What does “nappé” mean?

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Nappé (pronounced “nappay”) is a French word meaning “to coat.”  It’s often used in restaurant kitchens (particularly those run by classically French trained chefs) to refer to a state of liquid thickness (usually sauces).   It can also refer to coating food with that thickened liquid.  Many home cooks probably haven’t encountered this term, as cookbooks instead tell them to reduce a liquid down until it “coats the back of a spoon,” which means essentially the same thing.

That said, coating the back of a spoon can be confusing because of different ideas of what “coats” means.  Does it simply mean “until I can pick the spoon up and there’s sauce on it?”  Not exactly, you’re actually looking for a stable coating.

Here’s a good way to see if your sauce/soup/etc is “coating the back of a spoon”:
1.  Stir it with a metal spoon until you have good coverage on the back.
2.  Lift the spoon up and hold it vertically.  Though some liquid may run off, the back should stay coated.
3.  Run the tip of your (clean!) finger through the liquid on the spoon from top to bottom so that a strip of metal is exposed.
4.  If that strip of metal stays exposed, rather than the sauce flowing back to cover it, you’ve reached the nappé stage!

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26 Responses to “What does “nappé” mean?”

  1. 1
    Rob Fiauto says:

    I think a French speaker would say that “napper,” to coat, is pronounced “nappay,” but nappe would pronounced more-or-less as English speakers say “nap.” “Kitchen French” may differ, though…

  2. 2
    Matthew says:

    Hi Rob,

    It has been pronounced “nappay” in the kitchens I’ve been in, but my spelling was incorrect. Thank you for pointing out that it should be spelled “napper”. I’ve fixed it in the post.


  3. 3
    Brian says:


    Both you & Rob have pieces of the puzzle, but you haven’t quite put them together yet. Please allow me to help. I have a BA in French & am a French cuisine enthusiast.

    The French word “napper” indeed means “to coat” and is pronounced “nappay” as you have correctly determined. However, the past tense, “nappé” (spelled nappe with an acute accent over the “e”), means “to be coated” and is also pronounced “nappay.” The past tense form is the actual cooking term for a sauce that coats a spoon (i.e. a coated spoon).

    The “e” with the acute accent can usually be copied & pasted or you can use the ASCII code of “é” to put it directly into the HTML of your post.


  4. 4
    Brian says:

    My post converted the ASCII code automatically.
    The code is “& #233 ;” without the spaces & quotation marks.


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    Matthew says:

    Hi Brian,

    Thanks so much for the comments, I appreciate your help in making this post as accurate as possible. I’ve updated the spelling with the proper accent & letters above.

    Thanks again!

    Marx Foods

  7. 7
    Bern says:

    Someone just used the term “nappeing” to do something I would call basting. He had a piece of fish and was spooning the hot butter over it. Is this really how the word can be used another way?

  8. 8
    Matthew says:

    Hi Bern,

    Napper” translates as “to coat” and is referring (in the usage we describe here) to the sauce reaching the consistency where it can coat the back of a spoon, so yes, I think that would be an appropriate usage. He was saying that he was coating the fish.

    Marx Foods

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    Ramonda says:

    I’m trying to find the term similar to ‘nappe’ but means the clear area created when you draw your utensil through the sauce in the bottom of the pan.