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Creating Depth Of Flavor


zoramargolis
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Would you be interested in sharing the recipe?  Every squash soup recipe I've followed has come out kinda bland.

I am going to jump in and comment on your request, because I made a Kabocha squash soup that was a big hit when I served it to guests last week.

When you say "bland" I am assuming that you mean "without character" rather than "not spicy enough." To me, the goal with a roasted winter squash soup is seeking depth of flavor, rather than pizzaz. If the latter is what you want, don't bother roasting the squash, just cook it in the stock--then add ginger or curry or cumin and chile, or cinnamon, which will become the dominant flavor.

However, if depth of flavor is what you are after, roasting the squash evaporates some of the water in it, instensifies the flavor and caramelizes some of the natural sugar in the squash. The key to any good soup is good stock. Using homemade chicken stock (or flavorful vegetable stock) is crucial. If you have to use canned stock, enhance it by simmering it for fifteen or twenty minutes with additional aromatics, like onion, celery, parsley, fresh thyme and bay leaf, and some white wine or dry vermouth, then strain it before using it for the soup.

I wanted some extra, elusive sweetness and complexity to my soup, so I peeled and cut up a quince and sauteed it in butter with onion and the white part of a leek, then added several cups of homemade chicken stock and some white wine, and let it cook until everything was tender. The roasted squash and the quince-onion-broth was pureed in the blender together with a half-carton of creme fraiche (heavy cream would work, too) and then the pureed soup was simmered for about a half hour or so, stirred occasionally, salt and white pepper added to taste. At the very end, I added some grated lemon zest and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. An apple or a pear could stand in for the quince. I sprinkled a tiny bit of finely chopped parsley and tarragon in the center of each bowl as I served it.

People were energetically scraping every last drop out of their bowls, and one of my friends was hungrily eyeing the dish of his six year-old daughter, who was dawdling. When he had finished his soup, he negotiated with her and got her to eat "four more spoonfuls" and then grabbed her bowl as soon as she had complied, so that he could finish her soup. No one identified the quince--the soup wasn't noticeably sweet, it was just really rich and delicious.

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Zora,

I recently made some wonderful braised short ribs. I like to marinate mine in a red wine, walnut oil, and herbs. I found that if you sear them before I marinated them, the flavor is intensified. One of the keys is to deglaze the pan with the wine. I have tried marinating them for between one and five days. I believe that two days in the marinade is the best. Once done marinating use the marinade as the braising liquid along with some homemade beef stock. Jonathan Krill (who told me about this method) marinates his short ribs for five days. I found that when I have let them sit this long the marinade over powers the beef.

These are best served the next day, and degreased before reheated in a low oven with a little of the cooking liquid, while the rest is reduced. Reducing the liquid without a starch really gives this a wonderful mouth feel, and an intense beef flavor.

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Reducing the liquid without a starch really gives this a wonderful mouth feel, and an intense beef flavor.

Jeff Black was the one who clued me in about not over-reducing. He's huge on intensity of flavor, but thinks the mouth-feel of over-reduced sauces is unpleasant. I've stopped reducing down to an almost-glaze and by using a very little bit of starch or buerre manie, I can get a rich sauce without a starchy taste and the added benefit is that I have enough sauce to be able to be generous with it.

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I recently made some wonderful braised short ribs.  I like to marinate mine in a red wine, walnut oil, and herbs. 

I meant to ask you whether you do wine marinade raw or cooked. Within the past couple of years, I have become a cooked wine convert--I simmer the wine with onion and herbs before using it as a marinade (and then use the marinade as part of the braising liquid, of course). The nut oil is an interesting idea, though it would not work for me--I am violently allergic to walnuts. I'll stick with EVOO.

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I meant to ask you whether you do wine marinade raw or cooked. Within the past couple of years, I have become a cooked wine convert--I simmer the wine with onion and herbs before using it as a marinade (and then use the marinade as part of the braising liquid, of course). The nut oil is an interesting idea, though it would not work for me--I am violently allergic to walnuts. I'll stick with EVOO.

I'm curious about the rational for marinating short ribs. I never do it. Does it really have an effect? Seems to me that the long braising time would infuse the wine flavor enough and marinating would be superfluous (and it certainly doesn't have anything to do with tenderizing, as they'll get tender enough with braising).

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I'm curious about the rational for marinating short ribs.  I never do it.  Does it really have an effect? Seems to me that the long braising time would infuse the wine flavor enough and marinating would be superfluous (and it certainly doesn't have anything to do with tenderizing, as they'll get tender enough with braising).

Marinating meat that is going to be braised is an optional thing, obviously. It all has to do with depth of flavor. Once in the braising pot, the meat gives flavor to the cooking liquid more than the liquid flavors the meat (think how little flavor is left in chicken meat after it has been in a stockpot for a long time). The endproduct of braising marinated meat is much more flavorful than if it were not marinated--that isn't to say it won't be good, but for depth of flavor fanatics who have the time and inclination to do that extra step, it is worth it.

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Marinating meat that is going to be braised is an optional thing, obviously. It all has to do with depth of flavor. Once in the braising pot, the meat gives flavor to the cooking liquid more than the liquid flavors the meat (think how little flavor is left in chicken meat after it has been in a stockpot for a long time). The endproduct of braising marinated meat is much more flavorful than if it were not marinated--that isn't to say it won't be good, but for depth of flavor fanatics who have the time and inclination to do that extra step, it is worth it.

I'm not sure I buy the depth of flavor argument. I've been questioning it lately based on the piece Robert Wolke wrote debunking marination as mostly a cooking myth. He said marination only penetrates, at most, the outer millimeter or two of the meat. "Marinating is a surface phenomenon" he says, and "cannot infuse deeply enough into the meat, even without skin, to deposit flavor into it's volume".

(And saying marination does work, I'm not sure why the meat doesn't just give up any extra marination flavor it's gained back to the cooking liquid during the long braising time. In other words, per your chicken example, how would the 'marination' flavor be any different from the 'natural' flavor in the chicken that's being lost to the liquid).

[Don, maybe this can be split off to it's own thread?]

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I'm not sure I buy the depth of flavor argument.  I've been questioning it lately based on the piece Robert Wolke wrote debunking marination as mostly a cooking myth.  He said marination only penetrates, at most, the outer millimeter or two of the meat.  "Marinating is a surface phenomenon" he says, and "cannot infuse deeply enough into the meat, even without skin, to deposit flavor into it's volume".   

(And saying marination does work, I'm not sure why the meat doesn't just give up any extra marination flavor it's gained back to the cooking liquid during the long braising time.  In other words, per your chicken example, how would the 'marination' flavor be any different from the 'natural' flavor in the chicken that's being lost to the liquid).

First of all, I don't think Wolke is correct in every instance regarding marinating--he is referring to short-time marinades. If you are marinating shortribs for several days, the meat changes color not just on the surface. There wouldn't be so many warnings about not over-marinating meat which can make it mushy, if only the surface of the meat were affected.

C.J., I think the only way to truly settle this is for you to do a side-by-side comparison. Get, say, a dozen short ribs and marinate six of them in a cooked wine marinade for three days. On day four, make two pots with the same treatment (ie. aromatics, stock, herbs). Only, use the marinade as part of the braising liquid for the marinated ribs and wine for the unmarinated ribs. Otherwise, do everything the same. My hypothesis is that the marinated ribs will have more depth of flavor. Yours is that there won't be a significant difference. You may need a neutral third party to taste and render a judgement, but I'll bet there'll be some volunteers here.

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except I think salt does penetrate, per the old Cooks Illustrated experiment weighing brined, water-soaked, and un-treated chicken after cooking--the brined chicken was significantly heavier than that soaked in water alone (which was scarcely heavier than the untreated one, if memory serves). I'd think that means the salt penetrated the entire chicken and denatured the proteins throughout, allowing them to retain more of the natural liquid than they would otherwise.

carrying that thought into a marinade: If there's salt in the marinade, then maybe the meat would both hold onto more of its natural liquids and, possibly, absorb some of the aromatics and other marinade goodies that travel in with the salt?

sheer speculation here, of course--I don't have a clue what I'm talking about. I do know that adopting Judy Roger's technique of presalting just about every meat I cook has made a world of difference to my dinner table.

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I am going to jump in and comment on your request, because I made a Kabocha squash soup that was a big hit when I served it to guests last week.

When you say "bland" I am assuming that you mean "without character" rather than "not spicy enough." To me, the goal with a roasted winter squash soup is seeking depth of flavor, rather than pizzaz. If the latter is what you want, don't bother roasting the squash, just cook it in the stock--then add ginger or curry or cumin and chile, or cinnamon, which will become the dominant flavor.

However, if depth of flavor is what you are after, roasting the squash evaporates some of the water in it, instensifies the flavor and caramelizes some of the natural sugar in the squash. The key to any good soup is good stock. Using homemade chicken stock (or flavorful vegetable stock) is crucial. If you have to use canned stock, enhance it by simmering it for fifteen or twenty minutes with additional aromatics, like onion, celery, parsley, fresh thyme and bay leaf, and some white wine or dry vermouth, then strain it before using it for the soup.

I wanted some extra, elusive sweetness and complexity to my soup, so I peeled and cut up a quince and sauteed it in butter with onion and the white part of a leek, then added several cups of homemade chicken stock and some white wine, and let it cook until everything was tender. The roasted squash and the quince-onion-broth was pureed in the blender together with a half-carton of creme fraiche (heavy cream would work, too) and then the pureed soup was simmered for about a half hour or so, stirred occasionally, salt and white pepper added to taste. At the very end, I added some grated lemon zest and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. An apple or a pear could stand in for the quince. I sprinkled a tiny bit of finely chopped parsley and tarragon in the center of each bowl as I served it.

I made this winter squash soup for dinner last night and it was SO good. I used an apple instead of a quince and I used homemade veggie stock, otherwise followed the recipe. Easily the best squash soup I've ever made...typically mine lacks depth of flavor and the texture is...shall we say, rustic? :(, but this recipe is great. Thank you!

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...the goal...is seeking depth of flavor...

I think the key to this is trying to understand every ingredient that you use and trying to make sure it is the best -- meaning most flavorful, not necessarily most expensive -- it can be. The extra step of roasting a squash, or toasting nuts, or even making sure your spices are fresh, leads to "depth of flavor." The reason that we all like restaurants so much is that they go the extra mile, don't take shortcuts, and work really, really, hard. It makes a huge difference.

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Adding on...perhaps not depth of flavor but for adding dimension to flavor, I've come to appreciate and use sour notes. Citrus and vinegars brighten flavor a great deal. I'd never thought of adding a squeeze of lemon to a deeply-flavored braise until I made Osso Bucco a couple of times.

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Adding on...perhaps not depth of flavor but for adding dimension to flavor, I've come to appreciate and use sour notes. Citrus and vinegars brighten flavor a great deal. I never thought of adding a squeeze of lemon to a deeply-flavored braise until I made Osso Bucco a couple of times.

acidity is crucial to balance in almost any savory recipe--and in lots of sweet ones, too. anytime something tastes a bit flat, first think "does it need more salt?" and next "does it need some acid?" which can be citrus, vinegar, wine (more often added early on in the cooking process). osso bucco has tomatoes, which are acidic, so extra acid at the point of serving may or may not be obvious. I always serve osso bucco with a sprinkling of gremolata, which has lemon zest in it, so it gets that brightness of lemon albeit not from juice.

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acidity is crucial to balance in almost any savory recipe--and in lots of sweet ones, too. anytime something tastes a bit flat, first think "does it need more salt?" and next "does it need some acid?" which can be citrus, vinegar, wine (more often added early on in the cooking process). osso bucco has tomatoes, which are acidic, so extra acid at the point of serving may or may not be obvious. I always serve osso bucco with a sprinkling of gremolata, which has lemon zest in it, so it gets that brightness of lemon albeit not from juice.

Yes, it was the gremolata that tipped me off. What an "aha!" moment.

Adding-salt to sweet. Chocolate chip cookies would be nothing without salt.

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