This blog post contains notes for a Zoom video event with my MeetUp group on April 4, 2020.
This is an overview of Flavors, in regards to “seasonings.”
Here are the categories I presented in the class:
- My flavor rules to be a GOOD cook
- The 6 main tastes
- The way we describe flavors (descriptive terms)
- Predominant flavors versus background flavors
- Balancing flavors
My flavor rules to be a GOOD cook
- Use salt. Not too much. But enough. It is “…the most important element of good cooking…” this is from “Salt Fat Acid Heat,” by Samin Nosrat; Page 55, the last sentence in her “SALT” chapter.
- Have at least 1 (and better to have a few) dried herb blends. Here are my favorites:
- Trader Joe’s “Everything But The Bagel” — strong garlic and onion
- “Old Bay Seasoning” — strong paprika, celery salt, black pepper, and some cayenne
- “Herbs de Provence — a French blend with about 5 common Mediterranean herbs and sometimes lavender.
- “Baharat” — Middle Eastern blend of strong aromatic sweet spices: cinnamon, clove, allspice, black pepper, and more
- “Curry Powder” or “Garam Masala” — strong Indian flavors or cumin, turmeric, coriander
- “Chinese 5 Spice” — fennel, anise, cinnamon, clove, and black pepper
- Have onions and garlic on hand, store in a cool, dry, dark cupboard
- Get to know flavors so you can articulate them when you taste. Go to a local spice shop and sniff the “testers.” Read about culinary herbs and spices. I have /like these 2 reference books:
- Herbs & Spices, by Jill Norman
- The Spice & Herb Bible, by Ian Hemphill
- Know your own flavor preferences (cuisine), and be sure to have those seasonings on hand
- Know cooking terms, so that you can understand the language and articulate what it is your are tasting.
- Have a basic understanding that water, oil and alcohol extract flavors:
- WATER soluble flavors; flavor emulsions explained
- FAT soluble flavors
- ALCOHOL soluble flavors:“…Alcohol, be it in wine, beer, or hard liquor like vodka, is a powerful flavor extractor, too. It dissolves not only water-soluble flavors and fat-soluble flavors but also flavor components that neither water nor fat can dissolve….”
The way we describe flavors (descriptive terms, not a complete list)
- Full bodied
Predominant flavors versus background flavors
Generally, 3 main flavors give a dish it’s main character. The other flavor elements are background –or, I call them supporting actors, and gawkers.
- Example: Beef Bourguignon has a strong beefy, wine and onion flavor. And the background flavors are garlic, herbs and mushrooms.
- Example: Ragu with sausage, roasted garlic, bell peppers, zucchini and Italian dried herb blend. The predominant flavors are tomato, pork sausage, garlic and bell peppers. The background flavors will be zucchini and herbs.
- Example: Tom Kha Gai Soup. This is a Thai soup with coconut cream and chicken, seasoned with lime, ginger, lemongrass and galangal. Background flavors will be the vegetables, fish sauce and the chicken.
- Example: Ginger Sweet Potato Coconut Milk Stew With Lentils & Kale. The dominant flavor will be ginger and coconut milk, and the supporting actors are the veggies and any other seasonings that are used.
“THE FLAVOR STAR” is a great tool to help you balancing flavors and to help you understand that flavors impact each other. Here is info from their “CooksMarts” site, 3 of 3 blog posts on Maximizing Flavor:
“Or if you have a dish that’s too spicy, you can also balance the heat with something sweet. So if you ever over-spice a curry or sauce, just add a bit of your preferred sweetener (or use one of our ideas below in the sweet section), to neutralize the heat.”
“If you keep this Flavor Star handy, you can learn how to create more dynamic flavors, rescue dishes that have been overly flavored, and also how to amplify certain flavors.”
Related books on flavor, pairing flavors, balancing flavor, and learning how to taste:
“Salt Fat Acid Heat,” by Samin Nosrat (she has a 4-part Netflix series based on this book)
Are you a supertaster? Testing kit.