That’s right – "well-fried beans", not "refried", as we are used to.

Remover = to stir

In Spanish, mover means "to move" (easy-peasy!), and you should already know about the meaning of the prefix re- by this time. Put two and two together and you will realize that remover means to move thoroughly, in other words, to stir.

Salar = to season with salt

Since sal is the Spanish for "salt", a suffix is enough to turn the noun into a verb.

Sazonar = to season

Hooray to similarity!

Trocear = to cut

We already mentioned the verb cortar, and also said that it can be applied to other areas of life outside cooking. Trocear is another thing – it is only used to describe cutting for culinary purposes. Since there is no obvious connection between the Spanish and the English verbs, hope this helps you remember.

Untar = to spread

You can memorize the word in a scholarly way: work out a connection between the Latin etymon unctus and the English derivative anoint meaning "to smear" or a more frequently used word "ointment" and the way it is applied for medicinal purposes. But a surer – and a way easier, too – way is to look for sound similarity. Untar sounds similar to untie. And when you untie a bag holding a liquid, the contents spread all over the table.

And now, let’s check how many of these association and memorization techniques really work!

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