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Monday, September 19, 2011

Pump Up the Flavor!

What's the most important thing about a meal?  Some might say the ingredients need to be fresh and local.  Others may say you first see a meal with your eyes, so the appearance of the plating is key.  Others still might say that nutrition is first and foremost.

In my mind--even though all these things are very important--the bottom line is flavor.  A beautiful plate of fresh, nutritious, local ingredients doesn't mean anything unless it tastes good, right?

So I thought I'd write a few posts with some tips about how to help the flavor of your foods be the best that they can be.  As usual, thanks go to my old standby, Cook's Illustrated magazine for some of these tips. 

I hope it helps!

Today, I'll be writing about things that you can do to improve the flavor of your food before you start cooking. 
  • Try not to chop or mince onions and garlic until closer to the time that you're going to use them.  The odor and flavor of both these aromatics intensify as time goes on.  If you're going to use raw onions (in a salad, for example), soaking them in cold water helps to tame the strong flavor.  Cook's suggests soaking in a solution of 1 tablespoon baking soda for every cup of water.  Be sure to rise before using.
  • Speaking of garlic, always remove any green sprouts from a garlic clove before chopping or mincing.  It doesn't mean you can't use the rest of the clove, but the bitterness of the green part can really ruin a dish.
  • Many recipes call for the removal of the seeds and that jelly-like stuff in the middle of a tomato.  Sometimes it's for good reason--usually to cut down on moisture in the dish.  But most of the flavor can be found in the guts of the tomato, so if can, use the whole thing.
  • When marinating meat, poke the meat all over with a fork.  This allows the marinade to penetrate deeper into the meat--and gives flavor to the whole thing. 
  • Marinating in a zip-top bag is a great way to marinate.  Squeezing out the air not only allows you to get the marinade more in contact with the food, but also gets the food flavored up in less time.  If a bag doesn't quite work for the food you're making, marinate in a baking dish covered with plastic wrap.  Either way, flipping the bag or turning the food halfway through the marinating time will help make sure the everything has been in contact with the flavor.
  • You've probably heard that fat equals flavor.  That's especially true with meats.  When making stew, it's OK to trim hard fat and other tissue from stew beef.  There's plenty of fat in the meat to keep it flavorful and moist.  Pork is a different story.  Since pork doesn't have the marbling that beef does, keep a thin layer of fat on the pork.  It will melt during cooking, adding flavor and moisture.
  • Other fats--such as butter, oils and nuts--add flavor as well.  But these also go bad fairly quickly.  Be sure to store them so that they stay as fresh as possible.  Store sticks of butter in a zip-top bag in the BACK of the fridge (the coldest part).  They'll stay fresh for about 2 1/2 weeks that way.  Any longer than that, keep in the freezer.  Vegetable oils should be stored a dark part of your pantry.  Nut and seed oils (like sesame, walnut, etc) should be refrigerated.  You can store nuts in the pantry if they'll be used in a month or so.  I store all my nuts in the freezer in zip-top bags.  They stay fresh longer and can be used pretty much right out of the freezer. 
Next, we'll talk about how to add flavor during the cooking process.

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