We are giving you a few suggestions as to how to take the sense of taste up a few notches so that you and your guests will fall in love at first bite.
This article was originally published in Kari’s food column “When Hunger Strikes” for the Khaleej Times wknd magazine.
Love at first bite- how to make your food taste better
Season food well
You can add a whole bunch of seasonings to a dish but if this particular seasoning is lacking, you will taste nothing. Can you guess what it is? Salt. If your guests always ask to pass the salt mill at the table, this may be an indication that you could add a bit more. Try to cut down on spice mixes and sauces that have salt and if you have to use them, taste before you add extra salt. Too much salt will also work against you. Be careful and try not to be heavy-handed in one go- you can always add more but you cannot take it out!
Use fresh ingredients
That lovely Wagyu rib-eye that has been sitting for days in the supermarket and then parked for a week in your fridge will not do the meat justice. Try to buy fresh meat on market day and use within 24 hours. If you cannot use within that time, freeze it in an airtight freezer bag and pump out all the air to prevent frostbites. Wilted herbs are dehydrated and lack pizzazz. You may check our post on How to Make Fresh Herbs last longer.
Buy produce in season
Produce that is harvested and eaten during the season nature intended is much tastier than when not. These days many items are available year-round but it is best to use them when they are optimal.
Do not overcook food
Cooking is chemistry. Heat changes the structure of food over time and time is an important part of the equation. Some of us are from food cultures that love to cook the life out of food and then some more to make sure they are dead, but overcooking makes meats tough and vegetables soft and mushy.
Watch your cooking temperature
Make sure pot or oven temperature is not too high. In cooking, you do not want to shock your ingredients, especially meat or fish because they will toughen. It is better to cook on medium heat for longer, if necessary.
Let soups sit a while
Allow soups to sit for about 30-60 minutes before serving. You may reheat if necessary. The flavours come together better after they have been sitting together for some time. This is why day-old soup is so delicious.
Do not boil veggies
Unless you are cooking stock or soup, do not boil vegetables because most of the nutrients and flavours will leech out into the water. If you are cutting down on fats for dietary reasons, steam them instead. Other tasty cooking methods that use less oil are stir-frying and roasting in the oven.
Never cook frozen foods
Defrost frozen foods thoroughly before cooking. Never try to speed up the defrosting process in the pot or in the microwave because foods will overcook and meat/seafood will toughen. Put frozen foods in the fridge to defrost slowly and safely without biohazards. Never buy cooked frozen shrimp/seafood because by the time you reheat them, they will be overcooked. It is best to buy those frozen fresh.
Cook braised meats the day before
When serving braised dishes, cook overnight, cool and then refrigerate. Warm up on stove or in the oven before serving the next day. Since braises are all about making the pan gravy, meat, vegetables and seasonings all meld together, the flavours will intensify and be even more mouth-watering the next day.
Marinate, marinate, marinate
Marinate meats with aromatics, and herbs and even a little oil and some acid like vinegar, lemon or yoghurt to help tenderise tougher cuts. You can leave meats in marinade for up to 24 hours in the fridge and fish/seafood only need about 30 minutes. Leave out the salt until after cooking meats or just before cooking fish/seafood.
Infuse your oils when cooking
When stir-frying, frying or searing, infuse your oil in the hot pan with whole spices that are used in the preparation of the dish. This adds another layer of flavour to your dishes. Remove them before they burn, especially if cooking on high heat.
Let them rest
After cooking steaks, roasts and whole roast chicken or poultry, allow them to rest at room temperature for at least 10 minutes before serving or carving. This will enable the juices to redistribute throughout the meat and make it juicier. Fish and other seafood should be served immediately.