I’ve been reading this book by Peter Kaminsky, and it’s been really interesting to think about. My take on it is this: there are many ways to get around proper technique and fresh ingredients, but too often it includes increasing the sugar, salt, fat content of whatever you’re eating. If increasing calories doesn’t always increase flavor, what’s the benefit? Likewise, if you can increase flavor without increasing calories, why wouldn’t you?
There are several relevant points that the book brings out:
1. Flavor intensity per calorie (FIC) is ideally maximized to increase satiety.
2. FIC is increased by quality ingredients or products.
3. FIC is also increased by good technique.
For example, take Brussels sprouts. Now, I’ve seen a ton of recipes for sprouts with bacon. Most of those recipes call for gently cooking the sprouts and adding a fair amount of bacon at the end. But what if you toss them in a little olive oil and season with salt, then roast them in the oven until they char just a bit? I’d wager that the increase in flavor intensity outshines whatever you get with the addition of bacon, especially the generic, flavorless bacon I’ve encountered out there in the world.
While the word “umami” connotes with culinary pretentiousness, it’s a real thing. Call it more savory, or whatever you want, but there’s no denying that the flavors are transformed and intensified. And you can do that without adding anything special to it. To the best of my googling, there’s no caloric difference between raw onions and cooked onions. Each is distinct in what it brings, but the caramelized version has that savoriness and sweetness. You don’t have to add sugar, you just have to know what you’re doing. It’s the reason dry-aged beef demands such a premium. There are ways to replicate this at home that are a lot simpler than the whole process of dry-aging. One of them I alluded to in the beef rib roast post, which involves presalting meat for 4-5 days in the refrigerator prior to cooking. Wrap in plastic wrap, and make sure you let it warm up as much as you can stand it prior to cooking.
Smoke is another way to increase FIC. While I have another post in the works on the value of smoke, realize that if you prepare and cook meats properly, you shouldn’t have to add any sauce. And while we can debate the biological properties of wood smoke, it probably turns out to be better for you than barbecue sauce.
If you think you’ll be healthier eating what some lab dork came up with instead of something that occurs naturally, think again.