I’ve been thinking lately about what makes my husband such an excellent cook. Having watched him for several years, I’ve learned there are a few techniques he uses to get the best flavor out of any meal. Let me share them here:
1) Lemon juice and salt are the two sides of a balancing scale. If something is a bit too lemony, salt can help bring it back to taste. If it’s a little too salty, lemon can bring the flavor back into balance. If it’s a lot too salty, start over.
2) Skim the scum. Whether it’s the bubbles that sit on top of your shorbat or the ones that rise up from your tomato sauce, the foamy stuff is actually the impurities working their way out of the food. If you skim this stuff off the top of whatever liquid you’re cooking, those less than tasty bits don’t have a chance to work their way into what you eat. Every time I add a new liquid ingredient to a soup or stew, I get some of this foamy stuff and I get rid of it.
3) Brining makes it better. We like our chicken skin crispy and our meat moist, and it’s hard to achieve that cooking the way we do without brining the meat first. Lately we’ve taken to dry-brining (covering a chicken with salt and letting it sit a day in the fridge, then rinsing and drying it before we cook it), but wet brining works too. What works for chicken also works for cucumbers and eggplant, which would otherwise give off enough water to over-thin some sauces.
4) Buy fresh and local. The freshest, tastiest meat, veggies and dairy products come from local producers. Why would I buy a lamb from New Zealand when I can get one from my colleague who raises them lovingly and organically? Why would I import yogurt from abroad when I can get something just as tasty, without preservatives, from the Mennonite vendor at the farmers’ market? Turns out it’s no more expensive and just as tasty to shop this way.
5) Almost every protein or veggie benefits from a rub down. Rarely does a steak go on the grill, a chicken in the oven or a fish in a pan unless it has been lovingly massaged with a mix of olive oil and one of the many herb and/or spice mixes we rely on to elevate flavor. The same goes for a lot of the starches and veggies we cook. Last week I tossed sliced sunchokes with a rub of olive oil, rosemary, garlic, salt, pepper and fresh thyme and roasted them until the skins were crispy and the flesh tender. The week before I tossed them with olive oil and Penzey’s Moroccan Spice Mix. In both cases, they were heaven on a platter.
What techniques do you use to get great flavor?