Lesson 12: Techniques to Stop Burning Your Food

Techniques to Stop Burning Your Food

Watch Out For These Two Flavor Fighters!

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Meet Burnt Burt!

Burnt Burt is always burning all of his dishes, because he is so impatient! Because he is so impatient, he is always using super high heat when cooking all of his dishes. Th is causes him to burn everything! Don’t be like Burnt Burt. Always use a medium or lower heat setting when you are learning to cook. Burning food is the opposite of good flavor! Burned foods are overly bitter and have to be thrown away.

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Meet Distracted Daisy!

Distracted Daisy is also a classic burner! She is always on her cell phone, or watching TV when she should be watching her food cook. As a result she always makes huge messes, burns her food, and causes kitchen accidents. She is constantly causing general mayhem. Distracted Daisy is like a tornado in the kitchen! She’s just plain dangerous! Don’t be like Distracted Daisy. Always watch your food cooking so that you can catch any mistakes before they happen! Stay focused on your cooking so you can consistently create flavorful dishes, avoid ruining your food, and so you can impress all your friends and loved ones!

Heat Sources

We are so close to beginning to cook! But before you get your hands on that hot stove, I need to teach you the most important idea to keep in your head when you cook. That idea is to understand how NOT to burn your food. But first, we must understand the purpose of heat in our cooking. What is the role of heat inside of cooking?

When you are cooking your food, what you are doing is creating chemical changes inside of whatever you are cooking. These chemical changes can only occur with the presence of heat. When you bake bread, the heat causes chemical reactions that create an end product that is completely different than what you begin with. Bread dough and baked bread contain the same raw ingredients, but not the same chemical or molecular properties. As a result, they are completely different. These chemical changes are what turn raw ingredients into digestible nutrients. It is only with the introduction of heat that these chemical changes are even possible. Heat is necessary in almost all forms of cooking. You can make many great dishes with only raw ingredients, but by adding heat we can quickly transform our food into infinite and amazing combinations.

Remember, it is not the quantity of heat that causes the chemical reactions but the actual presence of heat that causes the chemical changes.

To explore this idea further, let’s take two different but similar cooking methods and explore what they are, how they deliver heat, and what kind of end product they create. Let’s use the barbecue and grilling techniques for our comparison. Very often these two cooking techniques are confused
because they use the same piece of equipment. This piece of equipment is of course your grill or BBQ pit. But in actual practice, these are two completely different cooking techniques. Let’s explore these techniques in detail.

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1 BBQ

BBQ is a slow and low cooking method that is characterized by low heat and an indirect heat source. Often aromatic smoking woods like hickory, apple, and mesquite are utilized in the creation of a BBQ dish. But, what creates the tender pull apart texture of BBQ is actually the slow and low
cooking process. Temperatures are usually under 235 degrees Fahrenheit. This slow cooking process allows the natural enzymes in the meat to become tender naturally over time.

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2 Grilling

Grilling is characterized by a high heat cooking temperature with a direct heat source. What makes grilling different from BBQ is that the temperature is usually over 350 degrees Fahrenheit and the meat is exposed to a direct cooking element. Th is cooking element could be gas, an electric burner, infrared heat, or charcoal. By exposing the meat directly to the heat source, it cooks the product faster and allows for a reaction, called the Maillard reaction, to occur on the surface of the meat. This can only occur when temperatures of the meat are above 350 degrees Fahrenheit. When cooking at these high temperatures though, you run the risk of over cooking your food, which will make it tough.

We have two techniques that ultimately perform the same task. Th is task is to sufficiently cook our proteins so that they are edible and digestible, but the difference in the application of the heat creates two completely different, yet similar, dishes in the end.

“If you are new to cooking, the best advice that I can give you is to start low and slow.”chef-ryan-callahan-new-hire-encouragement

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How to Avoid Burning - How Low Can I Go? - Do Cooking Temperatures Matter?

Unless there is a specific amount of browning required in a recipe, it does not truly matter what temperature you cook something at, as long as it is above 180 degrees Fahrenheit. So I suggest you start your cooking temperatures lower than the recipe calls for at first.

Even though most sauté recipes will call for a medium heat, you can still fully cook a recipe on the lowest possible setting. Th e process will take a much longer amount of time and you will not get any browning, but you will end up with a fully edible dish in the end. Th is idea has many mitigating factors to consider. Just remember this: starting low and slow is the best course of action. Once a dish is burned, it can not be unburned. You need to give yourself room to make mistakes and errors.

Low and Slow Takes Longer, But Leaves Room for Error

Because this is a beginners article, we are going to keep these ideas simple and fairly cut and dry. Let’s use the example of sautéing minced garlic in a sauté pan. Inside of the sauté pan, we have 2 tablespoons of canola oil and 4 tablespoons of minced garlic. If we place the sauté pan over a high heat and continue stirring it, we will have a lightly browned garlic in roughly 5 minutes. If we put this same sauté pan over a medium heat, it will be done in about 10 minutes. If we place the sauté pan over a medium-low heat, it will be finished in roughly 15 minutes.

I don’t know about you, but my natural response is to pick the 5 minute cooking time because I don’t like to wait. I want to get this process over with. In this instance, this is absolutely the wrong solution. When cooking, you don’t want to think about what can go right, but about everything that could go wrong. If we are cooking garlic over high heat, we only have a 5 minute window to get the garlic correct. If my phone rings and I look away for 30 seconds, now I have black, bitter, burned garlic and have to start completely over. But if I choose a lower temperature, I can have a greater margin for error and perform other tasks, like cutting other ingredients, and still end up with the desired result.

Always choose the lower cooking temperature. This may take longer, but the most important thing when learning how to cook is building your confidence. The garlic will get cooked either way. But if you loose confidence in your abilities to cook, you may quit and never find the pleasure that comes from cooking your own meals.

Pan Choice Counts

As we had discussed in the previous chapter, the thickness and material construction of a pan can influence heat transfer. In layman’s terms, thin aluminum pans burn food. This is especially true if you are a beginner cook and are using a high heat. As I had discussed previously, thicker pans provide even heat distribution, which helps prevent scorching and burning.

One place you will really be concerned about this (and trust me I speak from experience) is in the construction of delicious marinara sauces. In my household, to say that we eat marinara regularly is an understatement. I can not tolerate the taste of canned or jar sauce, so I must simply create it myself.

Once, I was cooking marinara and the bottom of the pot was thinner than I had realized. I turned the burner down to a medium-low heat and walked away for a few moments. When I came back, I noticed that my marinara smelled funny. So I gave it a good stir and black bits came up from the bottom of the pan. I tasted the sauce and it was completely ruined. Two gallons of marinara down the drain.

Learn from my mistakes. Use heavy thick bottomed pots and pans, especially as a beginner cook.

Proper Safe Cooked Temperatures for Foods

This is extremely important information. All though it may seem like a big disclaimer, you need to know this because under cooked foods, especially chicken, can be very dangerous if eaten under cooked. In restaurants, we are often required to complete HAACP forms where we actually take the temperature of food as it leaves the kitchen to indemnify ourselves from any wrong doing in case of a food poisoning outbreak.

Humans are not adapted to eat raw meats. Meat eating is fairly new for our species. We lack many of the defense systems that carnivorous animals, like dogs, possess to keep them from getting sick while eating raw meats. The only exception to cooking food to a well done temperature is with steak, pork chops, and pork steaks. These can be cooked to a lesser degree at your own discretion. Please do not ever serve hamburgers at any temperature lower than well done, as the dangerous bacteria gets mixed through out the hamburger patty. Sushi is the other exception to this rule. As long as it is handled properly and safely, sushi is generally acceptable to eat.

Foods Are Fully Cooked When They Reach These Internal Temperatures
Meat Item Cook To This Internal Temperature
chicken, turkey, and poultry 165°F
beef, pork, veal, and lamb 155°F
fish, shrimp, other seafood, leftovers, and veggies 145°F

Cooking your food over these internal temperatures can cause burning and excessive dryness. So think of these temperatures as a bulls-eye target to hit. You have to hit the minimum temperature. Over by 5 or 10 degrees is okay, but under by even 1 degree is not okay.

The temperatures listed in the above chart are the prescribed temperatures as recommended by the USDA. These temperatures are almost always in constant flux. So double check with the USDA website to make sure that these are still the current correct well-done temperatures.

You need to hold these temperatures for at least 30 seconds to make sure everything is nice and safe to eat. You can find the internal food temperature with a handy-dandy kitchen thermometer. If you don’t have one, I highly recommend that you purchase one.

Quick Tips to Avoid Burning Your Food

1 Don’t get impatient. (like Burnt Burt)
2 Don’t get distracted. (like Distracted Daisy)
3 Understand your heat source.
4 Cook low and slow.
5 Use thick bottomed pots and pans.
6 Cook only until well-done, no more.

Learn HOW to cook in a new, fun, and exciting way! Click here for Chef Ryan's How to Cook Cookbook


Lesson 14: How to Stir Fry

How to Stir Fry

A stir fry is probably the easiest form of cooking that one can begin with. They are technically unchallenging, incredibly forgiving, and are very easy to make changes to as you cook. As the name suggests, you physically stir the ingredients in the pan as they are being fried by a light amount of oil. This constant movement allows the ingredients to heat evenly, brown on all surfaces, and keeps the food from burning because of an even distribution of heat.

Most people associate stir fry with Chinese food. But, this is only partially correct. Chinese food is made with a technique that would be better classified as a Chinese fry. Stir fries may be made with any variety of ingredients and is limited only to your imagination.

I typically use a stir frying technique when I am creating the vegetable and stock bases for my sauces and soups. A stir fry may be cooked any where from a low-heat to a high-heat. You may also use any thickness of ingredients that you choose. But for best results, keep the ingredients within the bite size range.

How to Use the Sauté Pan
The most important technique to know with a sauté pan is the wrist flip. A wrist flip is where you flip the ingredients in a pan, solely by moving the pan forwards and then backwards. This causes the ingredients to move to the front of the pan, fly up and out of the pan, and then back down into the back of the pan. Most commonly this is associated with sautéing, but is primarily used in the stir fry technique. Visually this technique is incredibly impressive. But, it does take some practice even
though it is very easy to master.

Note: This can only be done with a sauté pan that has rounded edges.

1 Firmly grasp the handle of your sauté pan.

2 Lightly raise the rear of the pan and lower ever so slightly the front of the pan. Take care to keep the pan over your heat source.

3 Move your wrist forwards with medium force, about 6 inches.

4 Lift the front of the pan at the end of the 6 inch extension.

5 Continue to lift the pan up, about 3 inches.

6 As you raise the pan, pull your arm back firmly to the original position.

7 Catch your ingredients as they fall back down into the pan.

Th is motion is not a forwards and backwards motion. It is almost the exact same motion that a trains wheels make as they are rotated. Th ink about the drive arm on a steam train. It doesn’t go forwards and backwards. It moves in a circular direction. Th is techniques uses that same “chug-a-chug-a” motion to move the pan. If you move your arm statically forwards and backwards, you will either end up with a huge mess or achieve nothing at all. The flipping action is in the raising of the front
of the pan. As your arm moves forward, it gives your ingredients forward velocity. By raising the pan at the end of the stroke, it changes the forward momentum into vertical momentum. This causes the ingredients to leave the pan, become airborne, and end up flipped and back into the pan. Most importantly, this technique does not require a large amount of force on your part. Applying too much force will end up with ingredients on your ceiling.

Mastery of this technique is mandatory, as its use is extremely common in many applications. Th is includes pancakes, omelets, and many other applications.

“It’s okay! Try Again!”

Your homework is to practice this technique in real life. Take a larger low-sided sauté pan and place 2 tablespoons of dry rice into it. Practice moving the rice around the pan and then slowly work up your confidence in the wrist motion by practicing what I have just taught you. Rice is the best medium to learn on because it is completely unforgiving. If you flip too hard, you will have rice on your floor. If you flip too soft, you will have rice on your floor. If you throw your arm forward
without lifting at the end, you will have rice on your floor. Basically, you are going to have a gigantic mess. So, make sure to have a broom handy. Practice this technique every day until you are extremely comfortable with it. It will not only bring you in tune with the technique, but it will harmonize the sauté pan as an extension of your own arm. This is the end goal of cooking. You need to feel like each piece of equipment is an extension of your own body. And when you feel like this, you will naturally develop an intuition and exceed the expectations that you could of ever had in your cooking proficiency.

Equipment Needed for Stir Fry Practice Recipes:
chef’s knife
medium size cutting board
large mixing bowl
small mixing bowl
measuring spoons
measuring cups
small sauté pan
large sauté pan
high heat spatula
colander
aluminum foil
rice cooker (optional)

Stir Fry Recipes

Savory Vegetable Starters

Beef and Broccoli

Fancy Instant Shrimp Ramen

Mapo Tofu

Teriyaki Chicken with Carmelized Onions and Peppers


Lesson 8: Basic Ingredients You Should Always Have In Your Kitchen

Basic Ingredients You Should Always Have In Your Kitchen

It’s time to start discussing the actual cooking part of the cooking experience. But before we do this, let’s make sure that we have the right basic ingredients in our kitchen at all times so that we can guarantee a fun and stress free cooking environment. The following list of ingredients are absolute basic requirements that everybody should carry regardless of culinary preference. You will notice that this list focuses on building Roundness of Flavor, not on building aromatic quality. To build aromatic quality in your dishes, you will have to purchase herbs and spices to fill out your culinary repertoire.

The reason I have selected these basic ingredients is because almost any dish can be made and improved using these ingredients. You can truly develop the 5 flavors of salty, savory, spicy, sour, and sweet using the following ingredients. The final 6 ingredients are absolute must haves that are used in the cooking process. They do not specifically build the 5 flavors, but you can’t make a cake without flour. And you can not sauté without fat.

kosher salt or coarse ground sea salt
soy sauce
black pepper (fine ground)
red pepper
cayenne pepper
rice vinegar
lemon juice
lime juice
granulated sugar
pure olive oil
extra virgin olive oil
vegetable oil
butter
wheat flour
corn starch

Get this list of ingredients as a Free printable download HERE.


Lesson 9: MSG, Miso, Soy, and Umami

MSG, Miso, Soy, and Umami

MSG, Miso, Soy, and Umami

Welcome to Chef Ryan Callahan's personal website dedicated to the discussion of food, flavor, cooking techniques and the people inside of the restaurant industry! If you came here looking for whether or not Miso contains MSG then you came to the right place. After reading this you'll be fully informed about the relationships between MSG, Soy Sauce, Miso Paste, and Umami flavors!

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These days there is a word that you will hear everywhere, especially if you watch the certain cooking and food focused television networks, or go to a higher end restaurant where the chef is trying to be pretentious. That word is “Umami.” It is usually followed by the words “Miso” and “Soy” and the combination of the words looks something like “A delicious Miso-Soy broth to really highlight the Umami flavors of the dish.” These words don’t mean anything to you. Heck, odds are that you're on this page right now because you did an internet search for those words. But, what they actually mean is that they have used Miso soup base and soy sauce to build the savory flavor. By using these words, they trick you into thinking and believing that this is some kind of magical Asian fusion that only master chef’s can make. But all they have done is use foods that have naturally occuring high concentrations of glutamic acid to build the savory characteristics of their food. This is kind of like how these days everyone says "chocolate ganache," let's get real, its chocolate frosting and you know it.

The secret here is that many of the people who cook professionally do not understand the relationship of the 5 flavors and how they work to build flavor. They simply repeat cooking techniques that they learned at other jobs or techniques that they learned from other chefs. Then, they simply repeat these techniques and trendy naming strategies. This lack of understanding leads to a lot of confusion and misinformation that has been disseminated over the years, whether maliciously or unintentionally. The misunderstanding we will explore in this article is very specifically about the concept of savory or as the Japanese call it, Umami.

As we have previously discussed, savory is a basic flavor sense that you experience on your tongue. It is the sense that tells you this food is full of nutrition. It is most typically associated with the presence of proteins, which is why the easiest example of a savory item is a grilled steak. When chefs use miso, soy sauce, or MSG, what they are doing is adding that savory flavor without having to add extra ingredients like beef, mushrooms, red wine, seaweed, or tomatoes. The most simplified form of the concept of savory is in a product called MSG. This MSG is one sodium ion attached to a very savory and naturally occurring amino acid called “glutamic acid.” When glutamic acid isn't being utilized by your body it exists in a form called glutamate. This is what the sodium ion binds to, hence why it is chemically called Mono-Sodium Glutamate. Interestingly, of all the free amino acids contained within your blood glutamate is the most common accounting for 40% of the amino acids in your blood, which is potentially why blood has a very savory flavor. Yes, that's right boys and girls it is inside of your own blood flowing through you every day. Potentially, that could be a very proposition if you don't understand what it is.

There is a lot of controversy surrounding MSG and whether it is good for you, bad for you, or neutral. I would like to clarify exactly what it is, how it is made, and the honest truth behind it. I would like to state that I personally use MSG and see no problems cooking with it whatsoever. From the USDA: “...MSG is the sodium salt of glutamic acid. Glutamic acid is an amino acid, one of the building blocks of protein. It is found in virtually all food and, in abundance, in food that is high in protein, including meat, poultry, cheeses, and fish.”

What MSG does is provide a chemical called glutamate to your tongue. Glutamate is a naturally occurring organic chemical that when ingested tells your brain, “This is savory, rich, and delicious.” Glutamate occurs naturally in all foods we eat and cook with, except for ones that are not derived from plants, animals, or fungi. Examples of foods with highly concentrated deposits of glutamate are: anchovies, kelp, red wine, green tea, soy sauce, meats, poultry, miso, and mushrooms. Adding MSG to your food is akin to adding salt for a salty flavor, or cayenne for a spicy flavor. Because it has no other flavor characteristics it simply bolsters the desired savory flavor without adding any other distinct flavors.

MSG was discovered by Japanese researcher Kikunae Ikeda in 1908 by creating a crystalline extract of glutamic acid from seaweed. He discovered this while eating miso soup and wondered why a soup with absolutely no meat in it was so savory. For your reference, miso is a paste made out of fermented soybeans, and then often made into a vegetarian soup broth made with kelp, which is a type of seaweed. He then experimented with the kelp until he could extract a concentrated and dry version of that savory flavor. Today, we know this extract as MSG.

Sometime in the 1920s, Dr. D.Y. Chow, from the National Dyes Company of Hong Kong, developed the process for extracting MSG from wheat. This is how it is still produced today. (Reference: The Wok, by Gary Lee, Nitty Gritty Cookbooks) The main problem with MSG is that people use too much in their cooking, because quite frankly it makes everything instantly delicious! MSG by itself has very little flavor aside from the instant savory feeling in your mouth. But when MSG is applied with salt, it becomes a flavor explosion! The problem here as you can see, is you end up saturating your food with sodium. Sodium can be disastrous for someone with heart disease or high blood pressure. So when I cook and intend to use MSG in addition to salt, I reduce the amount of salt to allow for the extra sodium contained in the MSG.

The only documented and medically reported side effect to MSG is occasionally it will cause headaches in certain people. Now remember, this is a super small group of people who have any kind of adverse reaction. If these people were truly allergic to glutamate, they would have headaches anytime they ingested foods that naturally have high concentrations of glutamate. IE: chicken, fish, beef, etc. I personally think that it is the additional amount of sodium causing the headaches in salt-sensitive people. Or, more than likely, it is a slight dehydration experienced from too much sodium intake. A good rule of thumb with MSG is to use no more than 2 percent of the weight of the recipe. The most groundbreaking part of MSG is that you can make entirely meatless broths that taste amazing. IE: hot and sour soup, egg drop soup, miso soup, vegetarian vegetable soup, etc. This is especially helpful for vegetarians and vegans who are having trouble making their food taste great.

MSG is typically marketed as “Essence of Umami,” “Umami Extract,” “Umami Seasoning,” or some variation on the word “Umami.” Umami is the Japanese word for savory, as the researchers who discovered the sense of savory on your tongue were Japanese. While miso, soy sauce, and MSG are savory in taste and can bolster savory flavors, please remember that savory, aka Umami, is not a food product, but a basic flavor sense found on your tongue.

MSG = a seasoning ingredient
Umami = the flavor sense on your tongue

If you would like some evidence that the MSG scare is still alive and well in peoples consciousness, simply go to your local grocery store, Asian market, or Asian restaurant. You will readily find packages and signs proudly proclaiming “NO ADDED MSG.” They have to say NO “ADDED” MSG because glutamic acid is a naturally occurring substance found in almost all food, and living organisms. I am not trying to convince you to put MSG into all of your food. I am simply suggesting it as a convenient seasoning to make your food taste great.

Now if you are still scared of MSG, you can absolutely go the long way around and add some of the other examples I’ve listed to make your food more savory. (anchovies, mushrooms, bay leaves, soy sauce, parmesan cheese, tomatoes, etc.) But, it will take longer, generally cost more, and will require more product weight to make the same flavor. I can make sauce, gravy, and other dishes incredibly savory, decadent, and delicious without the addition of a little glutamate extract. I just simply don’t want you living in fear of MSG because of ill informed and fear based health food movements that have no idea what they are talking about.

To recap:

Miso paste is a fermented paste made by aging soy beans with salt, koji and other ingredients until they have a very concentrated flavor. It contains high amounts of glutamic acid and salt, but not MSG extract.

Soy Sauce is a fermented sauce made by fermenting soybeans and salt. It too contains high amounts of glutamic acid and salt, but not MSG extract.

Monosodium Glutamate is a stable crystalline extract of glutamic extract, typically made from wheat.

Now if you are looking to buy some MSG, trust me on this one. Buy MSG from your local Asian market. It will be much cheaper than any other store. For more great reading on Mono Sodium Glutamate, I recommend reading “It’s the Umami, Stupid. Why the Truth About MSG is So Easy to Swallow” by Natasha Geiling, featured in Smithsonian Magazine’s website November 8th, 2013.

If you enjoyed this article, I hope that you will share it with your friends, and continue to read the rest of my website!

Learn HOW to cook in a new, fun, and exciting way! Click here for Chef Ryan's How to Cook Cookbook


Lesson 7: Learn Your Own Palate

What do Flavors Taste like to You?

Learn your own palate!

Understanding the simple culinary theories on flavor is very important. By understanding flavor and its root, you can begin to understand how to develop flavors you love and learn to omit, augment, or modify flavors that you don’t like. Many dishes or recipes may also contain a food that you may not care for, but was important for a specific flavor quality that needed to be extracted. A perfect example of this is in the manufacture of perfume. The best perfumes in the world are not simply sweet or floral. They always have a touch of a bitter or offensive odor that adds complexity to the perfume. The same is true for food as well. Take cumin for example. Quite frankly, raw ground cumin smells like unwashed arm pits. But, when employed with chicken or pork, it becomes a warm and filling spice that grants depth of character. Before we can begin to build that depth of character, YOU MUST learn through experience the flavors you enjoy and the flavors you dislike. Then you can decide if it is because it is the root flavor, or if it is because of a combination of flavors. In this section, I will be teaching you a proper method for self discovery and how to understand flavor in the real world.

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Smoking Affects Your Palate

Right now, I get to be everyone’s dad and tell you that to be a great chef you should not smoke. The reason for this is that your ability to perceive and understand flavor is based 100% on your sense of smell, your sense of taste, and your mental sharpness. As you age and develop, not only does your body change, but your palate does as well. Your palate will naturally mature with age, experience, and repeated exposure to new foods and ingredients. Because you learn through experience and develop your palate over time, it can take repeated exposures to a new flavor profile to become familiar with it.

My favorite example is Hot and Sour Soup. Th is spicy, but sour, Chinese soup is highly offensive to western palates upon your first exposure to it. It is spicy, thin, tangy, and sour. It’s a weird combination of flavors. But with repeated exposure, it becomes a delightfully complex and desirable flavor combination. By repeatedly exposing yourself to this soup, you become accustomed to these new and complicated flavors and grow to love them. When you smoke, it inhibits your ability to taste and smell foods properly. The smoking residue coats both your nose and your tongue. So the first time that you taste Hot and Sour Soup, you will experience an incorrect flavor profile if you are a smoker. Repeated years of smoking actually diminishes your ability to correctly perceive flavors. I strongly urge everyone to quit smoking as soon as possible, because your senses have not been properly exposed to new and complex flavors. This inhibits your ability to grow and develop as a chef. Many people find that once they quit smoking, food and flavors can become completely overwhelming. This is because they have not allowed their palate to grow and evolve over a long period of time. So if you are a smoker, quit smoking today! To truly be a great chef, you must have 100% control over all of your senses at all times.

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How to Pick Out Flavors

Tasting is the very first sense that you need to have mastery over. As I have discussed previously in this book, there are 5 basic flavors that your tongue tastes. They are salty, savory, spicy, sour, and sweet. These basic flavors are the building blocks to create rounded dishes for every situation. So that’s all fine in theory, but how does that apply to real world applications? Just as I have told you to start smelling everything. You need to begin tasting everything. Just like I taught you in our very first exercise, make sure to pinch your nose as you are tasting things so that you are only tasting it and not smelling it. Start with simple seasonings, herbs, spices, and then move on to simple foods that may be eaten by themselves. For example: apples, carrots, and celery. Begin to taste and experiment with the different pieces inside of the food. Did you know that the peel of an apple tastes completely different than the inside? As you begin to taste and experiment with different foods, you will begin to grow and understand your palate even more. Because each person is unique and completely different than other people, your experience with each food will be unique as well. There is the old saying, “How do I know that the colors you see are the same colors that I see?” While it is more likely that everybody perceives colors the same way, the spirit that you should take away is that your experience will be unique.

What I mean by this is that you may taste more salt or more sweet in a dish than I do. You need to learn to what degree you perceive these flavors. This is so, that as you cook, you will have a reference point to understand whether or not other people will enjoy your cooking as well. To this effect, I, for a very long time, was a classic over-seasoner. I guess that I just got so excited about seasoning the food that I would always put too much in the dish, and it would overwhelm everyone that I was cooking for. But by learning that my perception of seasonings was more muted than other people, I was able to tone down the seasonings to a level that was more in line with other peoples’ expectations.

chef-ryan-callahan-smell-association

How to Pick Out Individual Scents and Smells

Smell is far more complicated than taste. It is composed of a trillion unique scents and odors.

The two things you need to do when smelling an item are:
1 Use association. “What does this smell like to me?” “Is it similar to anything I have had before?”
2 What is the strength of this odor?

Use Association

The human brain, in all of its glorious majesty, works best when ideas can be pigeon-holed. What this means is that people have short attention spans. We will take the shortest bit of information about an idea and stuff it away in our brains. When you smell an item, it is much more productive to build an association than to attempt to understand a new concept. In text, this all seems very confusing, but I have a few examples that will help.

Example 1
Star anise, licorice, worm-wood, basil, and fennel all have similar flavors. The most common association of their flavor is that it tastes similar to licorice. By understanding that all of these flavors are similar, you have now associated these flavors with each other. Th is becomes extremely helpful when you are cooking with unfamiliar ingredients. I know that fennel, anise, and basil all pair well with pork. I know that licorice and worm-wood pair well with sugar. By using association of these ideas, I may deduce that fennel must go well with sugar and that licorice must go well with pork.

Example 2
Onions, scallions, shallots, garlic, and leeks all have a similar flavor profile. Just like the example above, by understanding that each one of these has a similar flavor, I may find new uses for each ingredient. Liver is most commonly accompanied by onions, but for a change in flavor, why couldn’t I pair liver with leeks? By learning what a flavor reminds you of and is similar to, you may find new and interesting combinations. This also helps with thinking on your feet. What if you are out of an ingredient? By using associations, you can still complete your dish by using similar flavors.

What is the Strength of This Odor?

The second major defining quality of an odor is in its strength. Th e proper word for this is the term “pungency.” Something that is very pungent has a high strength of odor. Something that has low pungency has a very weak strength of odor. Pungency has absolutely nothing to do with quality or character of a smell. It is neither positive nor negative. Pungency simply defines the quantity of smell.

Example 1
Roses have an extremely weak and delicate scent. When you walk into a room with roses you may not even notice their scent, because other smells can mask the roses very easily. This is because roses have a low pungency.

Example 2
Rotting fish is an extremely pungent smell. The smell of rotting fish will overpower any other local smells. This smell is so pungent that you may not even have to be in the same room (or same building) as the rotting fish to know that it is there. As I had encouraged you earlier, you really do need to begin to smell everything possible. Your sense of smell is where you create nuanced flavors and find your true mastery of food. Go out and sniff things until your friends and family stare at you like a weirdo. Th is really is the only way to build your sense of smell database and learn your palate.

How to Deconstruct a Recipe into Its Parts

Being able to deconstruct a recipe will help you grow as a chef. Because you will be able to identify each component in the recipe, you will then be able to make substitutions, adjustments, or create a whole new recipe. This, in essence, is the key to true food mastery. Once you can identify each part that an ingredient plays in a recipe, the sky is the limit! No culinary style or recipe will be daunting or mysterious.

The best way to identify the parts of a recipe is of course by studying recipes and then labeling each component and what their function is. Think of this process like a culinary frog dissection. The good news is there will not be a smelly, stinky frog in front of you unless your recipe is frog legs. Before we begin with our practice recipes, I am going to teach you how to identify each component and their purpose. Because ingredients often have multiple purposes inside of a dish, we will keep it simple and identify the main purpose of each component.

Recipe Components

Flavor Balancers
These are the ingredients that focus on balancing and manipulating the 5 flavors of salty, savory, spicy, sour, and sweet. These are also the ingredients that influence the perceived weight of a dish in your mouth. These ingredients are the defining qualities inside of Roundness of Flavor and Palate Cleansing. These ingredients may very well possess an aromatic quality, but their primary use in cooking is for balancing the 5 flavors that you perceive with your tongue.

Examples of Flavor Balancers: kosher salt, MSG, soy sauce, black pepper, cayenne pepper, red wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, honey, and sugar.

Aromatics -Seasonings and Spices
These are the components that are easiest to identify. These components are your herbs and spices that you will use to define the aromatic quality of the dish. Remember, aromatic quality means everything that you experience with your nose alone.

Examples of Aromatics: curry powder, cinnamon, oregano, rosemary, sage, and thyme. These ingredients focus primarily on the aromatic aspect of the eating experience. We do not use these components for their mouth taste. Even though each of those ingredients has a taste inside of your mouth, we are using these to expressly influence your nose’s perception of what you are eating. Where this can be confusing is with herbs like basil, cilantro, and parsley. We use these 3 specific herbs, not for their aromatic quality, but for their ability to affect taste and cleanse your palate while eating. This is the reason that I place these 3 herbs in Flavor Balancers, not Aromatics.

Protein Aspect
Protein really makes what you are eating a meal. Without protein in your dish, it is simply a side. Protein-less dishes are not very filling nor are they satisfying. One of the reasons that ice cream is so filling is because of the protein found in the milk. Take a Caesar’s salad for example. By itself, it is at very best a side dish. But, add sliced grilled chicken to it and now you have a meal. This is why protein is so important. It completes a dish and gives it a focus.

Examples of Animal Protein: chicken, turkey, beef, pork, lamb, fish, shellfish, eggs, milk, cheese, and yogurt.
Examples of Non-Animal Protein: tofu, legumes, nuts, beans, and lentils.

Starch/Carbohydrate Aspect
Starches and carbohydrates fill out your meal. They are made out of grain crops which are staples of food across the entirety of the world.

Examples of Starches/Carbohydrates: potatoes, rice, wheat, cornmeal, bread, barley, granola, and oatmeal.

Vegetable/Fruit Aspect
Vegetables and fruits are what add variety to your dishes. By changing out your vegetables, you can easily change the character of your dish, with the least modification.

Examples of Vegetables and Fruits: carrots, celery, broccoli, cabbage, mushrooms, onions, cucumbers, olives, bell peppers, squashes, tomatoes, apples, pears, grapes, and bananas.

There are few items that are typically considered vegetables, but are better classified in other categories. A few examples of this are: peas, corn (maize) kernels, and green beans. Peas are legumes not vegetables, so they belong in protein. Corn (maize) kernels are actually a grain and belong in carbohydrates. Green beans are unripened bean pods and are actually a protein.

Binders/Thickeners
This is a fairly self explanatory section. These are the ingredients who have the singular function in the dish of binding the ingredients together, tying the ingredients together, or thickening a sauce that the ingredients sit in. This gets a little convoluted because sometimes an ingredient can be a binder and other times it can be something else. This is where your ability to discern the function of the ingredient becomes incredibly important. Remember to think about primary function in a specific recipe, not in all recipes.

Examples of Binders/Thickeners: wheat flour, rice flour, cornstarch, tapioca flour, potato starch, roux, eggs, and condensed cream soups.

Defining Ingredients
A defining ingredient is a specific ingredient inside of a recipe that could normally be defined in another category. IE: protein, carbohydrate, or vegetable. But inside of one specific recipe, it does not serve any other purpose but to define the character or quality of a dish. The defining ingredients are never the main aspect of the dish. They are the supporting players who help to create the dish and emphasis the main players.

Take a television show for example. You have the main character who has conflict with his environment or other people. He is surrounded by supporting characters that help to define the role of the main character in the TV show. Let’s use the classic sitcom Seinfeld as an example. Jerry is the main character. And the whole show is about him, his life, and his experiences. Let’s imagine there is an episode where Jerry simply sits in his living room and stares blankly at the wall for 30 minutes. The main character has not changed. He is still himself, but you know nothing about him because there is nothing for him to interact with or be defined by. If we introduced George, Kramer, or Elaine to this situation, now we have a supporting character with whom Jerry can interact. Let’s say for example that George is having trouble at work. He will express these troubles to Jerry. As a result, Jerry will react to George’s influence. Through this interaction, Jerry’s qualities are defined. This is exactly what a defining ingredient does inside of a recipe.

A defining ingredient interacts with the main ingredient and helps it to define itself within the recipe, making it more interesting. Very specifically, inside of a baked potato soup you have shredded cheddar cheese. While cheese is a protein, you are not using the cheese inside of the dish as a protein. You are using cheddar cheese to define the soup by adding a rich, tangy flavor and enhance the smooth cream sauce that makes up the soup base. This is why it is a defining ingredient and not a protein in this instance. Without the cheddar cheese, the soup would be bland and uninteresting. So remember, a defining ingredient is never the main character but is always a supporting character that helps to define the main character inside of a dish.

Modifying Ingredients
Modifying ingredients are exactly the opposite of thickeners and binders. They specifically reduce the thickness of a recipe. They are always simple ingredients that change the thickness or increase the liquid content of a recipe. These are always liquid ingredients and are used to counter-act the density of thickeners and binders.

Examples of Modifying Ingredients: water, wine, milk, cream, vegetable juice, chicken broth, and beef broth.

Identifying What You Like and Don’t Like

Once you can break down a recipe into its components, it is much more simple to identify what flavors inside of a dish you find pleasant and those that you find offensive. The hardest part is identifying the function of each component, which we just learned how to do. Identifying what you like and don’t like really is as simple as identifying the taste, smell, and texture of each ingredient. Let’s break these 3 ideas down and teach you how to identify them.

Taste
Identifying a taste you do not like really is quite simple. Just like we did in our taste test earlier, plug your nose and put the ingredient in your mouth. Then you need to identify which taste senses are activated: salty, savory, spicy, sour, or sweet. It could be as simple as one of these flavors or a complex combination of these flavors. What you are simply attempting to do is identify what it is you do like and what you don’t like about the taste of this item. Once you can identify the pros and cons of an ingredient, you may then use the Roundness of Flavor technique to balance out and compensate for the taste of that item. Refer to the adjusting flavor chart in our printable downloads section HERE.

Smell
While smell is a much more complicated sense than taste, it too is actually quite simple to identify smells that you love and smells that you hate. Just like with taste, I will invite you to smell all of the ingredients and seasonings inside of the recipe, taking note of what aspects you enjoy and what aspects you do not. In my experience, I find that those who have difficulty identifying flavors and smells will report that some tastes are too “spicy” for them. For me, this was always very confusing as I had simply thought that they did not enjoy the actual heat found in a dish. But upon further pressing for information, it was revealed that it was actually a specific spice found inside of the dish. This specific example was cumin. Once I understood that the warmth and aroma of the cumin was what this person found offensive, I was able to remove this spice from the dish and create a satisfactory meal that they loved. I did this while not modifying the actual spicy taste of the dish.

Because smells are so influential inside of your cooking, many times a less educated person in the realm of food will misreport what they actually find offensive. It is your duty, as a chef, to poke, prod, and investigate further, especially with people who don’t know a lot about food. Often upon further examination, which I assure you they will put up a fight about, you will be able to identify what smell they do not care for and deduce how to remedy this inside of your recipe. It is extremely helpful to teach this person some basic taste and smell terminology so that they may be better prepared to communicate effectively the next time they find something objectionable.

Texture
Texture is a make or break item for many people. My brother loves the flavor of mushrooms. But, if you put a slice of portabella mushroom on his pizza, he will have a conniption-fit! The reason for this is very simply that the texture, or mouth feel, of mushrooms is extremely unpleasant and off-putting to him. He finds the slimy texture of cooked mushrooms to be simply unbearable. As you can see, it does not matter if the taste and aroma are appetizing. Texture alone can over rule the approval of both with a veto of its own. Once you understand that it is the texture, not the taste or smell of an item that is off-putting, it is easy to modify the texture into something your guest will find appealing. In the mushroom example, what I have learned to do, is to finely dice the mushrooms and them sauté them to make a less detectable slimy texture. This process actually worked out for my benefit, because now the mushrooms express a richer flavor than I could extract from them in their larger cut versions. I
encourage you to play around with different sizes of cuts and processing methods, if there is a texture that you find offensive.

Describing Food is Difficult, But You Must Learn How

Recently, I have been watching culinary competition shows. And while many of them can cook extremely well, their ability to describe what they cooked was extremely lacking. This for me, was very shocking, because I have always been a very descriptive person. Most of these competitors simply differed to ethnic sounding words, or even worse, simply listed off ingredients. While it may be pleasing to you use words like “romesco,” “ganache,” and “béchamel” most people have no idea what those words mean or what it tastes like. When you describe the food, you want to use words that paint a mental image, a sense of smell, and provide an expectation of taste. By hitting all the senses of visual, aromatic, and taste, you will
help to build your guest, audience, or family members appetite before the food is even served.

Let’s explore some examples.

Example 1
Barbecue Pulled Pork Sandwich
Smoky and sweet, apple-wood smoked pork shoulder in a dark tangy barbecue sauce. Served on a hearty bun and topped with a sweet bread and butter pickle to lighten the entire sandwich.

Example 2
Caprese Salad
Bright red cherry tomatoes with savory mozzarella and refreshing basil. Marinated in a sweet, yet tangy, red wine vinaigrette to enhance the savory and sweet flavors of the cherry tomatoes.

Example 3
Pepperoni Pizza
Perfectly baked pizza dough covered in sweet marinara sauce. Topped with fresh mozzarella cheese and spicy, fragrant pepperoni. The marinara sauce cuts through the weight of the pepperoni and is finished with a pop of bright fresh basil.

Notice how these examples make you hungry? That is exactly what descriptions of food should do. The purpose of the description is to paint a 3 dimensional scene in your mind and set proper expectations for the meal to come. This is especially important if you ever want to own your own restaurant. Your descriptions of your food are your sales person for each dish.

Examples of Compelling Descriptors
Taste
salty, savory, spicy, sour, sweet, tangy, fresh, delectable, delicious

Smell
smoky, fragrant, aromatic, floral, nutty, fresh, crisp

Touch
crisp, crunchy, comforting, fall apart, tender

Sight
colorful, bright, contrasting

Preparation Method
simple, seared, roasted, charred, smoked, grilled, braised, deep-fried, sautéed, fresh

Examples of Descriptors that Turn You Off
Taste
bland, muted

Smell
woodsy, musky, funky, fermented

Touch
soft, slimy, over-cooked, sponge, hard

Sight
muted, brown

Preparation Method
traditional, baked, blanched, boiled, steeped, steamed, deep-fried, pan fried

Practice describing and learning your palate by using our Tasting Journal page. Visit our printable downloads page HERE.

Learn HOW to cook in a new, fun, and exciting way! Click here for Chef Ryan's How to Cook Cookbook


Lesson 4: Herbs and Spices

Herbs and Spices

Herbs and Spices

Now that we are familiar with taste, its complexities, and the basics of our other senses, we need to talk a little more in depth about smell. Or, what I call “the nose of your food.” You can make many fantastic dishes with very basic ingredients, like kosher salt, MSG, black pepper, red wine vinegar, and granulated sugar. But, what we want to do is give our food some character and maybe add a few aromatic qualities to give our food even more appeal. To do this, we are going to add spices and herbs. Many times people get confused as to what the differences are between the two. It’s very simple.

Spices tend to be derived from the roots, bark, flowers, or seeds of a flavorful plant.
Herbs are dried (or fresh) leaves of edible plants that impart an aromatic flavor.

To make it easier:

Spices:
cinnamon (bark)
nutmeg (seed)
cloves (flower)
coriander (seeds)
cumin (seed)
ginger (root)
black pepper (seed)

Herbs:
oregano (leaves)
basil (leaves)
thyme (leaves)
marjoram (leaves)
lavender (needles)
rosemary (needles)
cilantro (leafy vegetation of the coriander plant)

For your convenience, there is a Herbs and Spices Chart on our printable downloads page HERE.

As you’ll learn in your cooking journey, eastern cooking styles favor spices and western styles favor herbs. This simply has to do with the local availability of products as the different cultures and cooking techniques developed. The other difference is that spices tend to be used in conjunction with other spices, like in curry. Whereas herbs tend to be used by themselves, like a sprig of rosemary on lamb.

A fantastic way to remember the difference between herbs and spices is: “Roses are red. Violets are blue. Herbs are green and freshest too!”

I want to take some time to talk about the age of herbs and spices and how it effects the potency of its flavor. Time changes the flavor of everything regardless of whether it is fresh fruit, a fresh steak, or dried foods such as dried spices.

With dried herbs and spices, it is really important that:
1 They stay dry.
2 They are not too old because they will loose their potency.

Just because something is dried or preserved does not mean that it will keep its strength when it comes to flavor. Simply remember to keep in mind that time can not only diminish the flavor but also alter or change the flavor of your foods. Think about yogurt. Yogurt starts as milk. Then bacterial cultures are added. Time passes and changes the flavor, structure, and consistency of the product resulting in something completely different in the end.

Potency of spices is very important to take into consideration because measurements used will vary based on the strength of the spice. Oregano that is five years old is not going to be nearly as strong as oregano that was just recently dried. You will have to use a lot more of the five-year-old oregano to compensate for the loss of flavor. Also, certain spices and herbs will actually change flavor and smell over time. This is especially true for herbs like thyme and sage. They get musty and stinky. Cinnamon is an example of a spice that will lose its potency too. You need to know this because recipes will call for a certain amount of an ingredient. And if your seasonings are stale, the recipe will not turn out right. The flavor profile will end up being completely off.

Many times you will blend both herbs and spices to bring out the flavor of whatever food you are preparing. A great rule of thumb is to remember not to over-season but to start out by under-seasoning. We always want to under-season our food while cooking. We do this because you can always add more seasonings, but not necessarily take away. So when you are seasoning a dish, season with about half the amount of seasoning that the recipe calls for. As the dish gets closer to finishing, taste the dish. Then, using the Roundness of Flavor technique, slowly add the additional seasonings
that the recipe will require. Make certain that you are adding these ingredients in small increments. If you follow this method, you will never end up with a meal that is over-seasoned.

You should also keep in mind that you may become more or less sensitive to different seasonings in different recipes depending on the ingredients in the recipe. This is especially true with spicy. Because spicy flavors can vary in strength from brand to brand and even within the product itself, always add just a little bit of spicy at a time. A great example of this is a container of red pepper that I have. One dash of this red pepper is equivalent to 4 or 5 dashes from other bottles from the same manufacturer. This same fact is true for everything that we eat. This is because no two of the same item are identical. Two roma tomatoes, even from the same plant, will not be identical in every way. The same is true for humans, dogs, cats, eggplants, and everything else that is or was ever living. This is simply the nature of life in the universe. Because it was living and growing, it is therefore always unique.

chef-ryan-callahan-building-wall

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Cooking is about building flavors like building a brick wall. We stack the flavors brick by brick until we have a wall. Throwing all the seasonings in at once seems like you would be building that wall faster. But in the end, all you are truly left with is a large heap of bricks.”

The other thing you need to remember when cooking is that you are not trying to change the flavor of the ingredients but compliment what you are already cooking. Th e goal is to bring out the naturally occurring flavors of the ingredients. Th is is one of the areas of cooking where Chinese and Italian cooking styles agree: always season to emphasize and celebrate how delicious your ingredients are! A good rule of thumb is if both the Chinese and the Italians are doing it, it must be good!

Learn HOW to cook in a new, fun, and exciting way! Click here for Chef Ryan's How to Cook Cookbook


Lesson 3: Mixing the 5 Flavors

Mixing the 5 Flavors

Mixing the 5 Flavors

Now that we have a basic understanding of the 5 flavors as they exist independently, we now need to discuss the interactions that 2 or more flavors have while interacting simultaneously.

Secondary Flavor Senses

Now as we are trying to build our Roundness of Flavor, it is important to keep in mind one other thing. Sometimes, we are trying to construct a dish that specifically bolsters one flavor element.

Two examples of this would be:
1 buffalo style chicken wings and
2 sweet and sour chicken

These are examples of dishes where the end goal would not necessarily be to make the flavors round and equal, but to use the other flavors to compliment the primary flavor of spicy or sweet and sour. Let’s take the example of buffalo style chicken wings and deconstruct the flavor profile of a common recipe. For those of you who aren’t familiar with buffalo style chicken wings, they are bone-in chicken wing ends. These are (preferably) deep-fried, then covered in a spicy, tangy sauce.

Usually the sauce is made like this:
8 ounces Frank’s Red Hot Sauce + 8 ounces melted butter (2 sticks).
That gives the wings a creamy, spicy, and tangy sauce.

The 2 questions we need to ask ourselves:

What ingredients give the wings a creamy, spicy, and tangy flavor?
The hot sauce is primarily constructed of cayenne peppers that have been infused into a vinegar-based solution. Butter tends to have a sweet and savory taste to it. So when you combine hot sauce and butter, you get sweet and savory from the butter, spicy from the chilies, and sour from the vinegar in the sauce. In the grand scheme, where does this new tangy flavor come into play? Tangy comes from the application of both sour and sweet taste buds at the same time. What is happening in your mouth is that the sour flavor is telling your brain that this food is dry and astringent which causes your mouth to salivate more. But, the sweet flavor is activating the pleasure centers of your brain filling you with endorphins that tell your brain, “This is great! Eat more!” This is also known as the sweet and sour effect. The same confusing experience can be demonstrated by grasping two pipes filled with water. If one has cold water and the other warm water, it will confuse the sensory nerves in your hands and tell your brain “Danger! This is Hot!” Even though the pipes are not hot, your brain believes it is in danger and kicks your survival reflexes in to prevent further potential skin damage. In this same way, the application of both sweet and sour taste receptors confuses your brain causing both pleasure and pain.

Tangy is a perfect example of a secondary flavor sense in action. These secondary flavor senses help to create the complex flavors that we experience when we eat everyday foods. A secondary flavor sense is only considered secondary when two specific flavors are activated. For example, if we added MSG (savory) to our buffalo wing sauce, causing the tangy flavor to be overwhelmed, we would no longer consider it a secondary flavor but a blended, complimentary flavor.

How can we improve on the flavor of a common recipe?
One of the things we can do to improve this chicken wing recipe is we can start by adding salt. When salt is added to savory flavors, it generates a secondary flavor sense I call amplified savory.

The single most important concept in seasoning is that both salty and spicy are flavor amplifiers. What this means is that anything you add salt or spiciness to is going to amplify the flavors of the food already present. Unless you add them in such amounts that they overwhelm the already existing flavors to become the dominant flavors of the dish. Interestingly, the only two flavors that are commonly eaten in western cooking without other complimentary flavors are sweet and savory. Think of hard candies or a big hunk of meat right off the grill. These items are still generally improved with the addition of a little salt, but can very commonly be eaten without.

What else could we add to chicken wings to improve them? We could add black pepper for aromatics and a different type of spicy. (Yes, each source of spiciness delivers spicy in a different way.) We could also add garlic for warmth and aromatic quality. And, we can add a touch of sugar for a more balanced tangy flavor.

Most people don’t notice secondary flavors because in most dishes they blend in with the other ingredients to fill the whole of flavor perception becoming complimentary flavors. Some more examples of secondary flavors would be salty and sweet candy (juxtaposed sweet), sweet and sour sauce (tangy), pickle brine before it has had anything but salt and vinegar added (amplified sour), and soy sauce (amplified savory).

To help make it easier for you to understand, go to our printable downloads page HERE for a chart of secondary flavors.

chef-ryan-callahan-the-5-flavorsComplimentary and Contradictory Flavors

Flavor works a lot like colors on a color wheel. Some flavors are bright and bold. Some flavors are muted and subtle. But, each flavor works together with the other flavors and senses to build a color of each food. Just as an artist picks colors to paint on canvas, we will pick flavors to paint onto our foods.

Complimentary flavors are flavors that blend together so well that they blend into one single continuous flavor, like amplified savory. Contradictory flavors are flavors that seem like they shouldn’t go together, but for some reason they bring out new aspects of each flavor (like tangy or juxtaposed sweet).

For a moment, let’s pretend we’ve mixed all of the colors together in a bucket. Depending on the amount of black in the paint, you’ll usually end up with some form of brown. What we are trying to do is to blend all the colors, or in this case flavors, until we get some kind of brown. Now, each dish should be its own form of brown and should exemplify the main ingredients. For example, beef stew should be more savory. Red curries should be spicy and fragrant. Desserts should be sweet. And potato chips should be salty. This isn’t a fact that will change with anything you cook. Just to clarify, when I say we are trying to achieve a “brown,” I do not mean that every food should literally be the color brown. What I intend to express is that the flavors of each dish should be well mixed together.

As you can see, understanding flavor is not difficult but it is fairly complicated. Always remember, when you are cooking, to take all of your senses into account, not just your sense of taste. In the upcoming lesson, I am going to take these basic concepts and elaborate on them more.

Learn HOW to cook in a new, fun, and exciting way! Click here for Chef Ryan's How to Cook Cookbook


Lesson 5: Aromatics

Aromatics

Aromatics

Something like 90 percent of all experiences that you have with food are actually nasal related. This is super important to know, because embracing the role that your nose plays in the eating experience will enable you to create richer, fuller eating experiences. As I have previously pointed out, it is the smell of a pot roast that causes you to salivate. So, we will continue with this idea and venture further in-depth into the world of how to use aromatics and your sense of smell to your advantage.

Aromatics include, but are not limited to, herbs and spices. Each individual food item has a smell all to its own as well. Think of the smell of a grilled steak, oranges, or fresh fish. Each food item has a scent all to its own. We must take this smell into account whenever we are preparing a dish. Remember, our objective in preparing this food is not to change the natural flavors of the food. It is to bring out more natural flavor and emphasize the qualities of our foods.

There is an old saying that goes a bit like this: “When a guest compliments a French chef, he will reply, ‘Thank you very much,’ as if it was him and his skill that was being complimented. But an Italian chef will reply, ‘Do not thank me. Thank the ingredients.’”

The lesson in this is a truly great chef knows that any dish is made or broken on the constitution of the ingredients that he or she uses. So we must always endeavor to choose quality ingredients and let them tell us how best to serve them. With this in mind, we want to always smell our ingredients every time. An example of this would be if we have a piece of fish. We want to smell it every single time. Fish should never smell fishy, ever. The smell of fishiness is actually a byproduct of decay of the fish proteins. Fish should always smell like the ocean. If it does not smell fresh and clean like the ocean, you should never ever eat it.

This same thought process should be applied to all foods. When you have produce, smell it. What does it smell like? Does your broccoli smell like broccoli? Does your cauliflower smell like cauliflower? Your nose is the fastest indicator that something is amiss. If you open a loaf of bread and
it magically smells like cheese, maybe, just maybe you shouldn’t be eating that bread. Have you ever smelled sour milk? The first way to tell that milk is bad is simply by giving it a big sniff. Your sense of smell is actually your strongest sense. You are able to identify a trillion of independent odors. Whereas your eyes can only perceive about 10 million colors. When most people think of smell, they think of dogs. Dogs are always sniffing everything. This is for a very good reason. Through smell, they are able to detect a great many things: food, water, mates, danger, bombs, and even some forms of cancer.

chef-ryan-callahan-queen-rosemary-dog

While dogs embrace smell, humans tend to actively shun their sense of smell. People go so far as to look at other people suspiciously when someone smells something. Yes, I know this from personal experience. Don’t judge me. Th ere is actually some strong evidence that suggests humans actually
put off various odors based on their emotional states. Have you ever heard of someone “stinking of desperation?” As a chef, my sense of smell is my greatest strength. Being able to identify different scents and match them to other complimentary scents is one of the aspects that allows you to
become a great chef.

So, why do dogs have it all figured out and humans stick their nose up at the idea of smell? Well, that probably has a bit to do with the desire to feel “civilized” and detached from our primal nature. But that is neither here nor there. What I am going to do is teach you how to regain control of that ever so powerful sense.

The power of your nose can never be understated. It helps you find food. It tells you when to be hungry. It’s a defense mechanism. And it protects you from potential harm.

The very first thing I want you to do is start smelling EVERYTHING!

I want you to smell everything. I want you to smell herbs, spices, vinegar, meat, shoes, newspapers, books, computers, vegetables, clean laundry, dirty laundry, and anything else you can get your hands on. I assure you that people will eyeball you very suspiciously. I have a habit of smelling everything. I smell my flatware when I’m out to eat. I smell my food when other people have cooked it for me. I smell newspapers. I smell my pants and even my shoes before I put them on.

The reason I do this is to find out more information about the item I am smelling. Smelling flatware at a restaurant tells me a few things. If it smells like chlorine, I know that they use bleach as their sanitizer and that the flatware has recently been washed. If it smells like food, I know that it hasn’t been washed and that I should get a different fork.

Smelling food tells me many things about it as well. I can tell the doneness of food by scent. If it is a steak, I can tell if the fat has been cooked long enough to become liquid and move through the meat. I can tell if raw food is past its prime thanks to a signature bacterial odor. I can also tell the pungency and strength of spices so I know how much to use when I am cooking. If I smell my pants, I can tell if they are dirty and if I need to wash them. As you can see, there are a great many uses for smell, both offensive and defensive.

Let me ask a simple question.

What is the purpose of aromatics in food?

The simple answer is: The aroma or aromatic quality of food in each dish is the defining quality and character that separates it from the other dishes.

Let’s use the following foods as an example.
moo shu chicken (Chinese)
shredded chicken tacos (Tex-Mex)
chicken shawarma sandwich (Mediterranean-American)

These 3 meals are all fundamentally very similar. Ultimately, there is a starchy bread-like substance that acts like a wrapper, a crunchy vegetable aspect, and a soft but flavorful protein aspect to each one of these dishes. On paper, these dishes look extremely similar. But as great cooks, we don’t care about paper; we care about plates! Plated and placed in front of you, it would be impossible to not tell these dishes apart. This is because each dish uses different herbs, spices, and seasonings.

The shawarma is full of warm cumin and curry flavors.
The shredded chicken tacos have hints of garlic and spiciness.
And the moo shu is both savory and sweet at the same time.

Effectively, three of the same dish done three different ways. This is why developing our aromatic quality to the dish is so important. We do this by employing herbs and spices into our dishes to give them their distinct flavors.

I have a certain method to my madness when it comes to seasoning. I always season my dishes in a particular order: salty, savory, spicy, sour, and last sweet. But when it comes to adding aromatics, I always add the stronger flavors that need to be extracted throughout the entire dish early in the cooking process. Stronger herbs and spices should always be added first.

A perfect example of this is rosemary. I love rosemary! Kept inside your house or outside, it will make your home smell amazing. Rosemary’s natural scent acts as a stress reliever. So when I use rosemary in cooking, I always incorporate it early. The reason is that the aromatic quality of the rosemary is actually found in the oil contained within its needles. It is this scented oil that we are trying to incorporate throughout our entire dish. The best way to extract this is to smash the needles with a flat side of a knife and then incorporate it with hot oil. This will allow the oils to migrate out and co-mingle with the rest of the fats in the dish. This allows it to thoroughly coat every surface. We want to do this early when cooking a dish in order to give the rosemary time to not only be extracted but to mellow within the dish during the cooking process.

On the opposite end, there are herbs like basil. Basil has such a delicate flavor. Basil is such a tricky plant to use because if it is not quite right, you will completely loose the flavor from the basil leaves. In juxtaposition from the rosemary, if you add basil at any time but during the last few moments of cooking, the basil with become ethereal and disappear. Basil is a plant that should never be used as a dried herb. The essence of its flavor is best captured by using thinly sliced fresh leaves. It would preferably be added raw and not cooked. Think of a caprese salad. The raw basil leaves give such a pop of flavor. This becomes the quintessential highlight of the dish. It pulls all the flavors together as if by magic.

Whenever we season with our aromatics, we want to first think:
1 When should I add this?
2 And how am I going to get the best flavor out of this ingredient?

Add Early: rosemary, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, peppers, and oregano.

Add in the Middle: thyme, ginger, marjoram, cumin, and turmeric. These flavors don’t really take
time to develop and can therefore be added at anytime.

Add Last: basil, cilantro, parsley, orange blossoms, rose hips, and other lightly flavored seasonings.

For your convenience, I have made a chart of commonly used herbs and spices, their flavors,
functions, when they should be added to a dish, and what they are most commonly used with. This
chart is found on our printable resources page HERE.

Learn HOW to cook in a new, fun, and exciting way! Click here for Chef Ryan's How to Cook Cookbook


Lesson 2: Taste and the 5 Flavors

Taste and the 5 Flavors

Taste and the 5 Flavors

Taste itself, is in reality only a small fraction of the sensory experience of cooking and eating. What you actually taste when you eat are 5 primal flavors which are: salty, savory, spicy, sour, and sweet. Each one of these basic taste sensations lends itself as a piece of the whole sensory experience.

Flavor is a tricky and complicated concept. It is made up of many different aspects of senses as well as senses in their entirety. Let’s start with the basics of the tongue. The human tongue only tastes a few basic flavors. This is actually such a controversial subject that it is still hotly debated whether or not certain flavors constitute tasting or just a secondary experience. The most commonly accepted flavors that your tongue tastes are: salty, savory, sour, bitter, and sweet. I like to add spicy to this list as well, seeing as you experience spicy on your tongue just like the other flavors. I don’t consider bitter to be a flavor, but I consider it to be a survival mechanism. Therefore, I do not include it in the 5 flavors. So for simplicity—and for our sanity—we will say that the following are the flavors that you actually taste with your tongue: salty, savory, spicy, sour, and sweet.

Balancing The Five Flavors

When a chef cooks, what he is trying to do is bring out the fullness of flavor, or Roundness of Flavor. Take a look at the chart below for a great visual representation of what I call, Roundness of Flavor.

Balancing the 5 Flavors

Chef Ryan Callahan's Balancing The 5 Flavors Chart

 

Imagine the circular dish above is mounted on a thin piece of metal so that it acts as a scale. As you apply weight to any category, like salty, the dish will tip toward the salty side. As you place each flavor on the dish, it will lean from side to side, eventually balancing out. What you want to do is weigh out the proper amounts of flavor onto this imaginary dish so that the dish doesn’t topple over and become one-sided.

Cooking is about balance, harmony, and pulling the natural flavors out of your ingredients. All food items that you eat have their own natural flavors and will pre-stack the weight of the dish. As we add items to our meals, we need to be conscious of their natural flavors and how they will make the dish balance.

To be blunt, there is simply no way to teach someone to cook without physically doing it. You can learn many other disciplines simply by reading about it. But, cooking is both art and science. Just like you can never truly create great works of art simply by looking at Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings.
You will never develop the physical techniques of the intricacies inherent inside of the brush strokes to capture the delicateness of color. Such is the same with great food. Learning how to cook is exactly like this. You must try and fail and try and fail until you learn how things work and why. Just like the yoga master refers to the art of yoga as “my practice,” so must we take this same approach toward cooking. It is an art that you will continually become greater at every day, every week, and every year. You will learn and grow just like a tree until your roots run so far into the ground that you are an immovable object with years of strength and experience to pull from. So it is with this mind-set, we will continue to move forward so that we may practice and learn.

What I would like to explain about Roundness of Flavor is that I actually developed this cooking technique to specifically help my mother while she was going through cancer treatments. But, Roundness of Flavor isn’t just for cancer patients. It is also an incredibly effective and fool-proof system for progressively and accurately seasoning your food so that it turns out nearly perfect every single time.

Below is the method I follow while creating my own Roundness of Flavor. I do this with every single dish, no matter how simple or how complex. This is the creating flavor part of Roundness of Flavor.

When I season dishes, I always season them in the following order:
1 salty
2 savory
3 spicy
4 sour
5 sweet

The 5 Flavors

chef-ryan-callahan-salty-simon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meet Salty Simon!

Salty is the most basic flavor. It is also the most powerful. It amplifies all other flavors. We start with salty to bring out the naturally occurring flavors in the dish. If we did this flavor later, it could overpower the rest of the dish. Adding salt late in the cooking process could make the flavors too aggressive. Salt also acts as a natural tenderizer. It works its way into meat giving it a massive boost of flavor. Food without salt of any kind is extremely bland. If you can not have salt because of sodium, consider using a salt substitute. Salt is also one of the flavors that you cannot correct if you add too much. If you place too much salt in a dish, it is simply ruined and you have to start over.

Examples of salty items: kosher salt, sea salt, soy sauce, and hard cheeses like parmesan.

chef-ryan-callahan-savory-sophia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meet Savory Sophia!

I always season savory second because it is the least pronounced of all the flavors. But, it is the most important. Th e reason it is so important is because it gives you that sense of healthiness and nutrition that comes from a home-cooked meal. Savory is the fullness of taste. It is the sense of warmth that you get when eating a protein filled item. Savory is actually activated by the presence of salty flavor. Th is is the reason why a steak without salt is extremely bland. But if you add a light pinch of salt, it makes the steak taste like a flavor explosion. Th ere are many ways to create a savory flavor, whether it is simply adding savory ingredients or using heat to brown your meats and vegetables. Browning these items makes them more savory naturally as well.

Examples of savory items: soy sauce, MSG, anchovies, green tea, mushrooms, tomatoes, and red
wine.

chef-ryan-callahan-spicy-stella

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meet Spicy Stella!

Spicy comes third because it is our second amplifying flavor. It is the ingredient that fills our warmth portion of the dish. I also season with spicy third because it is the easiest to counter-act by adding more vinegar to balance out the spicy. Please remember that just because you are adding a
touch of spicy to a dish does not mean that the dish will necessarily be spicy. Great cooking always encompasses a bit of an imperceptible spicy note that just adds a fuller body. So never feel guilty adding a little bit of spicy to your dishes, especially in amounts that a person cannot detect. To add ingredients that a person cannot name or quite put their fi nger on is the hallmark of a great chef.

Examples of spicy items: black pepper, cayenne pepper, red pepper flakes, chilies, and many more.

chef-ryan-callahan-sour-sarah

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meet Sour Sarah!

Sour comes fourth because it is the lightener. Everything we have put into our dishes so far has added breadth, fullness, and warmth. Now, we add complexity. Sour brings freshness that you cannot get through any other means. It removes the physical weight of a dish, similar to how moon boots
remove the feeling of weight from your body.

Sour is an amazing flavor that is far underutilized. It can make you feel as if you were eating the freshest, lightest fruit salad in the world. But when applied too heavily and too liberally, it can make your mouth pucker and eyes water. With a masterful hand, sour can be applied in just the right
amounts to give heavy dishes a light feeling in your mouth. It can also remove the spiciness while amplifying the flavor of chilies. And, it can cleanse the palate and bring delight to any person who wields it. In my opinion, mastery of sour is another hallmark of a great chef.

Examples of sour items: red vinegar, red wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar, rice
wine vinegar, orange juice, lime juice, lemon juice, and pickle brine.

chef-ryan-callahan-sweet-sherman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meet Sweet Sherman!

Sweet comes last because it is the great balancer. Sweet activates the pleasure centers of your brain and gets you really excited about eating whatever it is you are eating. Sweet can cover many mistakes when cooking and should be used last because it creates our final piece of complex flavoring. Chinese cooks have a saying that sugar always follows vinegar. Th is is because sour needs a balancer just like the idea of yin and yang. When yin gets out of control, it needs yang to balance. Th e philosophy is all about finding the balance between the two. Th e same is true for fire and water. Fire keeps water in check by boiling it. And water keeps fire in check by keeping it from getting too hot and consuming everything around it. If you have too much fire, everything gets burned. If you have too much water, the passion and the drive is drowned out. Th e same is true for sour and sweet. You must keep the two in balance at all times. Sweet also allows you to remove or cover the acidity of a dish. Hence, why most people will add a healthy pour of sugar to their marinara sauce.

Sweet is a place where I get a lot of irrational feedback. I am not telling you to pour a pound of sugar into your meals or eat nothing but refined sugars. What I am explaining to you here is that sweetness balances out the dish. It is one of your 5 fundamental flavors. And, it must be mastered and utilized to truly cook like a great chef. A lot of people are afraid of sugar because somebody offhandedly said to them once that people need to eat less sugar.

What those people were trying to actually express was that most people ingest too much candy, sweets, junk food, soft drinks, etc. When you take control of your food and cook every meal at home, you are not going to end up eating too much sugar simply because the nature of cooking at
home does not make it easy to overload yourself on sugars. What overloads you on sugar is eating a pint of ice cream, followed by drinking 2 liters of soda, and eating a handful of hard candies to finish off the meal. Remember all things in moderation.

Sugar is actually the basic energy that your body uses to fuel itself. The reason your body is hot is because your body is regularly combusting sugars inside of your cells to regulate your body temperature. When there is too much sugar, your body converts it for long term storage into fat cells
which is how your metabolic process works. This is why if you eat too much sugar, you gain weight. If you eat too little sugar, you loose weight. The energy inside of food is measured in calories, which is why all of our food labels are labeled with the amount of calories that are contained within the
food. This is so that you can empower yourself to make decisions on how many calories you need to fuel your body. It’s not scary. It’s science.

Sweet can be sourced from the following: raw granulated sugar, brown sugar, fruit juices, honey,
and an innumerable amount of places.

I follow the salty, savory, spicy, sour, sweet method because my experience has taught me that this is how you should season. It takes into account many different theories, styles, and cultures perspectives on cooking. As I stated previously, I have found that cooking is both art and science. It is a beautiful alchemy that encompasses so much of the human spirit, life experience, culture, memories, and the soul; that it is like an art. The simple whiff of your favorite dish can transport you to places and times that you didn’t even remember existed. It can pull emotions so deep that you didn’t even know you had. This is the art of cooking.

To bring it all around, the reason I season in this method is two fold. Years of experience show me scientifically that this is the right way to season. And, years of artistic endeavor also support this method.

Palate Cleansing

Palate Cleansing is a simple but effective technique that you need to know when you are cooking. I talk in great detail about Palate Cleansing in my first cookbook, Cooking for Chemo ...and After! Palate Cleansing is extremely important to bring balance to dishes that may feel too heavy in your
mouth. It is especially useful in taking heavy dishes, like pot roast, and making them more palatable by lightening the perceived weight of the dish in your mouth.

3 Ways To Use Palate Cleansing

Vinegar and Sugar Method
By adding 1-2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar and 1-2 tablespoons of granulated sugar during the seasoning part of your recipe when cooking. The vinegar lightens the perceived weight of the dish and the sugar masks the flavor of the vinegar.

Fresh Herb Method
By topping the finished dish with fresh herbs that naturally Palate Cleanse. These herbs are cilantro, parsley, basil, and mint.

Citric Acid Method
By using fresh citrus juices in your cooking or squeezing them over the top of your finished food. This includes: oranges, lemons, and limes.

Palate Cleansing uses sour flavor to combat the weight of a dish. If you follow the proper seasoning order (salty, savory, spicy, sour, and sweet), you will naturally use palate cleansers in the effort to obtain Roundness of Flavor.

One last thing, when you are trying to correct a dish, always add seasonings in small increments. You don’t want to over-correct the dish and have to start over. Visit our printable downloads page HERE to get a FREE Flavor Correction Chart.

Learn HOW to cook in a new, fun, and exciting way! Click here for Chef Ryan's How to Cook Cookbook


Lesson 1: What is Flavor?

Lesson 1: What is flavor? And how do we experience it?

What is flavor? And how do we experience it?

If someone were to ask you to define the idea of flavor to someone who had never eaten before, how would you describe it? Would you aim for the scientific concept of the action of chewing and the detection of chemical compounds and flavors by the tongue? Would you then go on to explain that the human tongue is a sensory organ used to move chewed food into your esophagus and it also serves to detect flavors in your mouth? Would you go for an artistic answer and say that flavor is the culmination of ingredients and preparation methods, which then we experience when we eat?

Let’s begin by defining flavor: What is flavor, and Where does it come from?

Flavor is both scientific and artistic. Scientifically, it is a series of chemical compounds that are created or broken down during the cooking and preparatory process in the creation of edible and digestible compounds. Artistically, it is defined as the human experience of eating and drinking. This experience evokes emotional responses and fills the brain with associations both past and present. From my perspective, flavor is very simply the way that your body and brain perceive and understand what you are eating. Unlike the common perception, eating is not limited to your mouth (taste) and your nose (smell).

Flavor and the eating experience encompasses all 5 basic physiological senses. It also includes your 6th sense of memory and association. In this aspect, you experience the eating experience with your entire body.

These senses are:

chef-ryans-how-to-cook-cookbook-mouth-taste-image

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Taste: The physical contact of the tongue to your food. This sense is limited to only 5 sensory perceptions: Salty, Savory, Spicy, Sour and Sweet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Smell: Your sense of smell exists inside of your nose. It is the single most advanced and detailed piece of sensory equipment on your body. You can distinguish over 1 trillion unique scents. Most of the eating experience is actually experience by your sense of smell. Any flavors you perceive beyond the basic flavors (Salty, Savory, Spicy, Sour and Sweet) are actually nasally perceived scents.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sight: Your sense of sight is not as broad as your sense of smell, but can still perceive several million shades of colors. This sense is also the most influential in humans for decision making purposes. Ugly food turns people off fast!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Touch: Your sense of touch is experienced in a few ways:

1 You physically touch your food with your hands, mouth, and tongue.

2 It also helps you to perceive textures, such as crunchy and soft.

Your sense of touch helps you to decide if food is comforting or fresh and playful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sound: Your sense of sound allows you to prepare for the eating experience from a distance, and helps you to identify how to associate your present eating experience. In addition to this, crunchy foods are not just experienced in your sense of touch. “Crunch” is actually an onomatopoeia for the sound that food makes while being crushed by your teeth. This sound travels up your jawbone and into your tympanic membrane allowing you to hear your crunchy nachos!

Memory and Association: Memory and Association play a massive, if not subconscious, role in the eating experience. When you smell a food, it triggers a whole reaction in your brain where the memories and learned associations of that smell come flooding back into your conscious mind.

Flavors themselves actually do come from the chemical compounds contained within the foods. But as you can see, the perception of flavors is very complicated.

This concludes Lesson 1 and the basics on the origin of flavor. In Lesson 2, we will discuss Taste and the 5 Flavors.

Learn HOW to cook in a new, fun, and exciting way! Click here for Chef Ryan's How to Cook Cookbook