Friday, February 27, 2009

Unlock flavor with a splash of lime

Excerpts from a 2/26/09 Los Angeles Times Service article by Russ Parsons

When cooks read ''season to taste,'' they reach for the salt shaker. That's not a bad start. A judicious sprinkling with salt will awaken many a dull dish. But just as a little salt unlocks flavor, so can a few drops of acidity squeezed from a lime.

Though the results may be similar, salt and lime juice work differently. Salt is a flavor "potentiator" -- it works chemically to make other flavors taste like themselves. The acidity from limes gives a dish backbone or structure, which allows other flavors to stand out.

It doesn't take much. As with salt, you don't want to taste the seasoning itself; you want the effect it has on other flavors. Sometimes only a couple of drops of lime juice is all it takes.

How much do you add? Add a little at a time until you find the right amount. Go slowly – you can always add more, but you can’t take away.

All acids are not created alike. Any well-stock pantry should include several acids: limes, lemons, oranges, vinegars.

Chemistry 101
Remember acids are not just flavors, they are natural chemicals. The most obvious negative effect of acidity is that it discolors green vegetables, changing the chemical structure of the chlorophyll pigment and turning them olive drab. When you overcook green broccoli, spinach, etc., their natural acidity is released, causing the color change.

Acidity will also affect the texture of protein, "cooking" it without heat. If meat is left to marinate too long, the acid breaks down its structure and creates a mealy texture.