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09.12.2005

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add to taste how to cook by taste
by Yee-Fan Sun |
1 2 3
continued from page 2

The various peppers are probably the easier tastes to judge as they're fairly potent; you're pretty much guaranteed to know when you've added too much because you'll either start sneezing (with black pepper), or lose all ability to taste or feel in your mouth (with chile). As with salt, start adding slowly. Basically, you should grind or sprinkle in the pepper a little at a time. If you like your foods mild, stop at the point where you notice a change in the flavor, a point at which the dish suddenly seems to have a depth and a slight bite that it didn't have before. For those who really like to feel the burn, however, keep adding until you reach the point where the dish leaves a good amount of tingle in your mouth, but before it begins to cause you pain. Bear in mind that fresh ground pepper has a lot more flavor than pre-ground pepper, and is the preferred form whenever possible; I generally find a half-dozen or so grinds of my pepper mill (a heaping 1/8 teaspoon or so) does the trick for a two-person-sized serving, unless I'm specifically aiming for a very pronounced peppery flavor, in which case I might add double that. Chile peppers, meanwhile, are a lot stronger than black pepper -- a couple of sprinkles of cayenne might well be enough to flavor a dish meant for two folks of limited chile tolerance. Furthermore, chile tends to take a few moments for the heat to sink in after you've added it, so go very easy on the cayenne or crushed red pepper at first, give the dish a very good stir, and taste again after a few minutes.

All that having been said, it's not a bad thing to add too much of any ingredient at least once, so you know exactly at which point a flavor goes from tasting just dandy to you to being unbearably strong. Don't be too timid when you're adding your seasonings, or you'll likely find that your dishes always fall just short of being fully satisfying. The key is to find that happy medium between too seasoned and not quite seasoned enough. So much as it might pain your inner perfectionist, there's really no getting around it: you're going to have to make a few mistakes in both directions before you have a really good understanding of exactly where that balance rests for you.

But the good news is that eventually, with just a little experience, you'll find you know exactly how many sprinkles of salt and how many grinds of the peppermill it takes to get your favorite dishes to taste the way you like them. You'll get a little bolder as you learn to trust your own tastebuds, adding a splash of hot sauce in some recipe that needs a hair more heat, a pinch of cumin in another recipe that needs a smidge of the exotic. You'll realize how much more relaxing it is to cook when you don't have to constantly check back with the cookbook, how much more fun you have in the kitchen when you give yourself room to play with ingredients. Most importantly, you'll discover this: cook to suit your own liking rather than that of some random recipe writer, and things will always taste exactly right to the person whose opinion matters most that being you.

o

check out these related articles: 
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