Seasoning is often the feared enemy of many amateur cooks. However, once you understand the underlying theory, it’s quite simple.
So the most important message first: taste is formed by salt and acid. If both are missing, even the strongest food tastes bland and boring. That’s the answer to “There’s still something missing!”: Try adjusting the taste of your creations with a bit of salt and acid. In other words, the ratio of salt and acid must be balanced. Moroccan cuisine, for example, knows the salted lemon, an indispensable part of many stews (tajines).
However, acid does not always have to taste sour. From a chemical point of view, the “umami” flavor is also based on acids. In German, we often translate the word as “hearty” – because there is no better description for it. If you want to give your food a little more “depth”, you can use mushrooms (also dried or ground). In the Italian minestrone, a piece of parmesan cheese rind is often cooked at the same time – and then washed off and stored in the refrigerator for the next use.
With aromatics, i.e. spices and herbs, it is important to know the right time when they are added to a dish. For example, delicate-leaved herbs such as basil, chervil, tarragon etc. should only be added shortly before serving – their aromas are so fleeting that they fade quickly.
An early addition of pepper will provide the dish with a corresponding basic taste – seasoning with pepper at the table, on the other hand, unfolds a significantly different result.
The following order should therefore be observed when seasoning:
- salt (e.g. salt, bacon cubes, etc.)
- sweet (e.g. honey, sugar, sweet wines like Port or Madeira)
- mainly spicy spices (allspice, thyme, rosemary, bay leaf, etc.)
- mainly hot spices (pepper, ginger, etc.)
- mainly aromatic spices (basil, tarragon, parsley, etc.)
- sour (e.g. lemon, white wine, vinegar, but also capers or fresh lemon zest)
Last but not least, after the actual tasting, comes the perfuming. For example, some top chefs refine their dishes with an atomized aromatic oil just before serving. This will no longer add any additional flavor to the dish, but will intoxicate the senses with the aromas rising, which will be amplified upon contact with the warm dish (e.g. some rosewater on lamb or some liquorice essence on white asparagus).