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Lipstick, Salt and Acid- Essential Components of Great Food

Lipstick, Salt and Acid- Essential Components of Great Food

Nothing pisses me off more than the world of “Instagram Chefs”. Bro- your dish looks amazing! You have a remarkable array of fluid gels and purees. The fact that you've managed to get 12 different herbs and flowers on the plate is, in itself, remarkable! However, too often the basic components that make food taste great are taking a backseat to visual appeal. If you follow these simple rules and change NOTHING else about your cooking technique, I am positive that your food will taste better. Lets get back to basics.

Start with the best quality products that you can get

As the saying goes, “You can put lipstick on a pig”, but starting with shitty ingredients often yields lackluster flavor. If you start with great ingredients, you don’t need to apply any crazy techniques or seasonings to get great results. Less is often more; seasoned chefs often show great restraint and let the ingredients shine. You can see this in action at several great restaurants across metro Detroit— think Selden Standard, Chartreuse, Voyager, etc. 

Let me be clear though… Great quality doesn’t alway mean most expensive. 

Great quality typically means in season, hopefully picked very recently at a local farm at peak ripeness, or sourced by people who take great pride in choosing the most flavorful product. Obviously, for meat, I have to plug Farm Field Table here. Throughout this blog, we will continue to work on breaking down the food marketing that is often misguiding— pretty much all beef, for example. But that will be it’s own discussion.

Salt is a Dealbreaker

Salt is much more than just “seasoning”. Salt liberates flavors from food by releasing aromatic compounds which make up the majority of what you perceive as “flavor”. If you don't trust this notion, think of how food tastes when you have a cold. Salt also can be used to balance other flavors or even add texture like in the case of coarse sea salts or flake salts. For more advanced applications, salt is the key behind certain foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, corned beef, and more.

For general seasoning, though, what is the right amount of salt? The right amount of salt is completely subjective and only you can determine what is right for you. However, heres a great rule of thumb- the right amount is just under what you would perceive as “salty”. If your food seems bland, you probably need just a couple more flakes of salt. If you really want to nerd out, the right concentration of salt for most people will be between .8% and 1.3% in relation to the weight of the product.

 

Sear/Caramelization aka Maillard Reaction

Unless you’re specifically looking for an extremely light, bright, or clean flavor, understand this- the great majority of roasted, baked, fried, and savory flavor/aromas are the result of the Maillard reaction. Basically, the reaction is due to high temperatures, dehydration at the surface, and a chemical reaction between amino acids and certain sugars. Click here for a more in-depth explanation.

Here are a few simple tips for searing meat/poultry/fish:

  1. Allow the product to warm up at room temp for a few hours. (season it right away for best results).
  2. Preheat a heavy bottom pan, such as cast iron, to high heat
  3. Pat surface of meat/poultry/fish with paper towel
  4. Add high smoke point oil such as canola or grape seed.
  5. At first sight of very faint smoke, gently put meat in pan. leave heat medium high/high. (if you have a light weight pan, leave it higher)
  6. Once you see browning on the edges, you can check the sear. Do no touch it before this.
  7. Once well seared, flip and do not touch.
  8. Sear second side well, finish in oven or sous vide, or other method.

What is the right amount of sear on meat/poultry/fish? The very simple answer is that the right amount of sear is just before it starts to burn. The more brown, the deeper the flavor will be. Many vegetables are equally improved by maillard reactions- Think caramelized onions, roasted brussels sprouts, hard roasted cabbage, cauliflower etc. For vegetables, consider whether or not the product will be fully cooked after roasting. Some items may need to be blanched before hand, or cooked more gently afterwards.

Everything is better with Acid

Acid is another one of these tools that every great chef uses, in almost every dish. Sometimes you use a lot, and sometimes you need just a few drops to make something pop. To date, I’m not sure that I’ve come across a single savory dish that doesn’t go great with pickled onions… 

All acidic components are not created equally, however, and we will have an in depth post regarding acid in the future.

You need to consider: Do you want an assertive flavor, just trying to achieve some freshness, or are you wanting to add literally no flavor, just acidity? For bold flavors, use balsamic, red wine, sherry, or cider vinegars. For slightly less assertive flavors, white wine and champagne vinegars or rice vinegar are great. For simple freshness, citrus fruits are essential. For pure acid and no flavor go with white vinegar or straight up citric acid. For a fun ingredient that will add a bit of acidity and some depth, try tamarind.

Remember-- everything is better with pickles. Everything. 




10 Responses

Betsy
Betsy

March 15, 2019

Highly disappointed you are recommending inflammatory oils like canola for cooking. From a health perspective, it is terrible. Grapeseed isn’t that great either. Ghee and avocado oil have an even higher smoke point than the ones you mentioned and they are a much better alternative when it comes to promoting health. Please do some research and reconsider recommending some better quality fats to cook with.

Tom
Tom

February 18, 2019

I was recently made aware of the unnaturalness – and potentially harmful affects – of Canola Oil. Have you read up on this and maybe have a more natural, unprocessed recommendation for what you put in the bottom of that cast iron skillet? Bacon fat?

Dave
Dave

February 17, 2019

Would like a post on cookware. When to use; cast iron, stainless, aluminum, enamel covered cast iron, non stick? What type of non stick?
How to maintain each?

For Nina, I have a Joule sous vide and I love it.

Chrissy Jenkins
Chrissy Jenkins

February 14, 2019

Great basics to know. What’s best way to get tamarind. Ground, fresh or a paste

Marta
Marta

February 13, 2019

I loved this article! Thanks for the suggestions. Keep up the great work at FFT!

Happy Valentine’s Day! xo

Nina
Nina

February 13, 2019

Sous Vide is a process that is new to my husband, and myself. We share our kitchen, and tag team on prep.
How and why it is used?
Do you have a “machine” recommendation for the “home gourmet chef”

Amy Voigt
Amy Voigt

February 14, 2019

Hi! Please feel free to not approve this message as my intent is to just inform and not sound critical. I love your products, but the English teacher in me finds the grammar errors in the blog distracting. I’d be happy to trade some quick editing support for meat!
Sincerely,
Amy Voigt
Wylie E. Groves High School
AP English teacher (28 years)

Charlie
Charlie

February 13, 2019

I’ve been in the “Meat” business for over 40 years, I tell my customers to use the 3 S’s when cooking meat. Season,Sear, and Simmer. From Pot Roast to Pork Loin to Poultry I’ve always had great results. Thank you for confirming what I have taught for years.

Denise
Denise

February 13, 2019

For those of us on low salt diets, what would you recommend as an alternative? Salt alternatives just taste nasty so I do try lots of different herbs and spices. Love your store…think I’m going to love this blog just as much! Thanks!!

Dave
Dave

February 11, 2019

For the mathematically challenged that is between 1/4 tablespoon and 1/3 tablespoon of salt per pound of meat.

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