Fat Gives Food Flavor: How To Get Mouthfeel in A Dish
Last night I watched For Grace: A Documentary about Chef Curtis Duffy and Grace Restaurant (it streams on Netflix). This film covered the personal story and aspirations of Curtis Duffy, a 3 star Michelin chef whose talent and confidence gave him the chance to build and cook at his own Grace Restaurant in Chicago. (This documentary is worth a watch, especially if you have inspirations as a chef). Chef Duffy’s dishes are known as being beautifully plated, full of colors; this is gourmet high-end food. (Take a look at some of his creations on his website gallery if you want to drool on your computer screen). I could dream about eating a meal at his restaurant, simply because the food looks so unique, like eye-candy.
Like all chefs, Curtis Duffy is no exception: he is interested in maximizing mouthfeel while meeting his clients demands for that different touch in a very special meal. Mouthfeel is best achieved by having fat in a dish; it’s the fat that makes this pleasurable feeling of your tongue moving on your palate when you taste food. But as Curtis Duffy said in this documentary, he strives to create those “OMG” tasty dishes with mouthfeel that have less fat because this is what his clients want. Initially this comment made my French-food culture enjoy your fat in food think that his clients are missing out: why avoid eating too much fat in a dish? Afterwards I understood what he means. I think that Chef Curtis Duffy strives for what all of us who love to cook want to do: make the perfect dish that is a balance of using the best ingredients available, using cooking techniques to bring out the flavors and adding just the right amount of fat as a way to move flavor without overwhelming it. Adding too much fat to a perfect dish is a shame, it can overpower the food. (Unless it is of course an Italian gelato!)
On the other hand, there are clients that want to eat lower-calorie food (In France you could call this ‘slimming cuisine’, chefs in France like Michel Guerard have made a big business in making meals light in calories but full on taste). So how to get mouthfeel without adding too much fat? (Note, I am not advocating a low-fat dish, I am promoting that fat should be in a meal to carry the flavor but not overpower it). As an example (and this is Tip #1) Curtis Duffy uses ingredients that adds thickness without fat, a technique I also use when I make soups. In this film he prepared a soup for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation meal, where he added a Kabocha squash for thickness and texture, along with a balance of fats in the dish. This is one trick I do all the time with the pureed soups I make (I use potatoes) it adds consistency when the soups are blended/mixed at the end.
Here are other tricks I use that help the fat carry aromas and structure without overwhelming the dish. I use these for the main everyday simple savory meals I make at home.
The Yum Factor: 8 Tips to Add Mouthfeel in Your Dishes
#1 Adding A Starch Vegetable to Soups
Add a starchy vegetable such as carrots, corn, potatoes, pumpkin, peas to your pureed soups which help with consistency and thickness. Kids especially like soups that are thicker. (In France we eat a lot of soups for the evening meal, we follow the French food culture).
#2 Sauteing Garlic and/or Onions in Butter or Oil to Start
Start off your dish by heating butter or oil in a saute pan, and then adding garlic, onions, shallots or whatever the flavor ingredient the recipe calls for. The oil infused with these ingredients carries it through the dish. This is my most important tip to adding flavor to the dish, starting it off with a ‘flavored’ fat.
#3 Adding a Spoon of Cream At the End
For dishes that are fat free or low-fat I add a small dollop of heavy cream, light cream, creme fraiche or sour cream at the end and mix this into the dish. Or you can offer this spoon of cream at the table for each diner to put on their dish. As an example, those pureed soups (see Tip #1) we eat often are very low in fat, I use tip #2 to start the soup but then add a ton of vegetables and cook the soup in water so it ends with a tasty soup, but low in fat. My kids especially enjoy adding a spot of cream to their soup (and me too).
#4 Doing a Reduction to Decrease the Liquid, Which Emphasizes More of the Flavor
By heating a sauce or liquid (I do a reduction with wine that is in a sauce as an example), by ‘reducing the quantity’ using this cooking process you end up with an emphasize of the flavors because the sauce is more concentrated. By doing this carefully and watching the reduction, you can have a higher intense flavor for the liquid without adding more fat.
#5 Pureeing Beans to Add Consistency
For dishes that use beans (for example a Minestrone soup or Tuscan Ribollita) I puree a third of the cooked beans in the blender before adding these to the soup. I do the same with black bean soup. These are soups that are not pureed at the end. You can do this with chili or other dishes that have cooked beans as part of the ingredients. When you taste these dishes you have a mouthfeel that is more consistent and ‘thicker’.
#6 Using Umami Flavors: Mushrooms, Soy Sauce
Adding a umami flavor to a dish allows you to add less fat because these flavors are strong. Also umami flavors are considered the fifth taste recognized by taste receptors and this means your tongue and brain register you are eating these tastes. My favorite trick is adding a good quality soy sauce in the place of salt (soy sauce is very high in sodium).
#7 Complementing with Fresh Herbs
I try to add fresh herbs to most of my savory dishes and when possible I use fresh herbs rather than dried herbs. These herbs have a lot of aroma compounds and add to the taste. My favorite fresh herbs for excellent strong flavor: basil and cilantro.
Wishing you a million dishes with excellent mouthfeel!
How do you balance your perfect dishes to keep fat for flavor and mouthfeel while not allowing fat to overwhelm your other ingredients?
Have you reached the end and want to read more? Please tune in on the blog for more ways that you can move to ‘foodie happiness’ with the simple pleasures of a meal or drink, prepared or served with flavor, taste and presentation at the forefront. Simple dishes, simple ideas, simple tricks to bring taste and appreciation.
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