Lemon to cut acid??

Discussion in 'Food & Cooking' started by developingtaste, Feb 24, 2012.

  1. developingtaste

    developingtaste

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    Hi,
    I'm just a learning 'at home' cook, and I've come across something during my trial and error process. I want to learn more about cooking so when I cook, I try to 'test' flavors by using combinations in a small side dish. I am constantly trying to improve my 'spaghetti' sauce. I started with my mothers recipe, and have expanded it over time. I now use fresh basil and parsley, which has great flavor impact. My mothers' recipe called for 'sugaring the sauce' (and salting the meat), with quite a bit of sugar, and I've been trying to use new combinations to lessen the amount of sugar used. The sugar, of course, cuts the acid of the tomato sauce. My sauce is usually from blanched tomato's but when out of season, I use cans of non-seasoned tomato's.

    Here are seasonings that I've used to cut the acid.
    1) First, I try to naturally 'sweeten' the sauce through bay leaves and cloves of garlic. This is standard for all sauces I think.
    2) Secondly, I've found that Thyme is a great counter to the acid.
    3) Third, and most recently, Lemon sweetens the sauce and cuts the acid. I wouldn't have believed it, but stumbled upon this idea while coming up with a homemade sauce for fish.

    My question is this: Having no formal training, I've never heard of using Thyme or Lemon to cut acid in tomato sauce, and don't quite trust my 'newbie' palate. It seemed to work, but would love your comments and feedback.
     
  2. phatch

    phatch Moderator Staff Member

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    You're not cutting the acid, you're bringing it to balance against stronger flavors. Acid tends to dissipate some the longer something cooks. There are many ways of doing it. Though the terminology is often as you expressed it.

    You'll often see tomato sauces using some finely chopped or grated carrot for sweetness, again balancing flavors rather than really cutting down the acid.

    If you want to literally reduce acidity, sprinkle in a little baking soda. It will fizz and bubble as it reacts with the acid.

    As to the lemon, i often season with lemon to correct the seasoning of a dish. I do so to help me reduce sodium intake but it's a versatile seasoning that way.  Used right at the end, it's often described as brightening up the flavors of a dish, much like parsley does added at the end. You can do quite a bit with cider vinegar this way too, but use less.

    Thyme is a very versatile herb. Probably the one I use the most in general. I wouldn't describe it as sweet (with exceptions), more earthy. But that's why it helps balance the dish again. You wouldn't mistake the tomato sauce with thyme as the same sweet as the lemon. They're different but each can achieve a balanced dish, just differently.

    Lemon thyme and some of the orange and spice varieties are more sweet and not as strongly earthy. Worth growing a variety yourself if you can.

    Now experiment with a vinaigrette. The classic ratio is 1 part vinegar to 4 parts oil. But depending what you use for acid, you might use quite a bit less oil to achieve balanced flavors. If I used orange juice, which is less acidic and certainly sweeter than vinegar, I'll use only about 2 parts of oil to bring it into balance, maybe even less.  Going back to your tomato sauce, adding some olive oil at the finish could give you a good balanced result too,

    If you experiment with Asian cuisines, they tend to go more for distinct flavors to play off other flavors in the mouth at the same time. This works well where they don't cook everything together for a long time where the flavors mingle and combine. Different approaches to the same idea though.
     
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2012
  3. developingtaste

    developingtaste

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    thank you phatch.  I'm sorry to be so direct, but to clarify, your okay with using lemon in tomato sauce to balance the flavor?
     
  4. developingtaste

    developingtaste

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    Something else came to mind when thinking about the sauce, when I was young and mom made amazing sauce, I distinctly remember the wonderful earthy oregano flavor of her sauce. I can't seem to replicate that yet. Perhaps I'm using the wrong type? Suggestions?
     
  5. phatch

    phatch Moderator Staff Member

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    If you like the lemon, then great.

    I'm more inclined for a little wine vinegar, but even more likely to use some fruity olive oil. But most likely to go with grated parmesan, pecorino, or ricotta for something a little sharp and salty for Italian style pastas. There are many ways to bring balance to sauce, not just one chosen one like there is to balance the Force.

    The best principle is basically the same as terroir for wines. What else comes from that area? With an Italian pasta, then vinegar, lemon, herbs, olive oil, cheese and so on are all appropriate choices. You might also consider using anchovies and red pepper flakes early in the sauce in the style of a puttanesca for example.

    Knowing your audience is helpful too. Are they expecting something traditional, something Italian-American, are they willing to experiment with something different. Which is why I say, "If you like the lemon, then great!"
     
  6. sparkie

    sparkie

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    Long cooking times are what really removes acid. Anything else would fall under masking or balancing the flavor. I usually simmer for 6 to 8 hours. I've never been a fan of sugaring the sauce, I don't like it to taste sweet. I get all the sweetness I need from carrots and Vidalia onions. I have heard that some people will add a touch of cream after simmering to cut the acidity. The baking soda is interesting, next time I'm feeling experimental, I might want to see what happens.
     
  7. developingtaste

    developingtaste

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    Thanks guys,

    Any suggestions on my Oregano question?
     
  8. sparkie

    sparkie

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    Are you using fresh herbs. If not, start by switching to fresh. That might bring the earthiness you are looking for. Add them for the last 20 minutes or so of simmering. Some herbs can turn a lil bitter if cooked to long, others will lose potency.
    Try adding more parsley( fresh of course). It is great for adding earthiness to a dish. Just rough chop it. Say somewhere around twice the size of a thyme leaf. Many people mince it almost to a dust, while this may be visually appealing, a lot of the flavor gets left on the cutting board.
    If all else fails, you could always try a handful of dirt. 0_o On a more serious note, my mom has lemon thyme in her herb garden. If you can find it, you may want to play with it. It's great on everything!

    Back in my college years, I was obsessed with developing my own meat sauce. After a lil more than a year of tinkering, I was up to about 20 ingredients and still unhappy with the results. Not knowing what else I could possibly add, I began removing ingredients. Each time being happier with the results. After about another year of tinkering I got down to the formula that I will never stray from. I now use canned ground tomatoes, paste, beef, pork, carrots, onion, garlic, salt, pepper and EVOO. Its really as basic as it gets, but to me is perfection. Many times in art, the secret to success is knowing when to stop
     
  9. developingtaste

    developingtaste

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    Yes, I agree, because I, like you in your meat example, have used to much in my sauce. I'm better than I was before, but I've learned the hard way how little I know! One thing I was making a mistake on, speaking of 'spaghetti' sauce, was learning to keep things separate until the flavors were right. I now build flavor more through separate cooking. Last sauce, I included an oregano that was 'fresh' in a package from the fresh vegetable section, but by the time I got to use it, it was a bit wilted and brown, but still much 'fresher' than dry prepared herbs. I hope am not doing what you may be implying, which is over seasoning making the oregano more difficult to taste. I gather that there are three(??) oregano's? Could I be using the wrong 'kind'?
     
  10. sparkie

    sparkie

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    You are definitely on the right track. It's very good to think of your different elements in terms of layers when you are building a dish. You'll have a clearer mental picture of what the end result will be and have an easier time finding where adjustments need to be made.

    Phatch made some nice comments about balancing the flavors in a dish. This is an important concept to understand. When you taste something and it's just not quite right, the natural inclination is to say its missing something. What you really should say is " this needs adjusting." This way you are not approaching the problem from the standpoint of needing to add something. Many times there is a subtle flavor that you are looking for that is being masked by something else that is stronger. You could add more of the subtle ingredient to bring it more to the front of course, but you have to remember that this " scale" that we are trying to balance can only hold so much. You can achieve the same result by reducing the competing flavor and who knows, you may find something else you like hiding in there. As for your specific problem I can't really tell you which way to go, I don't have all the information and experience that you have with what you've been working on. Just hopefully showing you an option that you weren't aware of. It really allowed me to grow as a cook after learning about this concept. It is also how I got through a similar problem, when I really didn't know what I was doing and just stumbling along with trial and error. You may or may not be there, but I think you know more than you are letting on;)
     
  11. sparkie

    sparkie

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    And look at me babbling away, completely neglecting your question about oregano! Honestly, when I want it, I just grab whatever they have, usually the same stuff you probably got. Provided it looks fresh and smells good, I haven't really considered any other factors. It is entirely possible that what you're looking for lies in a different variety of oregano. With luck, perhaps someone will come along to educate us on the different types of oregano.
     
    Last edited: Feb 25, 2012
  12. developingtaste

    developingtaste

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    Cooking expertise appears to me like a scale ranging from poor to excellence, and never quite knowing where along the scale one falls.  My mother was excellent, but it was simple cooking.  I look at shows like Top Chef, and wonder how far I am away from true expertise.  I love that show, because it has taught me much, and given me confidence to try to be excellent.  Sometime's I hit a created recipe, and think, "wow, that alfredo was better than any I've ever tasted in a restaurant", and other times I gag.  I'm learning though, and having fun doing it.  (By the way, besides two sticks of butter, two other things I always include in my alfredo sauce are carmelized onions and fresh basil! yum)
     
    Last edited: Feb 25, 2012
  13. siduri

    siduri

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    Those who know tomatoes, know there are different types of tomatoes, and their acidity or sweetness comes from their ripeness and the different strains or types of tomato, and even where they;re grown.  If they;re locally grown, they may have ripened more on the vine, if they're out of season, they will probably be more sour, but there are also types of tomato that are sweeter or not. 

    There's not much i can help you on with this,since my own experience of cooking with fresh tomatoes in the states has been mainly dismal.  (I come from New England and tomato season is very short). 

    So i always used canned when i was there. 

    Now, what you're probably talking about is not acidity but sourness, a flavor, not a chemical consistency.  And sugar certainly counters the sourness, as do carrots, but don;t forget the onion. 

    My tomato "consultant" - a guy at a market here in rome who sells exclusively tomatoes, some 20 varieties, in three stages of ripeness, green, red, and then somewhat wrinkly (they give body to sauce and are sweeter) - says that sauces with sweet tomatoes, where you want to enhance the sweetness, use onion, and those with the sharper tomatoes call for garlic. He says don;t put basil on the garlic sauces, basil is for "sweet" type sauces.  Garlic sauces call for parsley on top at the very end, when you've already mixed the sauce with the pasta.  Likewise, says my expert, don;t put parmigiano on garlic sauces, it doesn;t really go and fights the flavor.  This guy is good.  It;s not about what is "authentic" or any sort of "rule of snobbery" but whatever he suggests is always amazingly good. 

    Same for basil, which changes flavor considerably when it's cooked, i only like it on the pasta at the very end so it doesn';t cook. but that's a matter of taste.

    If you have tomatoes that are sour and you want a sweeter sauce, then try this

    sautee over very low heat, thinly sliced, or chopped onion (and carrot and celery if you like) in oil or butter till it's soft and tender and transparent.  don't let it brown. 

    Add the tomatoes and cook.  It's not necessary to cook hours if you have good canned tomatoes (and the imported kind are not always the best - i think italians keep the good ones for themselves and dont; send them abroad!).  I generally give it 20 minutes of cooking, sort of, sometimes less, sometimes more, unless it's a ragu.  If you find it's too sour at this point, add a bit of sugar if you like, or you can add a teaspoon (count 'em, ONE teaspoon) tomato paste but you need to cook it a little or it tastes of tomato paste

    If you really want to get the smooth sweeter flavor, you can puree the sauce after cooking, so the onions, carrots, etc, really become part of the tomato flavor. 

    Another trick that gives a nice warmth is to abundantly sprinkle the pasta with parmigiano  as soon as it's drained and still hot.  Drain the pasta - put it back in the pot you cooked it in and sprinkle with parmigiano.  Let it sit half a minute, without stirring, then add the sauce and mix it well so all the pasta is covered in sauce. If you stir the pasta and parmigiano the parmigiano will all stick to the spoon and the pot.  put the sauce first then stir.   ALWAYS mix the sauce with the pasta, don;t leave the pasta "nude" with a pile of sauce in the middle.  The pasta gets gummy, and the sauce won;t really give it flavor.  

    Then you can add a chunk of butter with the sauce and that counteracts the experience of sourness as well. 

    Finally, on herbs.  I think people use too much of herbs.  You shouldn't be eating pasta and saying "oh oregano!" you should be saying, hey, what is that flavor? 

    Oregano goes best, in my opinion, on the garlic/parsley/sort-of-sharpish-tomatoes/no-parmigiano/maybe-some-hot-red-pepper type sauces.  Personally I think it adds to the sharp profile rather than the sweet profile.  There is really no need for it.  the tomatoes should be the main flavor, and the other stuff is there just to support it,enhance it, round it out. 

    Try making a sauce WITHOUT herbs (parsley, basil, origano, thyme whtever) and see what it's like.  The careful slow cooking of the onions will give it tons of flavor.  Put a whole onion in with a small can of tomato. 

    Or go the other route and do a sautee of garlic (3 or 4 cloves, sliced) a sprinkling of hot red pepper flakes or a couple of small hot red peppers, olive oil, and cook slowly till garlic cooked, then add tomatoes, cook over high heat five minutes, and pour over and mix thoroughly with the pasta.  (that would be a pasta all;'arrabbiata) - you won;t want it to be sweet. 

    let me know how it goes
     
  14. developingtaste

    developingtaste

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    Awesome.  I get the sweet/sour flavor profile.  I have learned to taste the tomato sauce before adding herbs; each stage seems to require the right flavor before proceeding to the next stage;  it's taught me patience, :).  I love your advice, and will work on this, thanks!  I do use celery in my sauce, but haven't pureed the sauce.  I also 'cheat' and use Italian sausage; loving the spicy flavor it adds to the dish.  I've tried to replicate the flavor of Italian sausage, but haven't yet succeeded.  I've used whole and freshly crushed fennel seeds; I've used crushed red pepper flakes; but I fail!  OOooo, I'd love to master that flavor.  My sauce is usually rather chunky, because my audience likes it that way; when I use canned tomatoes I mix it with crushed and whole tomatoes  I barely cut up (so it's a bit sour; and include paste per mom) and celery, 1 lb turkey, 1 Italian sausage package, 1 bell pepper, at least 3 cups of onions, 3-5 bay leaves, garlic sauteed mushrooms at the end, 3-5 cloves of garlic.  I've never included carrots, but will experiment with it.   I like the large amount of onions I add, and would prefer vidalia if they are good quality.  I've wanted to cut back on the chunkiness as of late to isolate the flavor more and test my skill, but the audience hasn't let me yet.  Eaters are important and inspire my drive and innovation, but sometimes they can get in a rut. On a side note, I created a cool fish sauce the other day I called "Pepper Cheese", just using what I had with butter, Half and Half, onions, real parmesan, and the rest of my basil.  Seemed to sweet for my fish, so I started adding black pepper, but it turned out nice in the end, and went great with the cod.  

    Wasn't familiar with parmigiano, but since read up on it.  

    Can you help me mimic Italian sausage without the sausage?  Is it possible?  I don't like relying on other people's flavors to make my dish great.  
     
    Last edited: Feb 25, 2012
  15. siduri

    siduri

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    Are you cooking for a restaurant?  How many people?  Who is this audience?

    A pound of turkey! whole package of peppers?  how many people is this for? 

    First of all, why don;t you try a simple sauce, so you get the idea of how wonderful a simple sauce can be.  Try leaving out the meat.  Most tomato sauces are meatless anyway.  Try onion, carrot, celery (finely chopped) sauteed in oil or butter or both, then add the tomatoes.  That's it.  See how you like it.

    Peppers are very strong and will tend to overpower.  Turkey is too mild - never heard of it in a tomato sauce, and unless this is for an army or a school, that's too much meat for a sauce. 

    Try about 1/4 pound of beef or pork (or take two sausages and open the skin up and press out the meat into the oil and let the meat brown slowly - then add the onion and let it sautee, slowly, adding more olive oil or butter if needed.  Then add the tomatoes.  scrape up all the nice brown stuff that stuck to the pan from the meat.  Let it cook, add a little water, so it will cook a while.  Simple.  Then next time try something else, add one thing, a small amount. 

    You can brown the sausages whole or in chunks, then add the onion, maybe carrot, then  the tomato. 

    You can then add maybe mushrooms if you like them.  Sautee them and add.  You can make a simple tomato and mushroom sauce. 

    Then try a tuna sauce.  Get some dark meat tuna (white meat tuna hasn;t got much flavor and is stringy and dry). 

    Sautee some garlic in olive oil with some flakes of hot pepper.  Maybe a 3 or 4 or 5f cloves, smashed or finely chopped for one large can of tomato and a regular can of tuna. 

    Sautee without browning garlic and hot pepper over low heat.  Add tuna.  You can add a couple of anchovies or a tbsp anchovy paste too.  Let it sautee a but, then add the tomato.  Let it cook for maybe ten minutes.  Mix with cooked pasta and then sprinkle with parsley and serve. 

    I never made sausages so i don't know, but when i looked once, they seem to contain pork, black pepper and salt.  The fennel seeds are some regional variation, but rarely found here in rome except in a specialty shop.  Some areas use lots of hot red pepper.  also a regional variation. 
     
  16. chefedb

    chefedb

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    As Phatch said above sodium bicarbonate will cut the accidity , but if not used correctly will tend to make the sauce darker or even brownish. Lemon does not cut acid it is acid, Sweet Laurel (bay leaves will help) Tomato powder will also help. They also sell on line sausage seasonining sweet, mild and hot and even breakfast sausage. Keep experimenting as that is the way to learn. Good Luck
     
  17. developingtaste

    developingtaste

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    Thanks.:)  So, they have a collective sausage seasoning?  Think it may have something other than just red peppers and fennel seed?  
     
  18. developingtaste

    developingtaste

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    I have an audience of one that I'm deathly afraid of.  lol.  Kidding...sorta.  No, not in a restaurant.  At home cook. YES, I know it's too much meat.  I have to 'work' my audience of one, but will eventually succeed.  Just have to be patient.  Just can't get my way all the time.  We cook large meals that are used throughout the week, and sometimes frozen.  It's about 3/4's more meat than I wanted to use, but o well.

    I will use that first recipe suggestion soon.  I love your idea of a vegetable sauce.  I look forward to the results.  The tuna sauce will have to come later.  
     
     
  19. chefedb

    chefedb

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    Yes, a lot more. You could make your own nut to go out and buy all the things seperate for home cookings   small volume does not pay.
     
  20. developingtaste

    developingtaste

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    ??

    When you take your own lunch to work, large volumn does pay.  It's cost efficient.  When your making several meals in one, it's nice to be considerate of those who have to eat it.