By Scott Mechura EBS Food Columnist
Flavor is the king of cuisine, is it not? The first summer sweet corn, or that perfectly aged 20-year single malt scotch. Perhaps it’s that rich chocolate cake, or a prime rib-eye steak grilled over a wood fire. We sometimes carry these food memories with us for a lifetime. Often, we refer to something as simply “delicious.” We can’t put our finger on it, but we know pure decadence when we taste it.
The definition of flavor is taste, especially the distinctive taste of something, as experienced in the mouth. It’s the “as experienced in the mouth” area of exploration that intrigues me. Flavor often takes center stage on the pallet, but I would argue it has two silent partners that often get overlooked. They are temperature and texture.
Think of flavor as the “lead singer” in the band; It’s often the face and personality of a dish or culinary combination, it may initially stand out, but I believe that without the texture of that “drummer,” or the sizzling hot temperature of the “lead guitar,” flavor would not be what it is.
You are no doubt trying to conjure up foods and flavors right now in your mind, and wondering what parts the drummer and lead singer play in relation to the good-looking lead singer.
Let me illustrate some personal favorites.
Here’s an easy but subtle one: chocolate and peanut butter. One of my favorite candies is Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups—it’s the perfect balance of chocolate, peanut butter and dairy. Let’s change the texture and temperature of these three.
Consider stirring peanut butter into your chocolate milk. It’s the same three ingredients, but to me, peanut butter chocolate milk does not have the same appeal as the candy.
Or how about coffee? Some people enjoy a black cup of coffee, while others prefer some cream and sugar in theirs. Either way, there’s nothing like a hot cup of coffee.
Conversely, iced coffees, modeled after Vietnamese coffee, have become more and more popular. But watch the facial expression as someone sips a cup of prepared coffee after it’s become cold, be it with cream and sugar or not. There’s no real difference other than temperature.
Salt is used in the making of some cheeses, yet putting salt on cheese? Well that just doesn’t sound very appealing.
Here’s the one that generates some lively debate every time I bring it up: I will ask a friend or co-worker if they enjoy ketchup on their mashed potatoes. The response is usually one where the facial expression beats the verbal response—an expression suggesting that it sounds awful and who would do that?
My next question then, is why do you put ketchup on french fries, since they are both potato preparations? “Well that’s different,” they always say. “Why?” I ask, they are both potatoes? No one can pinpoint it exactly, but let’s try.
Another recipient of copious amounts of ketchup is hash browns. A variance with hash browns is what the British call “chips.” We call them fries, although they’re essentially a large-cut wedge of potato. When fried, they are light and pillowy inside, and rather than dipping them in tartar sauce, as they’re typically served, we put ketchup on them as well.
So then why do we not put ketchup on a baked potato? The inner texture is identical to those large cut “fries?” I believe the answer lies at the midway point. We seem to enjoy ketchup on any preparation of potato that is fried and hot.
It seems like that ketchup lead singer isn’t really that great without the textural drummer and sizzling hot lead guitar.
Scott Mechura has spent a life in the hospitality industry. He is a former certified beer judge and currently the Executive Chef at Buck’s T-4 Lodge in Big Sky.