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Friday, September 23, 2011

Pump Up the Flavor! (Part 3)

Our final stop on the way to Flavortown (to steal Guy Fieri's line) is how to bring out more flavor through seasoning.
  • We all know that the reason we use salt is to bring out the flavor in any food.  But sometimes, whether you're trying to cut down on salt or just want to try something different, it's good to reach for something acidic to bring out the flavor.  Citrus or vinegar help to brighten flavors and combat bitter flavors.  As little as 1/8 of a teaspoon can make a difference.
  • Another great way to cut down on salt is to add fresh herbs.  By adding these flavorful ingredients, you won't even miss the salt.  Be sure to add them at the right time, though.  Hearty herbs like rosemary, thyme, sage, etc, can be added early in the cooking process.  They'll release their flavors and get more tender during cooking.  More delicate herbs--parsley, basil, tarragon, etc--should be added at the last minute so their fresh and bright flavors aren't killed by the heat of cooking.
  • If you've seen Alton Brown on TV, you know that he pretty much always uses kosher salt.  I don't use it all the time, but to season meats, it's the way to go.  The larger pieces of kosher salt, can be spread out more evenly than table salt and, as they melt, the flavor is evenly distributed on the meat.
  • You can control the taste of the black pepper on a seared piece of meat by when you choose to add the pepper.  Add it before searing and you'll get a milder pepper flavor--the high heat tones down the flavor.  If you want a more strong pepper flavor, add it after searing.
  • Cold isn't usually good for flavor.  It can dull the flavors of food--so you have to season them more than foods that aren't chilled.  Probably the best way to do this is to season more on the lighter side before chilling and taste and re-season before serving.
  • Have you heard of umami?  It's commonly now known--along with sour, sweet, bitter and salty--as one of our "tastes".  Umami comes from the savory flavors of things like soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce and anchovies.  Adding a small amount of one of these kinds of ingredients boosts flavor in an amazing way.
  • Now and then, we mess up.  We put too much salt "to taste" or dump a little too much cayenne in our chili.  Don't fear.  There are ways to overcome these mishaps.  If your food is too salty, add acid or sweetener like vinegar, lemon or lime juice, tomatoes, sugar, honey or maple syrup.  If the food is too sweet, add an acid like vinegar or citrus juice or seasonings like fresh herbs or cayenne.  And if your food is too spicy or acidic, add a fat such as butter, cream, sour cream, cheese or olive oil; or a sweetener like sugar, honey or maple syrup.
So that's our little flavor tutorial.  I hope you found it helpful and put some of these tips to use in your own kitchen!

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