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Nov 18, 2009 01:31 PM

Lessons on Balancing Flavors

I recently purchased a highly-recommended "The Flavor Bible" by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg. I am grateful for the depth of ingredients and their pairings that compose the majority of the book's weight. It is easy to see new recipes forming before you as A-Z is explored.
However, I am finding it difficult to correctly compose the ingredients into an actual exciting dish. It seems everything gets lost in itself.

Please share your advice on deciding amounts of ingredients when creating new dishes. Explain how you translate your idea onto a plate by adjusting the balance of tastes and aromas. Also, please include your go to pairings for the foundation of dishes. Anyone else read this book?

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  1. I'm surprised no one bit this one.
    I agree, The Flavor Bible is an excellent resource! I seem to recall there is a chapter explaining balancing flavor combinations in the book, as well as "warming" and "cooling" sensations, but I must admit I haven't picked it up in a while now.

    Balancing flavors would be a cinch if all ingredients were one dimensional flavors (sour/salty/sweet/bitter), but it's a little more complicated sometimes when you're using actual food ;)

    Your familiarity with ingredients will definitely help determine how much of each to add. If something is strongly flavored, you'd want to use it sparingly, whereas if something is mild, you can likely use it liberally. If an ingredient combination tastes bland, you likely need to add more salt, though "salt" can be anything from actual salt to fish sauce to soy sauce or whatever.

    If it becomes too salty, add something sour or acidic. If it becomes to acidic, add something sweet. If it becomes too sweet, add something sour. If it too bitter, add something salty, and so on, and so forth.

    Beyond that, heat, texture and aromatics all come into play. It just takes practice to figure out how much contrast to use in what situation, and some experimenting to see what will truly go together indefinitely and what is only loosely paired in very specific instances.

    For the foundation of something savory, there is always salt (the essense of "savory") and likely aromatics, such as mirepoix or sofrito and herbs. For something sweet, of course, sugar :) "Depth" can usually be achieved by caramelization, whether it be vegetables, meat or sugar.

    Hope that helps somewhat, if you stumble upon your post gain, sasserwazr :)

    2 Replies
    1. re: afoodyear

      Agreeing with afoodyear, and relaying my sole experience. Practicing a receipe for a culinary test. Sole in a simple cream sauce. Tasted too much of the shallots. Added proper amount of salt. Tasted perfect.

      1. re: afoodyear

        awesome. you nailed what i meant with the acid to salt etc. i guess when conceptualizing a dish, if you want a flavor to dominate you just add more of the ingredient.