Cooking in Contrast

Jan 29, 2018 | Cooking Tips

Your mouth has a short attention span. It gets bored, and fatigued when everything feels and tastes the same. Your mouth likes excitement, it craves playfulness and new experiences. Your mouth needs contrast in order to stay happy. What do I mean by contrast? I mean different textures and flavours playing off of each other in a harmonious dance of intrigue and delight. I mean a balance of experience. High points and low points, bright and soft, vibrant and mellow. Every bite should be different from the last but carry with it a hints of its predecessor. The bites should be different but familiar.

Everything I just wrote sounds super fancy but when its broken down and looked at up close it is really simple. Not only is it simple, but once you understand it, it will change how you cook and eat forever. It will up your cooking game to a degree that will surprise you. So what am I talking about? Really simply I am talking about adding texture and pops of flavour to your food. That’s it. Let me explain.

Imagine you are making a stew. You cut all of your ingredients the same shape and size, and you put them all in the pot at the same time. You then proceed to cook the life out of your stew. You cook it until everything is mushy and it all tastes exactly the same. The parsnips are indistinguishable from the carrots, and oh, is that a potato or a piece of turnip? It all tastes and feels the exact same and it is boring as hell to eat. I’m not saying it’s bad, its just boring. If you simply cut your ingredients into different shapes and sizes, and added them to the pot in stages you could have a completely different dish.

Mexican cuisine is really good at contrast. You have stews and braises with these deep intense flavours with an underlying heat, contrasted with pops of sweet from fresh pineapple, bites of sharp crispness from raw onion, freshness from cilantro, a bit of acidity from fresh lime. These are just a few of the components at play in one dish. Your mouth never has time to get bored because every bite is something new yet familiar.

So, how do you add contrast to your everyday cooking? Well, again there are a lot of ways this can be done. It really all starts with thinking of things in a slightly different way than you’re used to, and being open to new combinations. One of the easiest ways to add contrast to your food is by adding dried fruit. Things like dried apricot or raisins go surprisingly well with a lot of different flavours. Poultry and pork for example go really well with anything kind of sweet. Adding fresh herbs like cilantro, parsley, sage or thyme once the dish is finished cooking can add little pops of flavour. Going back to the stew example, if you were adding cabbage to the stew you could instead of adding big chunks of cabbage and cooking it for a very long time with everything else, slice the cabbage very thin and add it close to the end of cooking. This will give you a bit of crunch and a break from the soft mushy textures.

Cooking in contrast really will elevate your food. It will excite your diners, and make eating an overall more enjoyable experience. If you want practice I suggest you look up some authentic Mexican recipes. I do not mean TexMex or what most people consider Mexican. I mean real Mexican recipes. That truly is the best example of cooking in contrast that I can think of.





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