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DROP DEAD CULINARY

Cooking tips: The 5 flavors and how they go together

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10 possible pairs of two, 10 possible sets of three, 5 possible sets of four.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012 - 12:01 am

Q. Which flavors go well together? Is there a guide to this when I start experimenting in my kitchen?

A. What a great question! Reams have been written about this very question. People have made charts, graphs, and a “Flavor Wheel,” similar to a color wheel, to try to explain this culinary quandary. To begin with, know that there are five basic flavors:

1. Sweet

2. Sour

3. Bitter

4. Salty

5. Savory (also know as umami)

This means there are 10 possible pairs of two, 10 possible sets of three, and 5 possible sets of four. But there are also secondary flavors that are not made from these combinations such as hot, fattiness, acidic, acrid, pungent, etc. These are flavors that are not the main flavor, but leave a lingering taste, a low note, or a side taste on your tongue.

In wine tasting and perfume making, there is the exact grape or flower used, then smells, top notes and base flavors. Sometimes the words people use to describe wine make me think... “Whaaat? Who dreamed up that?” But wine connoisseurs know of which they speak. Perfumers add certain scents, so theirs is more of a chemical grouping to produce pleasant smells. Then you have the scent and sweat (yes, sweat) combined with the consumer's skin to finalize the desirability of that scent.

For cuisine, we all know that certain flavors go well together such as sweet and sour, salty and savory, sweet and salty, etc. Sweet has gone with savory as in sweet and sour pork, but recently we are seeing people push the envelope such as adding savory and fatty to sweet and creamy (yes I would call this a secondary taste, even though some will argue it is only a consistency) as in ice cream with bacon, and strawberries with balsamic vinegar.

So how to develop your own recipes within proper parameters? Since there is no exact guideline that I could find, you must use your own taste buds and those of your friends for comments. No experimenting on monkeys here! I had a culinary disaster about five years ago when I made a new chicken recipe for guests. I did not try it out on my husband beforehand, which would have been silly anyway since he will eat anything. That afternoon I combined all these great seasonings for a rub and then baked the chicken with them and a marinade. Whoa...too much of a good thing was, for once, awful. The flavors just canceled each other out and made a sour, unidentifiable chicken dish. My apologies if you are reading this and you were there that fateful night!

I would say most of the main flavors could be combined, with the exception of bitter. Use this one judiciously. What you need to be concerned with the most are the secondary flavors, the flavors that lie on your tongue after you swallow. Those are very important and separate the cook from the gourmet. Pay attention to your palate when you are eating something you like. What makes this dish so fantastic? Why would you order it again?

This is a little more evasive than I like to be, but the truth is, people strive to find an exact answer and there is not one. With all the chefs dreaming up some quirky combinations just to make their mark in the fast developing world of food, I have one sentence of advice. “Buyer beware.” It is not all great. You will learn what you and your guests like with persistence, knowing the five basic flavors, and giving secondary flavors the significance they merit.

There's also a wonderful book, "The Flavor Bible," written in 2008 by Karen Page and Andrew Donenburg, that has a wealth of information on flavors. It won the 2009 James Beard Book Award for Best Book: Reference and Scholarship. These two authors attempt to discuss every flavor, spice, and ingredient known to man, explaining what each pairs well with and what it complements. It is an encyclopedia of taste, or perhaps more like a thesaurus with synonyms and antonyms of flavors. This would be a book well worth purchasing and keeping in your kitchen to go to for answers when experimenting.

In two weeks I will address how to develop your palate and break down what you are eating. What will extend your range? It is worth knowing if you are a true foodie.

Q. What is a pretty, delicious and knockout fall dessert?

A. With the bounty of fall and the switch from stone fruits to seed fruits, a beautiful dessert I love to make for my guests is a Poire in Croute or a Pomme in Croute. This means, pear in crust and apple in crust.

While I personally prefer apples vs. pears, the pear is the prettier of the two. And fall is the best time for pears because they do not store as well as apples, so gather the pears while ye may!

Basically, it is a dumpling of sorts and so simple. You may make these the day before and refrigerate them, covered of course. This will make the crust even better because you know a refrigerated crust bakes better.

Here's how to make this delicious and show-stopping dessert:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Combine to make a pate sucre:

2 1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

1-2 Tablespoon sugar

Add:

2 sticks unsalted butter

Process these until crumblike.

Add:

1/4 - 1/2 cup water

Process only until it all comes together.

Wrap and chill.

Meanwhile:

Peel and core apples or pears.

Assemble:

Roll dough out and cut into circles big enough to fit each piece of fruit. Place your fruit on the center of the circles. Inside each core, add granulated sugar, brown sugar, and cinnamon. Put a few small slices of butter in as well. I really don't measure; I just add all of this in the hole with a little spoon.

Pull the sides of the crust up and enrobe your fruit. Cut off the excess, molding the crust around the fruit to keep its shape. If your crust is not sticking, use a tiny bit of water as glue.

Embrace your inner artist! Make leaves, stems and even worms from the crust! Think of the crust as Play-Doh and have some fun. If you need to, use water or a teeny bit of egg wash for glue, but usually the crust sticks together.

Lastly:

Brush all of your creations with egg wash (the whole egg, beaten with a fork to combine), and bake for 20 minutes or until well browned. Some people also sprinkle sugar on the top for a little carmelization.

Take a picture and send it to me!

Laura Wilson, owner of La Dolce Vita in Roanoke, is a Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef. She answers questions in The News-Sentinel every other Tuesday. Have a question for Laura? Submit it to clarson@news-sentinel.com or call 461-8284. We'll pass on questions to Laura. This column is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion of The News-Sentinel.