Do you ever wonder what makes something taste like meh, and something else like wow? Do you ever wonder about the secrets of flavour?
I wonder about this a lot of time. And for me, the secret of flavour really is about complexity. When something tastes boring, it's usually because it's one-dimensional. And any really amazing flavour always has many layers. It's like a good glass of wine: complexity of taste is what we are looking for here too.
I like to think of flavour as a picture, perhaps a painting, or a photo. Where you have the main subject, the main focal point, but equally important are the background, and the highlights. Or you can think of it as a piece of music: with rhythm as a structure in the background, the main melody, and the accents.
Always keep tasting when you are cooking! It may sound obvious, but it's easy to forget when concentrating on following a recipe rather than the food in front of you.
So now you taste your food, and you might think, this isn't quite right. That's when you should start looking for the layers in your flavour, and how they balance against each other. Does it lack in depth? Does the main ingredient come through strong enough? Does it perhaps need an accent? A top note?
While flavour is determined by complexity, it can be stripped down to just a four basic elements, each one turning the cogs of flavour in a certain way. No food writer breaks this down better than Samin Nosrat in her amazing book Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat:
There are only four basic factors that determine how good your food will taste: salt, which enhances flavour; fat, which amplifies flavour and makes appealing textures possible; acid, which brightens and balances; and heat, which ultimately determines the texture of food.
We'll get more into how to use the building blocks of flavour and what to do when trying to fix any shortcomings in future posts.
For today, see if you can be more aware of the complexity of flavour. Can you recognise the layers in what you eat today? What is missing? What is over-powering? What seems balanced? Let me know what you discover!