Have no fear, flavoured food is here!
If only there was such a thing as the flavour food superhero who could come into our kitchens and sprinkle a little magic on our meals. But really, with a little bit of knowledge you don’t need some lycra-clad superhero to take your meals to the next level. (Unless you’d like to call me your superhero, then I’m totally fine with that!).
Adding flavour to your food is actually pretty simple because there are really only 4 ways in which you can give your meals flavour. The 1st is to add salt, the 2nd is to add herbs, the 3rd is to add spices and the 4th is to add condiments or sauces.
You can add them indivdually, but often you’ll find that people add more than one flavour type to their meals. But don’t go overboard because then you’ll just have a mess of flavours and nothing will hang together! Start simply, understand how each component works, then experiment with combining the flavours.
Flavour Enhancer 1 – Salt
Salt is an excellent flavour enhancer, becuse what salt usually does is to bring out the natural flavours of the food. That’s why you sometimes see a completely sweet recipe add a pinch of salt. Have you heard of salted caramel? Same applies there.
But if you’re out to make a savoury meal, salt is a must. The only problem with using salt is that too much salt is bad for us. So, you’ll need to think carefully about the salt content of your ingredients before you add salt to the dish, or at the table.
Naturally salty foods are foods like feta, cheese, olives and bacon. You’ll also get a lot of salt out of stocks and any food that comes in a can. Most often I like to completely drain and wash the foods I get from a can (like beans and lentils) before I add it to my meal. You could just add the can including the salty water (called brine) but then you need to adjust the other amounts of liquid you’re going to add or stop yourself from adding extra salt when you serve the dish.
Consider how much salt you really need. A good tip is to put in about half the amount of salt you think you need and taste it before you add anymore. Always remember it easier to fix a dish that is under salted than a dish that is too salty!
Flavour Enchancer 2 – Herbs
Herbs often add a fresh flavour to your dish, but some fresh herbs can be quite strong so go easy on them if you’re new to using herbs. Most recipes will call for a handful of leaves or 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh herbs. Try the amount suggested in the recipe, taste, then add more if you think it needs it.
There are two types of herbs: the woody herbs and the delicate herbs. Woody herbs such as rosemary, sage and thyme are called woody herbs because the leaves of these herbs are connected to a thick woody branch or stem. This means they are more hard wearing and can be added in early stages of cooking because they will last the entire cooking process.
Delicate herbs are the ones that have thin green stems and are often the delicate leaves of the bush. Examples of the delicate herbs are oregano, basil and parsley. These types of herbs should be added towards the end of cooking. Here’s a guide to herbs and what they are best paired with.
Don’t forget you can also use dried herbs in place of fresh. In fact most of my usage of herbs is done using dried herbs as they still provide a strong flavour to any meal. They are also easier to store, so it’s up to you whether you want to use the fresh or the dried herbs. Check out my guide to using fresh vs dried basil for some extra tips.
Flavour Enhancer 3 – Spices
Spices tend to be more pungent so you can add the spices at the beginning of a meal (like in the photo above). Most recipes suggest to toast the spices for 1 to 2 minutes at the beginning of cooking usually with the onions. If you’re using whole spices you can toast them separately with no oil then add them to other recipes and spice blends.
You can buy spices in individual packets (like in the photo at the start of this post) or you can buy them in spice blends. Some common blends are Mexican, Cajun, Tuscan, Zaatar, Raj el Hanout, Chinese 5 Spice and Curry powder. If you run out of a spice mix you can often make your own versions of these (especially if you have individual spices in your cupboard like I do). This list can help you get started making your own blends.
Flavour Enhancer 4 – Condiments and sauces
Some of the common ways to flavour food with condiments and sauces are by using things like mayonnaise, BBQ and tomato sauce, mustard, aioli, sweet chilli sauce, salad dressings and sauces like white sauce, cheese sauce, bechamel or a peppercorn sauce for steak.
When you flavour food with condiments you have two choices: using pre-prepared bottled sauces and condiments or making your own. If you make your own you can make versions of things like salad dressings, sauces or mayonnaise. It’s often easier to buy mustard and vinegar (like white wine or balsamic vinegars) and use them in other sauces and dressings. However, something like basil pesto, mayonnaise and sweet chilli sauce might taste nicer if you go to the effort of making it yourself.
When you’re using sauces and condiments, most often these go on the food when it’s served up (like tomato sauce on chips or tomato relish on a burger bun). Though that’s not always the case, as often recipes call for some condiments to help enhance the recipe as it cooks, such as this recipe for tuna rissoles which uses sweet chilli and tomato sauces in the mix.
You can also flavour your own oils and vinegars or buy them pre-made. These are handy for putting on meals at the end or using as part of a sauce mix too.
The most important thing to remember when using condiments is that any condiment that is dairy (like sour cream, Greek yoghurt and cream) should always be added at the end of cooking when the heat is very low or once the pan has been removed from the heat (if you leave the heat on the dairy gets too hot and ends up splitting – which doesn’t look or taste very nice).
Now that you know you can add flavour to your foods by using salt, herbs, spices and condiments there should be no more excuses for bland flavoured food in your house!
What’s your favourite way to flavour your food? Are you a tomato sauce fiend or do you prefer a good garlic aioli instead?