Thursday, November 19, 2009

flavor notes

In Skye Gyngell's cookbook A year in my kitchen, she begins with talking about base notes & top notes; equating flavors to a musical scale, and is constantly seeking harmony-a balance of sweet, sour and salty tastes. This isn’t a new concept; it is the way people have cooked in the East for a very long time.

Like the notes on a scale-beginning with the earthy base note flavors and finishing with the top notes that add freshness and make a dish “sing”. At the top of the flavor scale you might have lemon zest, infused oils, and vinaigrettes as well as mayonnaise bases. Through the center you have agra-dolce (sour sweet), slow roasted tomatoes, toasted nuts. Approaching the bottom there might be more earthy flavors such as braised lentils, tea-smoked fish, stocks, and roasted spice mixes.

There are many different combinations of spices that work well together, from curries, garam masala, beau monde, Zahtar, five spice…on and on.

This particular combination of spices from Skye’s book is really nice, the flavors work particularly well together, lending a depth of flavor and aroma to many purées and slow-cooked dishes. They should be used in conjunction with other flavors in order to balance them out. The spice mix is a foundation that only really works if the heat of a chili is added, plus the sweetness of sugar or maple syrup, as well as the sourness of lemon or lime. Adding a salty touch is also needed to underpin the spice mix flavor.

Buy the spices whole for this, ready-ground spices will already have lost their freshness and give dishes a dull, musty taste. And for optimum flavor, use a pestle and mortar or spice grinder rather than a food processor to grind the mix. You can keep the roasted spice mix in a sealed container up to a month, but no longer.


Skye's Roasted Spice Mix
adapted from A year in my kitchen

1-2 cinnamon sticks
¼ cup coriander seeds
¼ cup cumin seeds
¼ cup fennel seeds
¼ cup mustard seeds
¼ cup fenugreek seeds
5 cardamom pods
2-3 star anise (or cloves)

Place a dry, heavy-based frying pan (preferably non-stick) over a low heat. Break the cinnamon stick in half. Once a clear smoke begins to rise from your pan, add all the spices and cook, stirring frequently, to toast them. Be careful not to burn them though, as this would give a bitter taste. Once the seeds begin to pop, they are ready. Remove from the heat and grind to a fine powder. Store in an airtight container until ready to use.

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