Food pairing

reviewed by Gfron1

Editor’s note: We’re very pleased to bring you this feature on books about bringing flavours together to make successful dishes, prepared by one of our great reviewers, Gfron1 (a creative chef with his own blog The Curious Blogquat).

Food Pairing

I often wonder what makes a cook great. You know, the ones whose dishes are always perfectly executed and precisely flavored. Could it be their culinary training? Or maybe access to great ingredients? Possibly some hidden super cookbook? I’ve come to believe that while all of these and other factors play a role, the greatest influence is a well-developed flavor library. This library would be based on experiential and theoretical knowledge of ingredients, foods from across the globe, and the impact of various techniques on those foods and ingredients. Having this library, being able to recall the information, and integrating the vast amount of data, I believe, makes a great cook. And there are ways for every cook to get this knowledge even if you don’t have Anthony Bourdain’s travel budget or Joël Robuchon’s years of experience.

I was first formally introduced to the concept of food pairings by the Khymos blog (link), which hypothesized, “that if two foods have one or more key odorants in common it might very well be that they go well together and perhaps even compliment each other.” The blog even hosted events (They Go Really Well Together – TGRWT) where cooks could test this hypothesis with ingredient pairings such as cauliflower and cocoa or chicken and rose.

TGRWT was a resource for the FoodPairing (link) website which built its pairings by major flavor components identified by scientists and researchers. This website has generated countless inspirations for me at home and my restaurant, leading to such dishes as Oaxacan hot cocoa with smoked salmon marshmallow (it really was good). The FoodPairing website is, however, limited by contributor input, and has restricted itself to only major components, yet it remains an easily accessed database that has potential for unlimited growth. It has also spawned Taste Buds and Molecules by François Chartier (2010), which uses the same methodology to explore wine with food.


Buy or browse: 
(opens in new window)

Release dates/editions can vary between countries.

Buy or browse: 
(opens in new window)

Release dates/editions can vary between countries.

Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page have led the way in print for similar databases. In Culinary Artistry (1996), the authors offer an excellent preface on composing dishes and menus, considering flavors, seasons and plating. However, the bulk of the book is page after page of ingredients showing pairings, both contemporary and classical, along with seasonality, and often dishes created by well-known chefs. Take for example the entry for plum. Dornenburg and Page show that it pairs with brandy, ginger and red wine (and 21 other ingredients), and classically with cinnamon, lemon, orange and walnut. Plums are presented as a summer ingredient that is best prepared by poaching, stewing or raw. The other 327 ingredients receive similar treatment.

Culinary Artistry culminates in the historic evolution of menus by a variety of chefs including Alice Waters and Charlie Palmer, demonstrating how flavor pairings and cuisines evolve over time. This book is a classic at only 14 years old, and has been referred to as the key book on pairings by Grant Achatz among many other chefs, but the culinary landscape has exploded since the book’s publication in 1996, with the emergence of molecular gastronomy and a more international approach to cooking, making this book a somewhat dated classic.


Buy or browse: 
(opens in new window)

Release dates/editions can vary between countries.

Page and Dornenburg updated their work by writing The Flavor Bible, billed as the contemporary database started with Culinary Artistry. Published in 2008, The Flavor Bible presents some 600 entries inspired by chefs and industry leaders cooking in the modern kitchen. Like Culinary Artistry, The Flavor Bible begins with an excellent primer in constructing a dish and menu considering all of the factors that can make a meal great. Following the same format as their previous book, the new listings include less common ingredients and ethnic cuisines.

This book also includes “Types of Foods” such as “Bitter dishes” and “Luxurious.” The listing for “Bitter Dishes” suggests “salt suppresses bitterness,” while the listing for “Luxurious” includes caviar, Kobe beef and truffles. The Flavor Bible also includes “Flavor Affinities” which link multiple ingredients that go well together, and includes comments regarding weight, volume and botanical relatives. Truly a valuable resource for all levels of cook, The Flavor Bible integrates the wealth of knowledge in Culinary Artistry and brings it up to date.


Buy or browse: 
(opens in new window)

Release dates/editions can vary between countries.

Where Page and Dornenburg’s books will serve as classic reference material for cooks, Niki Segnit’s The Flavour Thesaurus (2010) makes the reference fun. With wry British humor, and more anecdotes than any mind should store, Segnit poses a restrained list (99 flavors), broken down by such categories as “Woodland,” “Brine & Salt,” and “Bramble & Hedge.” Her entry for “Anchovy & Olive” begins: “Like a couple of shady characters knocking around the port in Nice. Loud and salty, they take a sweet, simple pizza margherita and rough it up a bit.” For “Chocolate & Cardamom” Segnit states, “Like a puppeteer’s black velvet curtain, dark chocolate is the perfect smooth background for cardamom to show off its colours.” But useful content is surely not lost in her poetry. In “Garlic & Basil” Segnit notes “The effect that a few garlic cloves and some basil leaves have on tinned tomatoes is nothing short of miraculous.”

Many of these entries are followed by recipes or descriptions of memorable dishes that the author has had. The recipes range from loose rambling thoughts to very precise instructions. Definitely not the quick reference book of Page and Dornenburg, but a much more entertaining book for sure, and with the context provide by the anecdotes, I found the recipes much more enticing. This book has become my favorite Sunday-afternoon-with-a-cup-of-hot-tea read with my dogs at my feet and a blanket draping my shoulders. I think Segnit would approve.


Buy or browse: 
(opens in new window)

Release dates/editions can vary between countries.

Buy or browse: 
(opens in new window)

Release dates/editions can vary between countries.

There are many other books worth including in your food pairing library such as Elements of Taste by Kunz & Kaminsky and The Anatomy of a Dish by Diane Forley. Kunz & Kaminsky identify 14 basic tastes and through specific recipes deconstruct the dining experience through those tastes. Forley uses botany as the framework for menu development and flavor pairings, and offers much lauded recipes from her Verbena restaurant in New York.

Each of these sites and books are useful for the creative cook. Each can help a cook break through a creative block, or it can elevate an otherwise mundane meal. The next time you find a bland chicken breast in your fridge, remember that Page and Dornenburg suggest that you cook it with avocado, bacon, garlic, mayonnaise and tarragon, while FoodPairing thinks you might enjoy it with popcorn, gruyere and fig, and Segnit believes, “The best that can be said of it is that it adds bite to dishes, and doesn’t get in the way of more interesting flavours in a sauce.”

Quotes

Culinary Artistry, p 87

When we asked leading chefs how they knew that certain flavors or foods would complement each other, the usual response was something along the lines of, “you just know. After tasting so many different foods and food combinations, you store the ones that work in your head. When you’ve accumulated enough, you can even get pretty good at predicting which combinations you haven’t yet tasted will work, based on the ones you know that work.”

Flavor Bible, p. 35

When you’re creating in the kitchen, the starting point for a dish or a menu can be literally anything. It can begin with the seasonal availability of a particular ingredient – vegetable, fruit, meat, or seafood – or even a cooking style, such as grilling in the summer or braising in the winter. It can begin with a craving for the flavors of a particular country or region: the garlic and herbs of Provence, or the garlic and ginger of Asia. Or it can begin with simple curiosity, the urge to experiment with a new ingredient or technique.

Flavour Thesaurus, p. 7

I hadn’t realized the depth of my dependence on cookery books until I noticed that my copy of Elizabeth David’s French Provincial Cooking had fingernail marks running below her recipes. Here was stark evidence of my timidity, an insistence on clinging to a set of instructions, like a handrail in the dark, when after 20 years of cooking I should surely have been well enough versed on the basics to let go and trust my instincts. Had I ever really learnt to cook? Or was I just reasonably adept at following instructions? My mother, like her mother before her, is an excellent cook, but owns only two recipe books and a scrapbook of clippings, and rarely consults even those. I began to suspect that the dozens of books I owned were both a symptom and a cause of my lack of kitchen confidence.

If you liked this article, you might want to share it with a friend!

Bookmark and Share
VN:F [1.9.7_1111]
Rate this book
Rating: 4.0/5 (1 vote cast)
Food pairing, 4.0 out of 5 based on 1 rating

More reviews and announcements that might be interesting:


 

Click for all book news

New release: White Bread

cover

How did white bread, once an icon of American progress, become “white trash”? In this lively history of bakers, dietary crusaders, and social reformers, Aaron Bobrow-Strain shows us that what we think about the humble, puffy loaf says a lot about who we are and what we want our society to look like.

[read more...]

New release: Making Soy Milk and Tofu at Home

cover

Why make tofu yourself? Because experiencing tofu’s flavors and textures at its peak–freshly made, creamy, and subtly sweet–is the best way to explore this treasured staple. With minimal equipment required and Nguyen’s clear, encouraging step-by-step instructions, making soy milk and tofu from scratch is a snap for cooks of all levels.

[read more...]

Worth a look: Limoncello and Lemon Water

cover

Much-loved author Tessa Kiros celebrates the heritage of Italy. This whimsically feminine book is a tribute to the women in our lives – mothers, mothers-in-law, grandmothers – and the important lessons we learn from them.

[read more...]

Worth a look: Tacos, Tortas, and Tamales

cover

Discover the flavors of Mexican street food in your own kitchen. Americans are having a love affair with the taco. What began as affection for the fast-food version—that hard yellow shell filled with ground beef and mysterious yellow cheese—has blossomed into an all-out obsession for the real thing

[read more...]

Visit our Buying Books page to find out how to support this site

Worth a look: The Aesthetics of Wine

cover

The Aesthetics of Wine shows that discussing wine within the framework of aesthetics both benefits our understanding of wine as a phenomenon, while also challenging some of the basic assumptions of the tradition of aesthetics.

[read more...]

Worth a look: Thomas Jefferson’s Creme Brulee

cover

In 1784, Thomas Jefferson struck a deal with one of his slaves, 19-year-old James Hemings. The founding Father was traveling to Paris and wanted to bring James along “for a particular purpose” – to master the art of French cooking. In exchange for James’s cooperation, Jefferson would grant his freedom.

[read more...]

Worth a look: Turkey

cover

Turkey’s culinary customs are as rich and varied as its landscape, and award-winning food writer Leanne Kitchen does justice to them both with more than 170 glorious photographs of the country’s foods and people that make readers want to drop everything and board the next plane.

[read more...]

New release: I’m Dreaming of a Chocolate Christmas

cover

This is the perfect holiday baking guide, packed with 72 seductive and decadent chocolate recipes. Offering perfect inspiration for chocolate lovers and holiday do-it-yourselfers, the book includes tips and advice on ingredients and cooking techniques, as well as on packaging and shipping holiday food gifts.

[read more...]

New release: The Complete Nose to Tail

cover

Now Fergus Henderson’s books are joined together in a compendious volume. With a dozen new recipes on top of 250 existing ones, more than 100 quirky photos and exceptional production values, The Complete Nose to Tail is not only comprehensive but extremely desirable.

[read more...]

New release: The Country Cooking of Greece

cover

The Country Cooking of Greece captures all the glory and diversity of Greek cuisine in one magnum opus from Greece’s greatest culinary authority, Diane Kochilas. More than 250 recipes were drawn from every corner of Greece, from rustic tavernas, Kochilas’ renowned cooking school, and local artisans and village cooperatives.

[read more...]

Visit our Buying Books page to find out how to support this site
Click for all book news

website uptimeNEWSITE