Maybe you have watched one of the two versions of Master Chef on television: the adult and junior division. They fascinate me. I’m introduced to techniques and ingredients which baffle my mind. Children as young as seven compete against other youth with skills and culinary abilities far beyond me.
Each one seems to have an innate sense of what ingredients work together, balance one another, compliment, contrast and work well together. Via the television or computer screen, the scents and flavors escape the viewer. But, I trust the main chef, Gordon Ramsay to judge whether his palate is delighted.
Some of the culinary tricks of the trade are unveiled in a book I recently read. On one of my recent trips south to visit my New Mama daughter, she showed it to me. I could not read more than a paragraph at time between baby snuggles, so I just wrote the title of the book in my mind and procured a copy at the local library.
If becoming a better chef with a few simple techniques interest you, it might be worth a visit to the library for you, too. SALT, FAT, ACID, HEAT by Samin Nosrat is the name of the book. The author details minute changes one might make to bring balance and contract to dishes. She takes each of the title elements one at a time to discuss how it affects the outcome of a recipe; when one should consider adding it; how to determine the variety to use.
It's fascinating to me. It’s scientific but not so overwhelming the layman cannot comprehend it. As an example, she discusses WHEN to add salt. Short beef ribs should be salted 24 hours before cooking. Chicken breasts need to be salted 10 minutes before cooking. She explains why. Likewise, she dictates differences in fat and how and why they affect the outcome of the recipe. From balsamic vinegar to lemon juice, she addresses what acids bring ‘brightness’ to foods, enhancing and clarifying the blend of flavors. I thought the HEAT would be spicy, though she addresses heat as the temperature and duration to which foods should be cooked.
At our daughter’s wedding, our niece, the dietetics major, commented that the reception food had the right balance of sweet, salty, sour. I thought about it often after the fact. It wasn’t intentional on our part, but it made me think of the combinations of food we often find pleasing.
Lemonade: a combination of sweet and sour; peanuts and raisins: the combination of salty and sweet; salt on rhubarb: the sour and salt blend sure to pucker your lips. You can think of different combinations that satisfy your taste buds, too. A meal that combines the 5 senses of sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami delight and please.
If burgers and fries please your palate, you don’t need this book but if higher culinary achievements interest you, it’s worth a read. You might even want to try some of the recipes in the last half of the book.