And a Crash Course on Flavor Adjustment
With the year coming to an end and bloggers and TV personalities bombarding everyone with elaborate Christmas and New Year dinner menus, it’s time to go back to the basics. Sometimes no matter how diligently you follow a recipe, something still goes wrong and the flavor is off. Luckily there is a way to nip potential problems in the bud, and it comes down to one very simple trick:
TASTE YOUR FOOD
That’s right, taste your food.
Taste your salad dressing before putting on your salad. Taste your marinade before pouring it over your meat. Taste your frosting before spreading it on your cake. Taste your sauce before adding it to your pasta.
If you don’t like the taste, neither will your guests.
Trust your palate. You’ve had good food before and you’ve had bad food. You know when something is too salty or too sweet or too spicy or too acidic or too rich.
If you feel the flavor of your food is lacking, adjust it according to the basic flavors: sweet, salty, fatty/richness, acidic, spicy, and umami (that meaty flavor you find in cooked mushrooms, meat, and soy sauce).
You adjust by adding an ingredient with one of those flavors, A LITTLE AT A TIME, to your food.
Here are some examples of what you can use.
Sugar, Brown Sugar, Honey, Maple Syrup, Molasses, Corn Syrup, Agave
Liquid sweeteners will mix into liquids like marinades and sauces better than powdered ones, especially if the liquid you’re mixing it into is warm or hot. Powdered sweeteners like sugar will give something more liquidy like a runny frosting some bulk and substance.
Some sweeteners like Maple Syrup, Brown Sugar and Molasses have stronger flavors than plain sugar so be mindful of that when choosing what to add, and remember that brown sugar is a little acidic.
Table Salt, Sea Salt, Kosher Salt.
You can even get flavored salts like smoked salt, but if you’re a beginner, the ones listed here are safe bets.
Olive Oil, Butter, Margarine, Ghee (clarified butter), Bacon Fat, Greek Yogurt, Sour Cream, Table or Whipping Cream
Oils, butter, and fatty dairy products are great ways to add richness to a dish. Like the sweeteners, some like Olive Oil, Butter, and Bacon Fat have stronger flavors than others.
White Vinegar, Red Wine Vinegar, White Wine Vinegar, Balsamic Vinegar, Lemon Juice, Lime Juice
Some of these are stronger than others, so keep that in mind when deciding what to add.
Hot Sauce i.e. Sriracha, Frank’s Red Hot, Tabasco, Cayenne Pepper, Chili Flakes, Jalapeños, Habaneros
Some sources of spiciness are stronger than others and if you plan to use raw chillies like Jalapenos or Habanero peppers ALWAYS USE GLOVES AND NEVER TOUCH YOUR EYES DIRECTLY AFTER HANDLING THEM. Remember that leaving the seeds in the pepper will double the spiciness factor in any dish as the membrane that connects the seed to the flesh is the hottest part.
If you use a liquid hot sauce, smell it before adding it as some hot sauces are more acidic and others have a smokey taste to them, the scent of the sauce will usually be enough to tell.
Soy Sauce, Worcestshire Sauce, Tomato Paste, Miso Paste
Miso is the funkiest tasting of the three and doesn’t react as well to heat. Tomato paste needs to be cooked a little in a dish after it’s added to purge the canned taste. Add these VERY sparingly as they can also be very salty.
These can not only boost your food, but also cancel out or help to neutralize an overly dominant flavor in a dish.
Salt, Umami, or Acidity will neutralize blandness.
Sweetness and Richness will help neutralize spiciness.
Richness can also neutralize acidity and saltiness.
Acidity will help neutralize richness.
Spiciness will give your food an extra kick.
TASTE YOUR FOOD AND ADJUST AS NEEDED.
It might be just the thing to turn something boring into something extraordinary.
HAPPY HOLIDAYS EVERYONE!
-Samantha R. Gold
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