Dear Friends and Cooking Comrades,
Welcome back home!
What’s the difference between a chef and a home cook? Chef’s taste as they cook; building flavor a little at a time. A few herbs, a little salt & pepper to start, then subtly adding and growing flavor as they go.
I always keep a little red bucket of tasting spoons on the kitchen counter to taste and taste again (no, I don’t double-dip a dirty spoon!). I suggest putting out some spoons in a holder – mine are an embarrassing mish-mosh of miss-matched spoons. Keep them out and handy; within grabbing distance. Use them to monitor what you’re cooking and to taste throughout the cooking process so you know where you’re headed in terms of flavor.
Remember, you can always add more seasoning, but it is virtually impossible to remove it. Eureka! That means gently enhancing the taste, allowing for flavors to cook down and concentrate, leaving room to add more seasoning at the very finish of the dish just before serving. Just enough seasoning to boost, but not overpower your ingredients, that’s when you have the control and discipline of a chef!
When you taste, ask yourself what the dish is missing, what does it need? Is there more of a certain ingredient you need? Or do you want to introduce a new ingredient to balance the flavors so they’re just right? The question, “What does this need?” cuts to the core of finishing a dish to your satisfaction. Sometimes the answer is that the dish doesn’t need a thing – then it’s time to STOP while you’re ahead.
And how about tasting for texture? No one really likes mushy pasta – unless you’re 3 years old and like it from a can! Most of us tend to like a little firmness to our pasta – al dente, or “to the tooth.” How can we tell if the pasta is cooked, but has that partially firm bite, unless we taste it? Vegetables are a perfect example of something we should also taste for perfect texture (do we like crispy veggies, or do we want them more tender?) So don’t forget to check textures when you taste.
Sure we taste for flavor and texture, but we also taste for doneness. Tasting is a great way of discovering whether something is cooked to the level of doneness we want.
Be aware of the phenomenon that some cooks encounter when they taste as they cook, they don’t have as much of an appetite for the finished food when it hits the table. In fact, after cooking a banquet for 150 guests, I can barely bring myself to eat the food! It’s the cook’s curse. Although, I find that I enjoy the leftovers the next day, when I’ve had a break from the food I’ve been making. Sometimes I’m just too close to it.
A great novel is built writing words a little at a time, a great dish is built using ingredients and seasonings a little at a time – to ultimately culminate in a cooking triumph!
Taste, taste, taste!