This is one of the cases, where the distinctions are somewhat different (and pretty much arbitrary) in English and German. Also, it will depend on whether you're talking to a chef or someone who's never been in a kitchen, or someone in between.
There is a lot of overlap, though, so that in most cases braten will cover what you want to say.
Some examples where Germans use a different term than braten:
- roasting something in a dry pan or griddle (onions, oil seeds, coffee): rösten. The focus here is on high temperature, no fat or oil, usually for releasing and creating flavours by caramelization and the Maillard reaction. This is afaik the only instance where these two can be used interchangeably; the definition of rösten is much narrower than to roast.
- roasting something in a pan with a little fat or oil, with initially high temperature: anbraten, bräunen.
- frying something in a pan with rather more fat or oil, to the point of deep frying: backen or ausbacken. "Backfisch", for example, is a fish fillet in batter, fried or deep fried.
I'll try to add more examples :)
I know nothing of this, but what I intended to be a comment has become long enough for an answer.
The words “rösten”, “braten” and “frittieren” all describe ways to prepare food that are relevant here. You can find their exact meaning by looking at the corresponding articles in the German language Wikipedia. There may be more words of interest to be found in the article “Garen”.
“Rösten” ist “roast”, but as in coffee beans. The pictures for “Braten” look very much like those for “roasting”, which should sufficiently explain this word. (The German page also links to the English page. This is a good way to use Wikipedia to find translations for things like these, very useful with animals and plants. Unfortunately the English page links to the page for “rösten”, which seems to be a bad choice.)
Finally, “frittieren” is definitely how you prepare French fries. That seems to be “deep-frying” in English.
Oh my gosh there has to be some way of saying "fried eggs". In Yiddish we have praegeln, as in the following quatrain from the Ballad of Monisch by I. L. Peretz, in which the Devil and Lilith are having a quiet morning at home:
Sée shmuessen (chat) vertraut, vun dem un vun jenem;
Wemen zu packen ‘erein in Gehenum.
Wemen zu schmeissen mit eiserne rüter,
Un wemen zu präglen zu’m frühstuck mit putter.
Here's an attempt of a quick (probably inexact) overview:
fry - frittieren / braten / backen.
- These one see to be close, but rather by orthography
- is only used when something floats in fat/oil (notwithstanding regional differences).
- still pastry (Fettgebäck, Siedegeback) one uses
in heißem Fett schwimmend ausgebacken
- without or just few oil (not floating)
roast - rösten / braten
- without fat and water
- in the oven (not pastry)