Now that we understand how to apply heat, we go to the next important aspect of cooking, which is seasoning and flavouring.
Taste is one of the most important senses for a chef, and if you read the previous articles you will remember that I said the chef has to be in control of all the senses; however, the sense that will dominate is taste. It does not mean that the other senses, like smell, will not apply. The sense of smell intermingles with taste as it uses the same airway on the way to the stomach, so one could easily be associated with the other.
All of this leads into that important sense that we just mentioned – taste. What is taste and how many of us can actually control it? In order to control taste, you need first be able to recognize it and that leads us to yet another question: How do we do that?
Tasting is done through those amazing sensors on the tongue called the taste buds. So, if I were to blindfold you and put a piece of orange in your mouth, take it out and put a piece of mango in, take that out and then put in a piece of tomato, would you be able to identify what was placed in your mouth at any given time? If your answer is yes, you would have just experienced the sense of taste, as taste is in fact the natural flavour of any item and therefore the medium by which it can be identified. One of the chef’s biggest assets is that mental taste folder which he must develop if he is to be any good at his craft.
So how do we manipulate or influence taste? Well, we first have to look at what we said earlier – that taste is the natural flavour of anything. So, now we have established the natural flavour, the chef’s job is manipulating the process. What do we use to manipulate besides the blending of different flavours? The answer to that would be herbs and spices. So, herbs and spices properly used could dramatically improve the flavour of any dish.
I am sure by now that you are totally confused with all of the things we mentioned – taste, flavour, herbs spices. Sorry to tell you that we are going to add a bit more to the confusion. We have just talked about flavouring, but there is also something called seasoning. Is it the same or is there a difference? We need to ascertain what this means before we get to the pot. Does the food need additional flavouring or additional seasoning? Is there a difference? The answer is yes, there is a big difference. We established before that flavour is the natural taste, while seasoning is the addition of salt and pepper, or a salty or peppery item which enhances flavour. Bear in mind that salt and pepper not only have their own flavor, but a very strong and distinctive one as well and, as such, the over use of these items can easily ruin your final dish. As I tell my students, salt and pepper are seen as the high priests of the kitchen as they preside over all of the marriages and bring the flavours together harmoniously.
It is important that you get this once you start to cook – and remember that cooking, as we mentioned earlier, is the application of heat to food which brings about irreversible change to that food item, and so too, in most cases do flavouring and seasoning, and it is very difficult to recover or rectify an over-flavoured or over-seasoned dish.
And while this all seems very complicated, all you need to remember is that the natural taste of anything is the actual flavour and flavours can be manipulated by combining a number of different flavours. They can also be manipulated and enhanced by the addition of a variety of herbs and spices, and they can also be seasoned to perfection with the addition of salt and pepper, or a salty or peppery item.
This skill, like everything else, requires close attention paid to those all-important taste buds, one of the chef’s most critical biological assets. This, by the way, explains why good chefs will never abuse things like alcohol, refrain from smoking and most of all, avoid those harmful drugs that are so readily available, since all of these things can do untold damage to the taste buds. Without total control of our sense of taste we can never produce a wonderfully flavoured, well balanced and perfectly seasoned dish.
Next week, we’ll focus a little more on herbs and spices.
If you are really interested in learning more about cooking, come and be a part of our cooking classes.
Contact the Caribbean Cuisine Culinary Institute at 629-0075/76/77.