The Other Bird's executive chef Matt Kershaw is most often found in a kitchen cooking up some bacon. Other times, he's sitting behind a typewriter furiously pouring his heart out and drinking Scotch. This is one of those second times. In the first instalment of From The Chef's Mouth, Matt teaches you how to give your home cooking some haute cuisine punch. Everyone knows about the four tastes: sweet, sour, salty and bitter. (Some food nerds are also aware of the mysterious umami taste.) But, let’s look at the ingredients that give flavour. Fat and spice are components that should often be considered when rounding out a good meal. However, so many people fail to think about this group of tastes when they make dinner. Or, perhaps they accidentally succeed by mindlessly copying a known dish. I have a simple group of ingredients that gives every dish the 'pop' people are looking for.
Bacon/Anchovy/Fermented Black Bean
This trifecta of deliciousness makes my world go round — and these ingredients don't even have to be obvious to create the desired effect. A little pancetta cooked into your tomato sauce will add amazing depth, a little smokiness as well as some ingrained saltiness. Anchovies hidden in a Caesar dressing make all the difference in the world between Renee's anemic salad dressing and your own memorable creation.
Fermented black beans are the most mysterious of this trio. These are not the black beans you'll find in Mexican cooking. Fermented black beans (also known as salted black beans) come from Chinese cuisine and are made from soybeans that have been dried and fermented with salt, and other spices such as chilies and ginger and/or wine. They are the vegan answer to umami. These beans possess great depth and unique flavour often used in combination with garlic. You can toss a few into any dish and instantly give your chef-ing abilities some salty credibility.
Your Favourite Hot Sauce
Have you ever drizzled some hot sauce on your eggs? Glad to hear it. Lovely addition, wasn't it? Hot sauce — especially with a strong vinegar base — is an amazingly easy way to wake up a dish. You can check off sour, salty and sometimes even sweet from your dish by simply adding a few dashes of good hot sauce. Think of it as salt. When you're going to add some salt, also add hot sauce. Not enough that the dish becomes 'hot', but enough so your guests know you care about them. Frank's is not giving poor advice when they suggest you 'put that shit on everything'.
A Quick and Easy Dish: Combine lime juice, hot sauce, salt, olive oil, diced tomato, diced cucumbers, cilantro and/or mint. Mix it with or put it on grilled/chilled shrimp, bbq chicken, pan fried fish, or a spoon that is heading towards your mouth.
I love citrus. Limes are probably my favourite, but lemons, grapefruit, yuzu (fancy japanese citrus that will impress hipsters) and oranges are all amazing. A fresh squeeze of citrus over your food will make a tremendous difference in how your guests’ mouths react. It will trigger salivation and increase flavour intensity. Tonight when you're having dinner, have a bite of your protein. Consider it. Now squeeze lemon over top and splash on a little hot sauce. Eat and reconsider.
Life changing moment. I bow and exit stage right.
Fat and Salt
You are all a bunch of pathetic wussies. My God, would I ever be out of a job fast if you all weren't totally incapable of adding salt and fat to food. Do you have any idea how many times I've been told, “That was the best meal of my life”? Me either, but it's a *lot*.
It really does feel great to be told that, but it's so easy to make a home-cooked meal the best of your life. Just double the amount of salt you use and throw at least two pats of butter in your pan whenever you are finishing anything. I am absolutely not kidding. Every dish you've loved at a great restaurant had lots of salt and a remarkable amount of hidden fat. Cream, duck fat, bacon, olive oil, butter, cheese. Sneak them into your food. Don't be obvious and gratuitous (unless you really want to be my friend), but say goodbye to that little voice in your head that’s holding you back.