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Updated: May 11
Elevating Your Cooking II
It's May and winter is making a dramatic exit by blowing out a few spirited flurries. Craving some comfort food, I made a pot of chicken noodle soup. Hearty and somewhat spring-like with fresh vegetables floating in a flavorful broth.
I followed my usual recipe simmering a chicken carcass in bay leaves and *mirepoix. I add fresh herbs and spices, crisp vegetables, and a flavor boost of bouillon, but a sample taste left my palette flat. As I pondered over what to add, I was reminded of the importance of relying on taste to guide a recipe.
Cooking is only as good as the quality of the ingredients you put into it. That being said, variables such as temperature, cook time, and seasoning all have an impact on the finished product. Over time or due to improper storage, dried seasonings lose aromatic oils and can vary in strength, even salts have different intensities. Extended heat can deepen some flavors but delicate herbs will lose potency. This is why it is important to taste and adjust as you move through a recipe. Food requires a balance of salt, acid, fat, and sweetness. It is the reason dark chocolate tastes so much better with a pinch of flaky sea salt. In most cases, adjusting a recipe comes down to balancing these flavor profiles. Deciding what to incorporate to achieve this harmony can be difficult so I’ve put together a few suggested ingredients and quick fixes.
ACID: vinegar, citrus juice, tomato paste
SALT: soy sauce, miso paste, fish sauce, bouillon paste, Worcester sauce
FAT: butter, cream, yogurt, cheese, olive oil, bacon or pancetta drippings
SWEETENER: brown and white sugar, honey, agave, maple syrup, jams, balsamic vinegar
BLAND: Don’t be afraid to use salt. Still needs something? Brighten with an acid, or infuse flavor with Worcestershire, tomato, anchovy, or bouillon paste.
SALTY- adding an acid or sweetener can counteract the saltiness.
SWEET- add a splash of acid or additional seasonings such as chopped fresh herbs or a dash of red pepper.
A bit of liqueur or espresso powder will work quite well for sweet dishes like desserts.
SPICY or ACIDIC - add fat or sweetener.
Experiment with what you have on hand, if the results are less than expected try again next time. In the words of Julia Child, “One of the secrets of cooking is to learn to correct something if you can, and bear with it if you cannot."
In case you were wondering… my soup needed a dash of soy sauce, some additional bouillon paste, and a generous amount of lemon thyme.
*Mirepoix: This is the base for any soup, stew, or sauce. Finely chopped celery, carrot, and onion (1 part each of celery and carrot and 2 parts onion) are sautéd in butter or oil over low heat to bring out their aromatic flavors.
Check back for our third journal article on Elevating Your Cooking: With Enough Butter, Anything is Good