Any minute now my postman is going to arrive with my new Stovetop Smoker. I’ve been getting ready for it’s arrival; I have been brining a half chicken since yesterday, I have some St. Louis Ribs that have been dry rubbed, and some corn all ready to smoke. Both my daughter and I love the flavor of smoked food, and though I dream of one day buying a Big Green Egg, this seems s bit more practical. I am planning on smoking everything from meat to fish, cheese to vegetables. So now I sit here waiting… Look for my debut results tomorrow!
Anyone who loves food is a flavor chaser. I may not love super spicy food, but I love food loaded with spice. In culinary school we were taught that three things flavor food; salt, sugar and fat, and though that is true, herbs and spices really bring a lot to the table (so to speak). When I cook I like to plan what my dish will taste like, what will go well with it, and what can I do to bring out the most flavor. A critical part of that is how you treat your ingredients, from how and when you add them to your dish to how you combine different flavor types.
Most spices are fat (not water) soluble, which means if you want the most from your spices, as well as your aromatics such as carrots, garlic, onion, peppers, you should sauté them in some fat before adding them to your main ingredient. Dried herbs can go right into the water, sauce, or whatever, and they can stand up to cooking time, in fact they need it to rehydrate, while fresh herbs really need to go in at the last minute, and I generally don’t add them until the food is off the heat. Vinegar and citrus really brighten flavor, and are a great addition to heavy and starchy legumes, like a lentil or bean dish, I love to use the fresh juice of an orange in any black bean soup. If you are looking to add depth of flavor- umami, soy, tamari, or Worcestershire can do this, I am also a fan of powdered mushroom to add some meaty flavor to vegetarian dishes.
You might think, reading this that my spice rack is jammed, but it’s not. I have my go-to flavorings, and don’t like to keep dried herbs and spices too long, as they get a flat taste that won’t cook out, so I try not to keep too much on hand. I always have smoked paprika, garam masala, saffron, a few spice blends I like and a few dried herbs. I like flavored salts, and I have a bunch of vinegars, flavored oils, and some spirits for cooking; brandy, sherry, mirin, and sake. I even have hot sauce and crushed red pepper. If a recipe calls for a small amount of something I don’t have I am willing to substitute or omit it- I am not a particularly strict recipe follower, and often I use a recipe more as a guide than a map.
There are so many ways to build flavor, and building is the way I like to look at it. As you prepare your food, you layer technique and ingredients together to enhance your main ingredient. Before you even start cooking you might marinate, or brine or use a dry rub. Then you grill, smoke,brown or sear; add aromatics like carrots, onion, celery, garlic, peppers (hot or sweet) or ginger, and spices. Your next layer may be some flavored liquid such as tomatoes or tomato sauce or paste, wine, soy sauce, or stock. Then you start adding herbs, and salt and pepper to finish. Obviously you don’t need to go through all these steps, if you have a great steak all you need to do is season with salt and pepper, throw it on a hot grill, and don’t overcook it. What is important to remember is that just because garlic and strawberries are your two favorite flavors doesn’t mean they work well together!