Do you know WHY certain dishes keep you coming back for more?
You know the dishes I'm talking about, right? Maybe it's a dish you make all the time. Or maybe it's a dish your mom makes, or your grandma, or a dish from your favorite restaurant. Or it might just be a dish you only had once, but you've never forgotten it.
Speaking of unforgettable dishes......what is THE DISH you can't get out of your mind? The one that, if you could, you'd "I dream of Jeannie" blink it right to you this very minute. Or maybe you have more than one?
For me, one of the dishes I'll never forget was something I ate when my husband and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary. It was a salmon so beyond tender it literally melted in my mouth. There were crunchy salty veggies, a hint of citrus and the most gorgeous vibrant green herby sauce.
Why are these dishes unforgettable?
Of course execution plays a part. Burnt carrots and overcooked meat aren't exactly memorable....at least, not for the right reasons. (where is the winky face emoji when you need it!)
But, flavor is equally, if not even more important. If a dish isn't bursting with flavor why eat it, right?
When it comes to flavor there are 5 main flavor tastes. And it's those specific tastes that keep you , and me, coming back for another bite. All 5 tastes working in harmony, enticing you back again and again.
And the great thing, is you can get that balance in the food you cook all. the. time. It's all about learning which taste add which profile. And which ingredients will provide you with a specific taste. Keep on reading to find out the 5 tastes and how to use them for maximum flavor in every dish!
Now before you tell me how you don't eat ANY sugar, sweet is not just for cookies and cakes and donuts. Sweet also means fruit like strawberries and raspberries. Coconut milk adds sweetness to a dish. Caramelized onions, maple syrup, coconut sugar, jam, and even wine add sweetness to a dish. There are also veggies that can add sweetness, like sweet potatoes, carrots and tomatoes.
This can be a little bit controversial. Too much salt isn't healthy, but salt is essential to pulling ALL the flavors out of a dish. If you open my cupboard you'll find kosher, Maldon, sea salt, Himalayan, truffle, and black lava salt. I'm just a teeeeeny tiiiiiny bit obsessed with salt. Different salt brings out different flavors. Himalayan salt highlights the sweetness of tomatoes while the smoky flavor of black lava is a match made in heaven for meat. There are other ways to add salt.....besides salt. Fish sauce, soy sauce and briny olives also add salt to dishes.
It's all about the "pucker" factor when it comes sour. Lemon juice, lime juice, vinegar (white, red, apple cider), pickles, tart apples, and pickled anything (red onions, carrots, asparagus, etc.).
Similar to sour, but with a little less pucker. Lemon zest, kale, Swiss chard, broccoli rabe, arugula, mustard greens, and coffee are just a few examples.
This flavor profile is a more recent addition. Miso paste is pretty much synonymous with umami. But there is also fish paste, seaweed, mushrooms, truffles, olives, and bacon. Still not quite sure what this flavor profile is? Umami is a deep, rich, savory earthy flavor. Basically, it adds incredible depth of flavor to your dish.
So there you have it. The 5 tastes EVERY dish MUST have.
But, wait.....there's more!
Yep, just like The Price is Right, I'm not quite finished yet.
There are a couple more things that add the extra special "je ne sais quoi" (that thing you can't quite put your finger on but you want more of) to any dish.
Crunchy, Spicy and Herby
Crunch can be anything from croutons to nuts, from shredded carrots to cabbage. A dish without crunch is like the ocean without a beach. Nice and pretty, but you don't want to hang out for too long.
Spicy doesn't have to be the nostril-clearing-squirt-the-whole-bottle-of-sriracha kind of spice. A couple of slices of jalapeño on a taco adds a little heat. Drizzle a touch of chili oil on your curry. Serve up some horseradish with your steak. Heat is another layer of flavor that keeps you coming back for more. And more. And more.
Herby is all about fresh herbs. Parsley, cilantro (another controversial ingredient you either love or hate.....I happen to LOVE it!), rosemary, thyme, oregano.......I could go on and on and on. Fresh herbs brighten a dish. Fresh parsley lightens up fettucine alfredo and other rich dishes. Rosemary and roast chicken are pretty much the definition of perfection. If you can't get fresh, dried herbs work too.....just remember to crush them in your hand before adding to your dish. Crushing dried herbs helps extract max flavor......and creating max flavor should be your goal in every dish.
And before you go.......one extra tidbit of info....
Picture the scenario. You've just made your favorite soup. But emails, the kids fighting, the phone ringing and the dog going berserk distracted you. You taste the soup and it's way too __________ (here's where you fill in the blank).
So how do you fix it?
If it's too salty, add a splash of something sweet (like a tiny pinch of sugar) or a splash of something sour (like apple cider vinegar). The sweet will balance out the salt while the vinegar will cut through it.
If it's too rich, add fresh herbs to brighten it up. Or sour, like pickled onions or lemon juice, to balance it out. You could also add a touch of vinegar to break up the richness.
If it's too bland, add a pinch of salt or a bit of spice, like Sriracha.
If it's too spicy, dairy is your friend. Yogurt or sour cream to top spicy tacos. Swirl in some cream to an overly aggressive sauce. Serve with a side of white rice and, whatever you do, don't drink water to squelch the flames. Water will actually make the spicy dish even spicier.
If it's too sweet, add something sour. I love crème fraîche with pies and cakes. It's tangy sour taste balances out the sweetness.
If it's too bitter, add something sour or sweet.....or even both. There's a reason why kale and lemony salad dressings pair so well. Not only does the lemon break down the tough fibers of the kale to soften it up a bit, but the bitter kale is mellowed out when tossed with lemon juice. Sweet pomegranate seeds, or chopped dates add even more balance.
If it's too sour, a bit of sweet is just the right fix. Think of a perfectly tart apple pie served with a drizzle of caramel sauce. Or the deliciousness that is rhubarb and strawberry tart.
So there you have it ---- the 5 tastes every dish needs to have to keep you (and everyone else at your table) coming back for more.
Speaking of more.....if you like this post sign up for my weekly newsletter which delivers once-every-week-on-Monday goodness to your inbox.
And, like good food, blog posts are meant to be shared! Feel free to share this post with everyone you know who loves to cook......or loves to eat!
Until next time.........