Thursday, March 18, 2010

Why does brown taste to good?

Often times the goal of a cooking method or technique is to achieve a brown color. Grilling, roasting, sauteing, searing, etc. etc., all processes undertaken to give color ingredients.
Brown food tastes better; we see the color in cooked foods and subconsciously are drawn to it. Charred steak, roasted vegetables, caramel sauce,toasted bread, golden brown fried potatoes; they all look very appetizing. Our brains know it, but does our mind understand it?

Let me try to explain. There are two types of browning:
1. Caramelization: The browning of sugar molecules happens around 310 degrees. Molecules get shaken up by the energy of the high heat, the atoms rattle apart and come back together in a wide array of compounds, browning occurs and great complexity of flavor develops. Consider the difference between eating a spoonful of table sugar, and a taking on a spoonful of caramel.

2. Maillard Reaction: A similar chemical process, but in molecules other than sugars such as carbohydrates and amino acids. Molecules are busted up and reconvene in tastier ones, this reaction is accompanied by a brown color. Giving us things like espresso, porters and stouts, chocolate, and toast.
Better Browning
If brown is your goal, there are a few things measures you can take to get you closer to your color.
Keep it dry: Browning will not occur in the presence of moisture. Since water can't be heated to more that 212 degrees, browning is excluded. This is why we pat our fish and meat dry before cooking. This is also why it's hard to brown items with a high moisture content.
Keep it hot: Use a pan that gets hot and stays hot (cast iron or clad stainless steel) . Especially in the case of meat and fish. Whose surface must essentially dehydrate immediately (from such high heat) in order for a brown crust to form.

Keep it lubed: Use enough oil, it's what conducts the heat so well. If you skimp on the fat, you'll see less of that delicious color.

Keep it spacious: If you're aimin' to brown more than one thing, like sliced mushrooms or scallops, you can't crowd the pan. The moisture released will be too much to evaporate before steaming your food, and proper browning won't occur.

Brown's Downs
More brown is not always better. Browning everything and then mixing it together can create so many compounds (literally thousands) to taste that the individual flavors become muddy. So pick and choose the things you brown to keep a clean flavor

Sauteed mushrooms
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