6 Tricks to Master in the Kitchen
In case you hadn’t guessed, we’re big on flavor around here at Three Farm Daughters. And when it comes to making home-cooked meals as delicious as can be, we’ve got a couple of tricks up our sleeve we’re excited to share with you - so you too can unleash incredible flavor in all your cooking adventures!
Before we get into it, let’s address the mystery behind revealing big, full-bodied flavors in food.
Ever noticed the phenomenon of things just tasting better in restaurants? Richer, bolder, somehow more satisfying?
It's not an illusion.
However, it is a well-known fact that line cooks aren’t shy about adding a bunch of unhealthy ingredients to restaurant dishes that increase their yum-factor when you eat out!
So how do you amplify flavor in all your dishes, making meals taste more incredible on the tongue without adding a bunch of unnecessary calories?
Contrary to popular belief, turning out restaurant-quality meals at home won’t require a grueling stint in a fine-dining kitchen or classical training under a Michelin-starred chef. Nor do you need to load up your recipes with gallons of cream and butter that sabotage your healthy eating goals!
Today, we’re excited to share our 6 favorite ways to ratchet up robust flavor, mouth-feel, and overall deliciousness in all your dishes, from pasta recipes to beyond.
They’re all simple tricks you can try at your place tonight; passed down to us through the generations, borrowed and adapted from our favorite home cooks, and taste-tested in our kitchens to earn our family’s “make-it-again” seal of approval!
Ready to add these genius cooking techniques to your repertoire and instantly become a better cook? Here’s how:
Low & Slow Wins the Flavor Race
We know, sometimes you’re in a hurry to get dinner on the table - but by adding a few extra minutes on the front-end of your cook time, you’ll launch your taste buds through the stratosphere with your finished dish.
We’re talking about all those recipes that call for a sauteed onion at the base. Whether this diced onion is combined with garlic, spices, or even carrot and celery to make a classical French mirepoix, this time-honored technique hits the brakes on the heat and reveals the best full-bodied flavor foundation imaginable.
If time permits, don’t rush through softening your onion in olive oil or butter at the beginning! Let science work its magic by cooking your onion slowly until translucent and lightly golden, adding a sweeter, gentler depth of flavor to all your recipes.
How it Works
• By slowly and gently sweating chopped onion, garlic and other aromatics in your pan for at least 10 minutes, a delicious chemical reaction begins to unfold.
• Much like the magic that happens with caramelized onions, this slow 'n' steady sauteeing causes proteins and sugars in the onion to interact with each other. This neutralizes those pungent sulfuric compounds that cause a bland lack of body in your sauces, stews and soups.
• This process converts the onion’s naturally-occurring sucrose into sweeter-tasting glucose & fructose - Say hello to earthy, rich and robust depth that makes all your dishes taste like they’ve been slow-cooked for hours to mellow perfection!
• For regular sauce recipes, go ahead and add your other ingredients once the onions are translucent. Or, take things a delicious step further and continue cooking for 1-1.5 hours to make a batch of jammy caramelized onions!
Add a Little Lively Acidity
There’s nothing more frustrating than dedicating your afternoon to a labor-intensive dish, then when it comes time to serve, it just tastes… Flat.
We’ve all been there, and it’s one of the most annoying cooking mishaps that’s had accomplished cooks everywhere scratching their heads with confusion at one time or another.
So you taste it again - Does the dish need salt? Is it lacking sweetness? Is it not rich and robust enough with a full-bodied texture? No, it seems to be hitting all those important check boxes. But there’s just something strangely bland about it that isn’t exciting your taste buds or making your spoon want to go back for more…
Nine times out of ten, if we experience the same disappointment upon checking the final flavor balance of a recipe, there’s one thing that always seems to bring it to life… A dash of vibrant acidity!
How it Works
• It's no secret that the ultimate route to deliciousness incorporates all five tastes - sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami. Acidic ingredients are a surefire way to bring those bright, fresh notes back to your dish without disrupting the harmony of sweetness and bitterness!
• Welcome acidity can come in the form of lemon juice, balsamic or red wine vinegar, or even a dollop of tangy goat’s cheese or pureed tomatoes - all perfect for sparking up pasta recipes.
• Adding a zesty kick of acidity to your dish can cut through richness, provide balance, lift the palate, add that extra element of flavor you’re missing, and generally perk up your entire plate!
• If your finished dish needs a lift, be sure to add that necessary burst of acidity in the very final stages, off the heat. Applying intense heat to some acidic ingredients can warp the zippy flavors into unwanted bitterness or astringency.
Try the Butter “Mounting” Technique
We promised we wouldn’t load up your plate with a pound of butter, so stay with us on this one! But when it comes to pasta sauces, few culinary techniques can transform the texture and flavor of a pasta sauce, soup or gravy quite like butter “mounting”. This simple but powerful trick involves swirling a small knob of butter into a warm sauce just before serving - resulting in the most complex, multi-dimensional, restaurant-quality flavors.
Butter mounting works by emulsifying the fats in the butter, which helps to thicken and enrich your sauce. The result is a velvety, luscious texture that will elevate any dish to extraordinary status.
Whether you're making a tomato-based or cream-based sauce, this versatile technique delivers big results with little extra effort when you're cooking to impress! Along with the delightful glossy sheen and rich mouthfeel it provides, butter mounting also adds subtle notes of nutty, earthy, and grassy aromas to your dish that emphasize your other flavors without overpowering them.
Of course, restaurant chefs apply this technique with a heavy hand (because taste usually triumphs over nutrition when you’re dining out!), but rest assured - there’s no need to dollop in half a stick of butter to experience this incredible effect at home!
How it Works
• With just a tiny tablespoon of butter, you can create sauces that are richer, creamier, and more indulgent than you ever thought possible. The result is a luxurious, shiny sauce that's bursting with flavor and velvety texture.
• To mount butter, start by whisking a few cubes of cold butter into a small amount of the warm liquid from your sauce or soup in a mug. Once butter has melted, pour everything back into the pan and whisk - adding a little more butter if needed - until you reach your desired level of richness.
• Butter mounting is especially stellar in tomato pasta sauces, balancing out acidity in the tomatoes with a richness that makes the recipe pop. Wait till you try the resulting sauce that's both tangy and creamy - Hello flavor country!
• Because butter mounting is a finishing technique, it's easy to adjust the quantity of butter you use to achieve just the right balance of flavors. A little goes a long way, so there's no need to go overboard on calories if your recipe just needs a tiny dash of extra opulence!
Don't Toss That Pasta Water!
So, you’ve cooked your pasta to perfection, and your sauce is ready and waiting to coat those delicious noodles. But before you drain that pot, hold up! Did you know that the starchy pasta cooking water you’re about to pour down the drain is a magical elixir that can take your sauce from good to unforgettable?
Yes, you heard it right - that murky cooking liquid you were about to toss away could be the secret ingredient you’ve been missing all along.
Starchy pasta water is liquid gold - an essential ingredient in creating a smooth, silky sauce for your pasta dishes. When you add some starchy water to your sauce, it acts as a thickening agent, creating a creamy and luscious texture that coats your pasta perfectly.
It also prevents that annoying puddle of sauce leftover at the bottom of your bowl at the end of the meal, so you'll never again leave behind all the flavors you spent so long creating!
So, don't be so quick to say goodbye - let's dive into the wonders of pasta water and how it can elevate your sauces to new heights.
How it Works
• As your pasta boils, the starches in the noodles are released into the cooking water, creating a viscous, cloudy liquid that is perfect for thickening sauces.
• Before draining your pasta, reserve about a cup of the starchy cooking water in a separate bowl or measuring cup. This liquid gold is key to creating a velvety, flavorful sauce.
• After you've sauteed your aromatics, tomatoes, and spices, add a splash of the starchy pasta water to your skillet to deglaze any bits of flavor stuck to the bottom of the pan.
• When finishing pasta dishes, slowly pour in the starchy water, stirring constantly until the water has emulsified with the sauce, creating a smooth, silky texture.
• And whatever you do, don't rinse your pasta after you drain it! (Unless you'll be using it for a cold pasta salad, of course.) Keep that wonderful starch right where it belongs for hot pasta dishes!
PERFECTLY SUITED TO...
BY THREE FARM DAUGHTERS
You just can't pasta up our Penne for an unparalleled eating experience. This robust shape makes easy work of pasta salads, saucy dishes and everything in-between!
Give Aromatics a Wake-Up Call
Ever found yourself wondering why your recipe doesn't quite have the vibrancy and depth of flavor you were hoping for, even with all the right ingredients? You've carefully measured out your spices, added everything to the pot in the right order, and lovingly simmered it until it *should* be a full-flavored concoction. But somehow it seems to be missing some... Personality?
Sometimes, the answer is as simple as toasting your aromatics to wake them up a bit, and revive them back to their flavor-packed glory! Pantry staples like dry spices, nuts, and tomato paste should boast a brilliant array of aromas - but when they lay dormant in your pantry for a while, they can use a little wake-up call!
Think of it this way: Do you remember when you bought that jar of paprika or chili flakes that's been kicking around in the back of your pantry? Of course, if it was over a year ago, it's probably time to replace 'em so your flavor palette is fresh and full of potency.
Like a painter's palette, your spice rack should be a bold flavor library - full of nuance and lively variety. And to bring your aromatics back with a jolt, nothing makes them stand to attention like a quick toast before adding them to your other ingredients!
How it Works
NUTS & SEEDS: Whether you're using pine nuts, almonds, pepitas or walnuts, dry-toasting them in a frypan can unlock their hidden potential. The heat not only brings out their natural oils, making them more fragrant and flavorful, but also gives them a satisfying crunch that can take your pasta dishes to the next level.
SPICES: The secret to making your spice cabinet sing? Toast them! The heat intensifies their flavors and aromas, making them more potent and delicious. This is particularly true for spices like cumin, coriander, and cinnamon. Plus, toasting can help remove any bitterness from whole spices and seeds, giving them a more rounded, pleasant taste.
TOMATO PASTE: You may think of tomato paste as a humble pantry staple, but it has a lot of untapped depth of character! Toasting it in a pan with a little oil caramelizes the natural sugars in the tomatoes, making them richer and sweeter. This can add dimension and complexity to your tomato-based sauces and dishes, taking them from good to great.
Leverage the Power of Umami
If you’re still a stranger to the concept of umami, have we got some mind-blowing news for you! This mysterious flavor-boosting compound is nothing short of miraculous - and while it can’t be pinpointed as a singular ingredient, taste, or flavor - it wraps up everything our taste receptors know about deliciousness in one bite.
For the uninitiated, "Umami" is the term used to describe the fifth basic taste, which is often translated as "savory" or "meaty." It's a sensation that's triggered by certain amino acids, such as glutamate and inosinate, and it's found in many foods, including meat, cheese, mushrooms, and soy sauce. Umami can be a powerful tool for adding depth and richness to pasta dishes, and there's countless ways to leverage its power in all your cooking - once you know where to find it!
The best part? Umami is naturally occurring in a whole swag of common pantry staples and condiments you probably already have in your kitchen, meaning it's super easy to add a hit of umami oomph to all kinds of recipes. Try adding diced tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, or a splash of soy sauce to boost bold flavor in sauces or broths, and experiment with pasta toppings like shaved parmesan, toasted pine nuts, or prosciutto for some serious umami goodness!
How it Works
• Umami is a taste sensation that cracks the code on savory yumminess. It’s the number 1 way to add that coveted “bliss factor” to food. In short, it’s almost impossible to accurately describe - but it is undoubtedly, and instantly, recognizable.
• Umami is naturally present in many foods, such as Parmesan cheese, cured meats, anchovies, sun-dried tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, and even some vegetables and cheese. It's also found in fermented and aged condiments like soy sauce, miso, and Worcestershire sauce!
• We experience the umami taste sensation when the foods we eat contain three compounds, an amino acid named glutamic acid (aka glutamate) and two ribonucleotides called inosinate and guanylate.
• Umami has another superpower beyond its incredible taste and mouthfeel... It actually enhances the flavor of your other ingredients! When used in pasta dishes, it can bring out the natural sweetness of vegetables, the richness of meats, and the depth of sauces.
More on the Mysterious 5th Taste...
For a deep dive into the world of umami, check out our flavor spotlight below & try our yummy Umami Bomb Pasta recipe to take this taste revelation out for a spin and get confident adding it to all your recipes!
UMAMI CHEAT SHEAT
A handy guide to delicious umami-packed ingredients waiting to be discovered at your place:
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