Learning to leverage flavor profiles in the kitchen, whether at home or on the road, is one of the keys to making meals that friends and family remember. The roots of Modern Steader started when Dave and I were working together in the outdoor industry. We both have developed meals on the road, particularly in camp, that got rave reviews. And there is no accident to that. In fact, understanding what tastes marry well, considering the function that each ingredient will serve, and playing off flavor affinities that are known to taste great together is a big part of crafting a great dish regardless of where you make it.
“How did you do that with a skillet and campfire? I could never do that.” We’ve heard those statements for years whether it’s in Sedona hiking to the various arches or in Zion National Park after a two day trek through the Narrows.
You see, flavors are developed using complementary and contrasting tastes. The mastery is in knowing when to use each. Where you put food to flame is much less important…though I would pick Zion National Park as a backdrop for every meal if I could!
The Flavor Bible
You would be hard pressed to find a chef that doesn’t have a copy of the The Flavor Bible by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg. It’s a roadmap for pairing tastes and flavors. And it’s without question one of the biggest influences on our Teaching Kitchen Curriculum.
You can get a copy for yourself here.
In the book, the authors describe cooking, great cooking specifically, as a meditation where “you – and all of your senses – are in the moment, and fully awake and aware. You can taste the ingredients, and know what you need to do to make them taste their best.”
For many if not all students, this may be the first time they’ve been instructed in a kitchen setting. The goal of the teaching kitchen – and one stated in the book – is to help students discover food as a starting point for a life-long relationship with how it is grown, transformed in the kitchen, and appreciated at its most elemental level.
“To elevate your cooking to a whole new level, develop a better appreciation for the essence of ingredients, which provides insight into when and how to best use them. Celebrating the essence of ingredients allows you to work with them more intuitively and effectively.”
– The Flavor Bible
The Teaching Kitchen will allow students of all ages to begin this journey, develop a taste for fresh picked, perfectly ripened foods, and set the course for their health and wellness for the rest of their lives. Understanding flavors makes the kitchen a less daunting place and the craft of preparing food themselves much more enjoyable.
Understanding the function of tastes
There are certain classic tastes that just go perfectly together. Sweet and salty is a classic and so is sweet and sour. But did you ever stop to think of the function that tastes play?
For instance, salty tastes will stimulate the diner’s thirst while sour tastes will actually satiate it. Bitterness and saltiness will stimulate the appetite while sweetness will curb it. Makes sense when you think about it.
Approach the Teaching Kitchen with the functions of taste in mind as well. Ingredients can be used for both flavor and function.
What role will they place in the overall dish?
- Saltiness stimulate thirst (salty peanuts in bars)
- Sourness quenches thirst (lemonade)
- Saltiness and bitterness build appetite (appetizers)
- Sourness is refreshing
- Sweetness is satiating (end meal with dessert)
- Spices are warming (cinnamon and nutmeg)
- Some foods are cooling (cucumber and mint)
Leveraging flavor affinities
In the lesson on companion planting we discussed how certain foods that grow well together also taste great together on the plate. Caprese salad – vine ripened tomatoes with fresh basil – is a prime example. But there are classic pairings of ingredients that form the foundation of great food.
Herbs and spices can be used to elevate the inherent taste of another ingredient. Vinegar, citrus, salt, and sugar are also used to pull out flavors.
These affinities can be seen in countless recipes and should become the basis for the flavor profiles that you build. Here are a few classic examples:
- Apples + Caramel + Cinnamon
- Bananas + Chocolate, Bananas + Cream, Bananas + Brown Sugar + Oatmeal
- Basil + Tomatoes + Mozzarella Cheese
- Red Cabbage + Apples + Cider vinegar
- Carrots + Maple Syrup + Orange juice
- Goat Cheese + Honey + Pears
- Chickpeas + Garlic + Lemon + Olive Oil
- Corn + Butter + Salt
- Cucumber + Dill + Yogurt
- Grapes + Goat Cheese
- Mustard Greens + Bacon + Onion
- Ham + Honey + Soy Sauce
- Honey + Fruit + Yogurt
- Leeks + Mustard + Vinaigrette
- Mushrooms + Garlic + Lemon + Olive Oil
- Pasta + Spinach + Spinach Cheese
- Peaches + Figs + Maple Syrup
- Pears + Bacon + Bitter Greens + Goat Cheese
- Peas + Basil + Potatoes
- Pineapple + Lime + Sugar
- Radishes + Bread +Butter + Salt
- Strawberries + Balsamic Vinegar + Black Pepper
- Sweet Potatoes + Cilantro + Lime Juice
- Tomatoes + Avocado + Lemon
- Watermelon + Feta Cheese + Red Onion
Make it your own
Use these flavor affinities to guide you in your exploration of flavors. Just remember that nothing is a hard and fast rule so be creative and let your taste buds guide you. Bon appetite!