Coaxing Flavor out of Foods

people eating at table

Have you ever had a gravy or a main dish that was bland and quite tasteless? There are ways to turn that unremarkable dish into something extraordinary. Chefs all over the world know that one of the secret to amazing dishes is flavor. Coaxing flavor from the ingredients used. Whether it’s animal products or plants, there are techniques to encourage an abundance of flavor from either.

The most popular techniques include, roasting, sauteing, simmer/reduction and toasting just to name a few. In this article I will go over the most popular techniques and show you how you can turn that just okay dish into something extraordinary your friends and family will beg you to make. 🙂

Let’s talk about the ingredients we use. Most of us, by no fault of our own have a disconnect with our food. We don’t know where it comes from, we just go into the grocery store and buy it. Several years ago, once s week I would prepare a dinner for a large group of people. On one occasion, a family had come in and had a few guests with them, one of which was a young lady of about 19-20. I had prepared baked chicken and mashed potatoes. I overheard this young woman say, “I love chicken, I wonder where it comes from.” The family responded with, it comes from chicken. To which the young lady says, “I know, but where does chicken come from?” She did not know chicken was an animal or how it got to her plate. This is not to shame her, this disconnect is a huge problem throughout our society today. If we are to foster a love for food, this needs to change. I would love to go over much more about it now, but this blog is about coaxing flavors so we will save that topic for another time. On to our ingredients! 🙂

The ingredients you choose are just as important as the preparation.

Produce: Did you know produce in the grocery store has traveled on average 1500 miles to get there and by the time it reaches the store has lost on average half of it’s nutritional value? Some products such as apples and potatoes have been sitting in cold storage for up to a year. (I have links at the bottom of the page if you would like to learn more about this subject.) Buying the freshest produce possible with produce a better tasting dish, and be more nutritious. If you can, buy from a farmers market or grow your own. If this isn’t possible at least try and buy organic in the stores. Conventional grown produce has been grown using herbicides, insecticides and pesticides all of which wreak havoc on our bodies and health.

Animal Products: Most meat in grocery stores comes from factory farms and slaughter houses. The result is that the animals are kept and treated inhumanely. They are kept in horribly cramped, unsanitary conditions, given copious amounts of antibiotics and hormones, and fed God knows what. They used to say you are what you eat. But the truth is, you are what you eat, EATS! If at all possible buy from a local farm. If this is not an option, try and find a source within the grocery stores in your area that offers organic/free range meat and poultry.

Roasting: The definition from Webster’s Dictionary. To cook by exposing to dry heat uncovered (as in an oven or before a fire) or by surrounding with hot embers, sand, or stones. Roasting not only cooks your food, but intensifies flavors. Roasting is usually done in an oven at higher temperatures. °425-°450 Roasting is much like baking, but in roasting we’re trying to get the outside of the food item dark and caramelized. Here’s where brazing and basting also come in especially if your cooking meat.

I use the roasting method often for soups and ingredients I am adding to a meal. (Prepping) For Example, in this roasted carrot and potato soup recipe. The veggies are roasted before being cooked down for soup. The sugars in the vegetables get caramelized and the honey sweetness is intensified. Go ahead and try this the next time you make soup, you’ll be amazed! But I also use this for items that will be added to main dishes, or for the main dish it as pictured above in the Roasted Potato & Squash with Cranberries.

Sauteing, Simmer and Reduction

Sauteing, is much like frying in that you typically use some fat and is done in a frying pan. However that is where the similarities end. Frying is the process where you are cooking the food while making the outside of it crispy and brown and is done over higher heat. Sauteing is done over lower heat and the intent is to cook slower to release flavors and in some cases caramelize the ingredients. Sauteing is usually done with smaller quantities of ingredients as well. You use sauteing when adding the item to a soup or stew, and even other dishes such as this Mushroom & Roasted Red Pepper and Spinach sauce. It is very helpful in creating flavor.

Sauteing often goes along with Simmering and Reduction. I use this method a lot. I first saute veggies such as onions, peppers, mushrooms and garlic (Or really what ever the recipe calls for.) to get the flavors released and intensified. Then I add liquids and other ingredients and simmer. Simmering takes place at lower heat. It’s not a boil, it a soft bubble and takes the ingredients a step further at releasing flavor. The liquid becomes infused with the ingredients that were sauteed. (But a word of caution, if you need a par-cooked ingredient, don’t simmer. This will cook it further.) Most recipes simmer for about 10 to 30 minutes depending on the recipe. This method is used for sauces and gravies mostly, but is also used in other dishes as well. If more flavor is required then we move onto reduction.

Reduction is used when an intense flavor is needed, such as a sauce to drizzle over a dish OR to make a soup thicker without using a thickener such as flour or corn starch. Reduction is basically simmering for a longer period of time. Simmering reduces the amount of liquid in a recipe by steam/evaporation. When reducing, there needs to be a liquid to start with. During the beginning of the Simmering stage you may add a cup of water, milk, broth, wine or other liquids and add the end of the reduction only have a tbls or so left. (It doesn’t evaporate the flavor, only water) I use Simmer/Reduction quite a bit. Like in this Mushroom Ragout recipe.

Toasting

Toasting is an art, to much and it’s burnt, too little and it’s bland. Think about toast vs plain bread. Have you ever ate a toasted peanut butter and jelly sandwhich? ****Dreaming now**** So darn good, way better than plain bread! Toasting is also quite useful when adding flavor from spices. (Not Herbs) like pepper, coriander, paprika, cumin etc. Before I add any spice to a recipe I grind if necessary, then toast in a pan over low/med heat. Take care, it doesn’t take long and burns quickly, so watch it and move it around. It only take a couple of minutes, but the pay off is so worth it. I also like to toast bread for bread coatings or stuffings. Try toasting your bread the next time you make stuffing. Wow! Delish!

I hope you you try these, even if you have never done so before. Practice will get you good! Go ahead and Let’s Get Cooking!

Kristy

*Sources https://www.mashed.com/71127/old-produce-eat-really/ https://returntonow.net/2018/09/23/study-produce-loses-around-half-its-vitamin-content-within-a-week-of-harvest/

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