City-based chefs decode the secret behind tasting food for the right flavour
Great-looking food finds space in social media. Which is why the internet is flooded with food photographs and posts. But all that great-looking food may not taste that well. Plating a dish without tasting can lead to disasters as Paul Kinny, culinary director, Bellona Hospitality (212 All Day Cafe & Bar, Shizusan & Bar Bar), points out, “Not tasting the dish is a sin! A lot of amateur cooks, home chefs and housewives do not consider tasting food important which is why they go wrong because the taste of ingredients changes during the entire process of cooking. No matter how experienced you are, tasting is an inseparable part of cooking.”
Know your ingredients
Following the technique of cooking is essential, but understanding the ingredients, their taste and property is also extremely important. “You already know how a Gulab Jamun should taste, so when you have it, your brain responds to the taste you already have in your archive. If you are tasting a dish made of spinach or pumpkin, roasted garlic or tomatoes, your brain already knows the taste. It is important to understand ingredients and remember how they taste when cooked because they define the taste of a dish,” says Tushar Deshpande, sous chef, Indigo Deli, Pune.
He further adds that if a particular ingredient needs to cook for an hour or more to meld flavours together, it will not taste the same early in the process as the finished product. “Some ingredients mellow during the process, others concentrate hence you need to keep these factors in mind,” he suggests.
Too hot to taste
It has often been observed that while tasting an item which is hot, the taste of sugar/ salt is mild or even tastes a little less. But when the same food item cools down the amount of sugar/ salt seems perfect or even intense. This confusion often leads to ruining the dish.
Christian Huber, resident chef at Alto Vino, JW Marriott, Pune, suggests that savoury items shoud be tasted with neutral things.
“If you are tasting an Indian curry or a European stew, have it with a piece of bread or sip some water in between while tasting,” he says. While tasting, do not just lick or swallow directly, but take a generous amount, and move it around your mouth so that you can taste what it’s really like.
He further adds that instead of tasting it directly from the pan, you should take a big spoon, dip it in the vessel, take out a generous amount and let it come to room temperature and then taste. “It shouldn’t be very cold but warm so that the flavours can be felt in the mouth. I take a whole spoon, take it up in the air, swing it around and then taste it, so by the time I take it in my mouth the food is already lukewarm and gives an idea about the flavour,” he says.
What should be completely avoided is tasting piping hot food. Deshpande says, “Piping hot food affects your tongue’s sensitivity to understand flavours. When a food comes to a temperature of 70-75-degree Celsius and temperature of the food lowers down, the salt/ sugar present in the food starts activating on your tongue. Until 70-75 degrees, your tongue doesn’t understand anything. So never taste food which is piping hot,” he insists.
Checking salt and sugar
As stated earlier, knowing the nature of your ingredients well result in a dish tasting good or bad. Talking about the same, Deshpande says, “When you taste pasta and if the sauce is a little low on salt but has parmesan in it, it will automatically make up for it when the temperature lowers down. Similarly, in Chinese food, soy sauce has some amount of salt in it. Even in pastry, you cannot use a lot of sugar — it is a science and that is why we have a recipe. Recipes are made keeping in mind each and every attribute of the products — flour, vanilla, sugar, cream, etc. A slight change in the recipe and alteration in the cooking method will spoil your dish.”
Tasting at every stage
Kinny says that the flavours develop over a period of time after the ingredients blend in completely and reach the final stage of cooking. He suggests, “It is important to check at every stage of cooking because it tastes different at each stage to ensure that the ingredients are not under/ overcooked.”
Kinny who believes that with experience one learns the nuances of cooking and tasting, says, “Eventually you’ll learn how much sugar or salt to use in your food and understand that when the final product cools down, the amount of salt/ sugar will get concentrated, hence you don’t add extra while cooking. It is wise to add it in less quantity initially, and then add whatever is lacking during the finishing of the dish.”
Savoury vs sweet
According to Huber, the method of tasting a sweet dish is different from that of tasting a savoury item. He says, “Sometimes with the sweets items such as cakes, cheese creams, ganache and creams, you need to be a little patient when you taste them, because their flavour develops a bit later as compared to savoury dishes. When you add sugar to a pastry item, the sugar is not completely dissolved yet, so when you taste it, it can feel that it is not sweet enough and you keep adding sugar. Wait till the sugar has completely blended in the cream and then taste.”
However, Kinny feels that tasting sweet and savoury items is quite similar. In a sweet dish the basic flavour that you are looking for is sweetness apart from a slight flavour/ essence present in it, but in a savoury item you don’t just look for the saltiness but also want to feel the flavour of spices and the aromas. “The taste of chilli is so different from that of black pepper, so when you are tasting a savoury dish, you have to get a taste of all the ingredients blended together to complete a dish,” he concludes.