Enhance the Flavor of Your Meals

I would like to discuss prepping, cooking and seasoning tips which are designed to boost a food’s flavor and maximize its savory taste.  There is no magic to great cooking, but there are a few tricks that everyone can learn to make food taste more appetizing, delectable, delicious, flavorful, mouthwatering, palatable, scrumptious, succulent, tender and yummy.  You must start with high-quality ingredients that are at their peak of freshness.  It’s also important to handle and store foods properly, because poor storage destroys flavor and quality.

A universal rule for making food taste great especially with meats, is to get it crunchy on the outside, and tender on the inside.  Browned food is more flavorful and two major reactions cause food to brown.  Science calls this the Maillard reaction and caramelization.  When food browns, amino acids and carbohydrates undergo a complex set of changes and cascades into a new and more complex flavor featuring aroma molecules.  Getting meat crunchy on the outside generally comes from a technique called searing (heating meat or fish on high heat to lock in juices and flavor), which will get that the exterior a crusty brown, or you could use a starchy coating, dusting or shaking your food in flour, or with breadcrumbs before cooking.  Browning adds flavor to everything from coffee beans to baked goods and meat.  You can rub meats with spice rubs before searing for a truly flavorful crust and the dish can then be finished in the oven.

Caramelizing is another type of browning process that brings out the natural sweetness in foods, and intensifies flavors and aromas.  Caramelizing foods (when sugar reacts in the presence of high heat) involves a slow cooking process and deep browning (the word caramel implies that the food will become the color of caramel candy).  When you’re looking for foods to caramelize choose those that are high in sugar and not water.

Roasting meats, vegetables, and fruits, is yet another way to bring out their natural goodness.  Pour off the fat and save those browned bits in the bottom of the roasting pan.  Roasting is the cooking of meats and vegetables using air heated by the oven and heat radiated from the inner surfaces of the oven.  Ovens may use heating from above and below the food.  Roasting temperatures may range from 120°F to 500°F.  Foods need only to be supported by cookware, which would also catch and contain drippings and rendering.  A trivet or grill is often used to lift food slightly and allow air to circulate underneath.  Roasting generally uses a combination of infrared and convectional heat to cook something.  When you roast a chicken in the oven, you have both the radiation from the heating elements and circulating hot air.

Never discard the fond, that crusty kinda-nasty looking brown stuff at the bottom of a skillet or sauté pan or a Dutch oven after you sear or sauté or roast or otherwise cook your food, because it is delicious.  Fond has the same root as the word foundation, which tells you how critical this pan crustiness really is!  Those caramelized browned bits that stick to the bottom of the pan after cooking are packed with savory flavor. Deglaze (dissolve the bits) contained in the hot pan with liquid (wine, broth, or juice) and scrape the bits free with a wooden spoon to incorporate the fond into sauces, soups, or stews.  Fond is the concentrated essence of whatever you’re cooking, and you must never waste it or throw it away, unless you shamefully let your fond burn, so take care to never do that.  Fond is a readymade base for the easiest sauces and this is where the real flavor resides, just toss in some fresh herbs, and you have a light and delicious sauce.

Poaching (cooking by simmering in a small amount of liquid) in a white wine or chicken stock, flavored with a little citrus and herbs or coriander, can be a wonderful way to cook delicate fish, salmon, or chicken. Reduce the liquid (that is, cook it until it is reduced in volume) for a tasty sauce.  Poaching is a type of moist-heat cooking technique that involves cooking by submerging food in a liquid, such as water, milk, stock or wine.  Poaching is differentiated from the other ‘moist heat’ cooking methods, such as simmering and boiling, in that it uses a relatively low temperature (about 160–180 °F).  The key to poaching meats and proteins is to make sure that your stove temperature is not too high and that your liquid does not come to a boil, as this will cause the meat to break down, resulting in a greasy meal where the fats are no longer separated on the top of the liquid.  Most cooks choose to skim the fat off of the top of the poaching liquid when cooking meat this way, either reserving it for use in a gravy or sauce or simply discarding it.

Toasting, yet another variation of browning by exposure to a dry heat will bring out flavor, especially in nuts, whole spices, and grains.  Toasting may be done by using a toaster, grilling, broiling or cooking over an open fire or a barbecue and this releases natural oils and brings out incredible flavors.  Toasting uses lower temperature or brief exposure to heat, to achieve moderate browning of the food’s surface and creation of Maillard reaction, and minimal cooking.  Toasting may involve direct, brief exposure to the oven’s heat source, or longer exposure to mild heat.

Slow cooking with slow cookers is all about dishing out delicious comfort foods for families, and meals can be as simple as macaroni and cheese, beef stew, or crock pot chili.  Crocks improve the flavor of a meal by taking less desirable cuts of meat or simple beans, and turning them into tasty meals by simmering in low heat and cooking over several hours.  Tender veggies can be infused with spices and flavors when slow cooking.  Many people tend to cook everything on high heat, too quickly, and they end up destroying the potential flavors.  Unless you are searing meat or boiling water, you should turn down the dial and cook most of your food at lower temperatures.

Overcooking can destroy flavor and nutrients.  Try to cook so your food retains nutrients, flavor, color, texture and overall appeal.  Overcooking of some baked and fried starchy foods has been linked to cause acryl amide cancer (a Carcinogenic Substance) that may form in certain foods.  While undercooked food can be dangerous, because it raises the risk of bacteria in the finished dish, you should always be careful not to overcook your food.  Overcooked food is harder to metabolize, resulting in food that remains in the gut and can eventually become toxic.  If you overcook your food, then you will lose all of the nutrients.  Don’t overcook, burn or char your meat.

Fry up the spices first.  This is called ‘blooming’ your spices.  When your oil is heated in your pan, add your spices to the oil first and mix them around for 3-5 seconds, then add your veggies or meat or whatever you’re cooking in that oil.  This is a quick and easy way to deepen and intensify the flavor of your spices.  Grill or roast veggies in a very hot (450°F) oven or grill for a sweet, smoky flavor.  Before popping them into the oven, brush or spray lightly with oil so they don’t dry out and sprinkle with herbs.  Blooming spices, or gently frying them in oil, can be tried with whole spices or ground cumin, coriander or fennel. Cook just until the spices smell nice and toasty, as any longer and you will risk burning them.

Sauté in French means ‘to jump’ and this method of cooking can be used for sautéed chicken breasts.  The reason the French called this technique ‘to jump’, is because you are cooking at a very high heat and you don’t want it sitting too long in the pan.  The temperature of the cooking surface will drop the minute food is added, so don’t rush the preheating step at the start of most sautés.  Wait for the oil to shimmer when cooking vegetables.  When cooking proteins, wait until you see the first wisps of smoke rise from the oil.

That is all that I have for you today, especially since writing this post made me real hungry and I am in need of some flavorful food now.

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