What are the Basic Principles of Combining Flavors?

Discussion in 'Food & Cooking' started by philip terry, Dec 11, 2011.

  1. philip terry

    philip terry

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    I am constantly refining the perfect dish - using adjectives like apricotty, almondy etc..... What are the basic principles when combining these to create the final dish? For example meat with sauce, pasta with sauce, fish with sauce.... aromatization etc...........
     
  2. koukouvagia

    koukouvagia

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    Can you be more specific?  Your question is very vague and ope ended, much along the lines of "how was the universe created?"
     
  3. philip terry

    philip terry

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    on Masterchef I here Greg Wallace talk a lot about sweetness, sharpness, acidic... How should I be thinking when calibrating these when selecting ingredients? And in the way I cook them in order to create the perfect dish. In other words when someone says "this tastes glorious", what has actually happened? Have their taste buds been assaulted with all or some of the above?
     
  4. boar_d_laze

    boar_d_laze

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     Posted by Philip Terry  
    Depends what you're trying to do.  A "sweet and sour" or "gastrique" can pull you strongly in two directions at once, but require balancing one against the other.  A mellow cognac/cream sauce will barely pull at all.  A good vindaloo will be very vinegary, without any balance other than heat.
    Depends on what you did.
    Yes or no.  Have they?

    BDL
     
  5. philip terry

    philip terry

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    I see. So the appeal branches off into different directions all leading to "glorious...."?  How would we define balance? I always wonder about how balance is achieved when preparing protein, starches and veg....... I understand curries tend to be assembled in one dish making it easier - a spice here a pinch of this and a pinch of that to balance it.......
     
  6. petemccracken

    petemccracken

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    It might help if you took a gander at: "Culinary Artistry". Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page, John Wiley & Sons, ISBN 0-471-28785-7
     
  7. philip terry

    philip terry

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    Today I gained a better understanding of how all the components interact..... I did an experiment with Parsnip mash. I deliberately wanted to be intricate and elaborate in creating the best Parsnip mash I've ever had. Simple is boring for me now. I'm aiming for precision. You know that feeling when you are bowled over by how good something tastes.... You say a bit too loudly mmmmmmhhhhh and everyone turns around and looks at you like an idiot. 

    Well I got the white pepper out, sweetened soya milk out, fresh ginger, fresh mint, vanilla pod, pecan nuts, walnuts and to top it off a brew of 3 different mint tea.

    I started juggling with all these ingredients in the mixer and my word did I pull it off and hit the spot.

    The sweetness, the pepperiness, the mild nuttiness and slight milkiness and back note of mint and thyme was not far off my definition of the perfect flavor...

    What's your definition of perfect?
     
  8. benway

    benway

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    There are basically 4 register on your taste buds.  They are sweet, salty, sour, and bitter.  Sometimes these tastes are used to flavor a dish... meaning you want to them perceived.  Other times they are just added to balance the dish and the individual flavors are not perceived.

    Sweetness can be added to a dish to round it out.  Sweetness satiates the appetite which makes sense with desserts.  It can work with all of the other tastes and even bring out more flavor on certain ingredients.  Examples: chocolate covered pretzels (sweet and salty), gastrique/agrodolce (sweet and sour--very common), craisins (sweet and bitter).

    Salty flavors are probably the most important in balancing and extracting flavor from savory food.  It stimulates the appetite.

    Sour flavors brighten a dish and are important for balance.  A little acid can take a heavy dish more pleasing--very important these days as psychologically people are very concerned with health and a squeeze of lemon can often be the difference between greasy and delicious.  In the forefront sour flavors can work in both sweet or savory dishes.

    Bitterness is also important in balance. It works against sweetness, hence why bitter foods like chocolate and grapefruit are often balanced with sugar.  In savory cooking, bitterness is terrific at cutting the richness in a dish... which is why bitter foods nearly always go well with dairy.  Examples: coffee, cranberries, beer, arugula.

    There is much more to take into account including temperature and texture which I personally like to mix within a dish.  Also spiciness and foods with a cooling effect (cucumbers, mint, or coconut) can be balanced with each other although neither is considered a basic taste.  Psychological factors matter as well.  A rich dish would be great right now but would be terrible on a 100 degree day in August.  Its a lot to take into account but professionals do all of this often without even thinking about it.  Hope that did something for you.
     
  9. Iceman

    Iceman

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    You forgot "umami"
     
    Last edited: Dec 13, 2011
  10. benway

    benway

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    Umami is confusing to explain and although it is a real taste its also kind of in its own category as far as flavoring strategy.  I'll leave it to someone who knows more than me... which is that MSG rules.
     
  11. kyheirloomer

    kyheirloomer

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    You forgot "umami"

    It's not so much forgetting it, Iceman, as identifying it.

    Umami is not a distinct flavor characteristic, in the sense that salt, sweet, bitter, and sour are. That's what makes it so confusing.

    When I was coming up, we said there were five "flavors:" sweet, sour, salt, bitter, and savory. Umami is the Japanese word for what we called savory, and it's a characteristic of certain foods that includes bringing out the full flavor of the other tastes, providing a sort of mellow mouthfeel, and, in general, making food taste better. Some foods just naturally do this better than others---mushrooms, soy, fish sauce, many traditional condiments, etc---and are said to have umami.

    The ability of making foods taste better, taste more like themselves, is found in many places. Plain salt is the classic case. If you add salt to any dish (assuming amounts less than it takes to make it taste salty) and compare it to the same dish without salt, you immediately taste a difference. MSG is often touted for this purpose as well.

     Umami is merely that idea carried to the ultimate.
     
    Last edited: Dec 13, 2011
  12. philip terry

    philip terry

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    Thank you for breaking it down or "seperating the parts from the whole"! This makes sense. As for texture; Nigel Slater was always a fan of going as far apart as possible with something crunchy polarized against soft and creamy...

    Bitterness was always a fog in my mind - but you have clarified it. Heres a good example; bitter melon. I have never seen a celebrity chef go near one. Is there a reason?! How does one tackle something overpoweringly bitter...?

    Where do spices fit in or spiciness, pepperiness? (since that is my favorite territory - so much variety and new genres of flavor which takes me somewhere different) 

    How would you balance spices in a dish? Do they all fall under warmth/ bitterness with 'backnotes'? Subtle note flavors.... Is that the right term?
     
  13. chefhow

    chefhow

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    Umami or Yeasty flavors help in rounding out the savory notes in an item.  When making sauces you can use things like fish sauce, soy sauce, konbu or dehydrated shiitake mushrooms to bring out the naturally occuring savory notes rather than using salt.  Parmesan cheese is an excellent source of Umami and can be that mystery flavor when used in small quantities that makes people scratch their heads trying to figure out what you did to give it that nice round "brown" flavor. 
     
  14. chefhow

    chefhow

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    Spices depend upon which ones you are using and how much.  Most spices have numbing effects if used too heavily so "balance" is more about using enough to get the flavor of the spice without having any adverse side effects. 

    Remember, spices are almost all based on volitile oils and when cooked too long or at too high of a temperature they loose their oils and their pungency so adding them at the end of a sauce or a dish is best when available.
     
    Last edited: Dec 13, 2011
  15. benway

    benway

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    I agree with whoever that is and feel the same way about temperature as well.

    Well keep in mind bitterness is just the taste, but not all bitter foods have the same flavor.  Bitter melon is a real ingredient and behind all that bitterness has real flavor.  Preparations I know of are consistent with the theories above in combining bitter foods with rich dishes.  Bitter melon is often served with yogurt, oyster sauce, peanuts, and coconut milk... all pretty rich.  I don't think I've seen bitter melon sweetened before but it does sometimes take the edge off of a bitter food.

    Spiciness isn't actually a taste in the taste bud sense but there is a small juggling act to be done here too as certain peppers have terrific flavors.  Jalapeno's are divine and pretty trivial to make palatable for even those who can't handle their capsaicin.  A better example is a habanero that has an incredible flavor but is generally so spicy that it masks its own flavor and is not enjoyable to most.  A great technician knows how everything pops in your mouth and can make it so that the flavor comes before the heat.  But as a balancing exercise in the home, if the heat in a dish gets away from you.  You can always serve it with coconut rice.

    You're using a lot of sommelier talk right now.  In cooking you have more control.  You don't have to look for flavors, you can put them in.  In general you decide which flavors you want to come through and plan the whole way.  Lets pick an example with soup since it takes away a lot of the x-factors.  Its cold here so we're going with a nice seasonal butternut squash soup.  Now my goal already is to make butternut squash taste as much like a butternut squash as I can.  Really bring out the best in it.  To do this I know from experience that squash is going to need salt and its going to want some sweetness.  Other things like allspice, and bay leaves help a squash taste more like a squash so I'm going to work them in but you won't know they are there.  I want other flavors as well, bacon, a little heat, some onion, and definitely sage.

    First I'd saute my bacon in the bottom of my soup pot.  Bacon will pop right through the flavors I'm choosing so it'd be a real shame not to take advantage of that.  Then add an onion when some bacon fat is rendered.  Onions will soften and give me some more of that sweetness I'm looking for.  Next I'll add my squash in cubes and saute that a while, this will caramel things up a bit and sweeten my dish.  Next I'll add chicken stock, allspice, bay leaves, sage, salt, and white pepper.  White pepper is important as otherwise this could just taste like pumpkin pie soup.  It chains this dish into the realm of savory food.  Simmer for a time, fish out the bay leaves, blend, adjust the texture, and start balancing the dish.  How much more salt/sweetness can this dish handle before it tastes salty and/or sweet?  If I'm unsure about adding sweetness I might drizzle the soup with cream sherry during service to leave pockets of extra sweet in an otherwise uniform bowl.  I might decide to top with toasted bread crumbs for some contrast of texture.
     
  16. kyheirloomer

    kyheirloomer

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    Philip, you have just been provided a complete tutorial on the subject in four succinct paragraphs. And Ben didn't even charge you for it.

    But note one thing: Despite all the science, despite all the theory, it boils down to understanding, on a real-world level, how flavors combine with each other to achieve a desired goal. And most of that requires time in grade. The only way you really know how X amount of sage effects a dish is to make it that way.

    Personally, I think Slater tended to get carried away. But his basic concept is sound: textural balance is just as important as the rest. Which is why I would float a few roasted pumpkin seeds in Ben's soup, to add a little crunch factor and provide a visual break.
     
  17. benway

    benway

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    I agree completely.  You'd hate to do all that work and end up with a bowl of baby food.
     
  18. phatch

    phatch Moderator Staff Member

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    Every cuisine has a slightly different philosophy on combining flavors.

    And it seems to me that flavor balance has some drift too with things coming in and out of style. Sweet and salty being popular right now for example. Salted caramel and that sort of thing.
     
  19. philip terry

    philip terry

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    Thank you for the very good explanations... since precision is what I am aiming for I think I need to keep digging.

    The advice is being put straight to work...Today I cooked a moroccan style curry, but I did it slightly different to the way I would normally cook it. With the addition of lime juice and extra saffron. Boy george did it make the dish sing. This was since I heard a celebrity chef use the words "use as much saffron as you can afford" and the lime was thanks to you lot talking about the sourness balancing act. All the other ingredients were just according to the recipe, but I like to understand why the ingredients chime together. Especially the spices. Seems very common to have cinamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger together... Now I know to put them in at the end of the dish. I also made a spinach and fenugreek leaf simple vegetable dish with asafoetida, fenugreek and black mustard seeds. This was an attempt to use the most far out spices I could get my hands on in order to experience something utterly off the wall different. It kind of worked but needs an expert to tweak it. 

    To top it off I did a very basic fruit cocktail with some fig, blueberries, passion fruit, fresh pomegrannet juice, oats, crushed almonds, soya milk, all spice and added some lime juice. A bit amateurish but I thought it worked really well with the addition of lime again. 

    How would you define rich? Are we talking more ingredients outside dairy/ creamy ingredients? Perhaps rich could do with better definition...?

    Next step is to start expanding my vocabulary and expanding my understanding of ingredients that fall under: unami, bitter, sweet, sour, sharp....

    Some ingredients have both or more of these attributes right? Memory I think plays an important role, remembering the distinct individual flavors aswell as the result when they are combined..,, Why cookery programs often refer to "childhood favorites"... Mine being ginger bread men - hence my love for all things gingery.
     
  20. Iceman

    Iceman

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    OK. Let me explain this a little bit. I only added this comment because benway made such a nice effort in his post before explaining what he did. I was just throwing in a tiny bit of humor, apparently lost on this audience, and really nothing more. I personally think it a kinda stupid word. I hate TV cooking competition show judges who never let an episode go by without using it. I can't stand 98.6% of them in the first place. I was just making a joke. Sorry.