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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Pump Up the Flavor! (Part 2)

So now you have flavorful food all ready to cook.  But there are lots of ways to add even more flavor during the cooking process.  Let's take a look at some of them.
  • Probably if I could break one habit in the kitchen, it would be to be more patient when preheating a pan.  When searing meat or sauteing, it's so important to have a very hot pan.  Don't grow impatient and add the food before the pan's up to temp.  Oh, it'll cook, but you won't get that great crust on meats or the flavorful browning on veggies.  Same with frying.  It's just as important to make sure your oil is up to temperature--maybe even more so.  Underheated oil leads to soggy and greasy food.
  • Browning equals flavor.  For quicker browning, add a little bit of sugar to meats or veggies.  You'll get a better browning without overcooking.
  • That brown stuff that sticks to the bottom of the pan is called "fond" (French for "base" or "foundation").  And it's all flavor.  Deglaze the hot pan with wine, broth or even water and scrape with a wooden spoon to loosen the brown bits.  This will be the base of flavor in a soup or sauce.
  • Next to the nuts in our freezer is a zip-top bag with rinds from Parmesan cheese that we've used.  Why do we keep them?  Same reason Italians have been saving them for ages--to throw a rind in a soup or stew for great flavor (it helps to thicken, too).  You can take it right out of the freezer and put it into the simmering pot. 
  • While we're talking about flavoring soups and stews...Take a head of garlic and rub the papery outer layer off, then cut about a half-inch off the top of the head.  Toss the whole thing in your pot for great flavor.  When the soup's done, you can either throw the garlic out or squeeze the now-soft cloves into a small bowl, mash them up and add to the soup--more flavor (and thickening).
  •  If you have a recipe that calls for removing meat from a pan and resting, you'll notice that some juices come out of the meat as it sits.  Flavor!  Always put those juices back in the pan if making a sauce.
  • If using nuts, it's worth it flavor-wise to take the few extra minutes to toast them.  Toasting brings out the flavorful oils and creates a deeper flavor.  This is easily done by putting the nuts in a dry pan and stirring or tossing until they are lightly brown and aromatic.  For larger amounts, it's easier to put them on a sheet pan and toast them in the oven.  However you do it, be sure to watch them carefully.  They go from toasted to burned very quickly.
  • Just as with nuts, toasting brings out the complexity and deepness of spices.  Either cook the spices for a couple minutes in some butter or oil before adding to the recipe.  Or add to aromatics (garlic, onion, etc) while they are sauteing.  You can even toast spices in a dry pan, like you do with nuts, if you wish.  (If you grind your own spices, this isn't as critical because freshly grinding the spices brings out those oils.)
Next up, bringing the flavor when you season your food.

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