This past weekend Mark and I decided to try a recipe I found on the internet. It was for Poulet a la Normand. The recipe calls for the addition of granny smith apples, cider, and mustard among other ingredients. Perfect for this time of year or at least I thought it would be perfect.
I was the sous chef, meaning I did all the prep work, cutting, chopping, peeling, and measuring. Mark followed the recipe and put it all together.
As I was setting the table and opening the wine, Mark said, “Can you come taste this and tell me what you think?”
The flavor that filled my mouth was overly sweet and truly uninteresting. I grabbed the recipe and looked at the ingredients. Mark had followed it exactly, but the taste wasn’t there. “We need to try and fix this. It’s not edible as is.”
I went to my toolbox of flavor adjustments. You will find them in my book Le Kitchen Cookbook: a Workbook starting on page 40.
When something is too sweet, the way to balance it is by adding acid. Vinegar, lemon juice, and mustard are good places to start and that’s what we did. The overwhelming sweetness was mellowed but it continued to dominate the palate. In this situation the only way to create an interesting balance was to add umami. Those are savory ingredients that add a full-body, meaty flavor. That is the best way to resuscitate a dish that has died of blandness. Umami ingredients: soy sauce, bouillon cubes, anchovies, miso, and Worcestershire sauce, to name just a few.
It took bouillon cube after cube, plus a tablespoon of soy sauce before the sweetness was balanced. We served it on rice. That was the added ingredient that made the dish work, because it absorbed the sauce and diluted the tastes. The dish turned out to be good, but it took major adjusting—so much, that I don’t think I would follow that recipe again.
What’s important here is knowing how to amend flavors to suit your taste buds. This is an essential cooking technique. No recipe is perfect and no chef cooks without using these tricks. Neither should you!
Learn to cook with Le Kitchen Cookbook: a Workbook and a virtual cooking class with Adeline Olmer
I had a great time during both the chili class and the lentil soup class. Although both of these are on my "go-to" comfort food list, I learned some interesting twists to both dishes...and I have to admit that your lentil soup recipe is better than my mother's!
– Carmella Dellaporte.
Le Kitchen Cookbook
Everything you need to know to be a good cook.
by Adeline M. Olmer
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