Basic Techniques: Eight Ways to Build Flavor

Have you ever made a dish that smelled great but tasted flat, unexciting, or one-dimensional? Don't give up on that recipe! Next time you make it, try boosting the flavor with a few of these techniques...When we talk about "building flavor," we don't necessarily mean adding or changing the ingredients in the original recipe. We're really talking about cooking techniques that create depth and dimension in a dish and that help us hit the high, medium, and low flavor notes.

These are basic techniques that you'll find yourself using again and again as you grow as a cook:

1. Searing the Meat - When cooking meat, taking time to sear the outside will add a heavenly depth of flavor to your final dish.

2. Deglazing the Pan - That dark layer at the bottom of your pan might look like burned food, but it's actually caramelized bits from everything you've been cooking. Once they've been deglazed, these bits melt into the background and form a savory flavor base in your dish.

3. Caramelizing the Onions - Like searing and deglazing, caramelizing onions and other vegetables by cooking them slowly gives your dish depth and adds interesting smoky and nutty flavors to your dish.

4. Toasting the Spices - This brings out the natural oils in the spices and boosts their aroma in the final dish. It's most effective to toast whole spices and then grind them.

5. Reducing the Sauce - Reducing concentrates all the flavors in a sauce. High, middle, and low notes become heightened, which enhances the overall taste of the sauce.

6. Salting to Taste - Salt reduces our perception of bitterness in dishes. If you've already added all the salt called for in the recipe, try adding a half teaspoon of salt or more and then see if you notice a difference.

7. Adding acidic and spicy ingredients - These also accentuate the high notes. If you've already added salt and you still think your dish needs "a little something," try adding a squeeze of lemon, a splash of vinegar, or a few shakes of Tabasco sauce.

8. Adding a splash of wine - Similar to adding an acidic ingredient, a splash of red or white wine can brighten the flavors in your dish.

What other ways do you build flavor in your cooking?

Related: Weekend Meditation: Intuitive Cooking and the Perfect Salad

(Image: Flickr member zenobia_joy licensed under Creative Commons)

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