Salt and Acid
There are two ingredients that accentuate flavor like nothing else: salt and acid.
So often recipes (including mine) say to taste and then adjust seasoning as needed. But how do you know what is needed? It takes finding out the flavor profile that you like and, often enough, knowing how to use these two accentuaters to get there.
The way that I think about it is that salt unlocks the flavor and acid elevates it.
And the best way I have to demonstrate this phenomenon is to make mayonnaise.
Below is my basic mayo recipe. (It is basic because it is 100% neutral and can have lemon or garlic or tarragon or anything added to it to gussy it up, but I always start here.)
To see what salt and acid do, make it without the salt or the vinegar and taste it. It will taste disgusting. Flabby and bland and like it could never ever be good ever.
Then add salt. It will magically taste pretty great. Salt unlocks the flavors in the yolk and makes the fats more soluble and therefore something that we want and therefore something that tastes good.
Now add the vinegar. Hallelujah Chorus! It will taste bright and light and not flabby.
And now, play. Add a touch more salt until it tastes too salty for you. Add a dash of lemon and see how that accentuates the saltiness. Find what you like.
And now use this understanding to season all your food going forward. If a dish tastes bland and flabby, try adding a pinch of salt. If it tastes salty but boring, vinegar or wine or lemon can bring back those cherubs singing on high.
I make mayo in a Kitchenaid mixer with a whisk attachment. You can also use a food processor but the blade has tendency to get a bit hot which can make a mayo (especially one made with olive oil) taste bitter until it cools down. Or use a whisk and your arm but be prepared to get out of breath.
And don’t get too cheeky when adding in the oil—just a few drops to start then a drizzle then a slim stream. After making it a few times, you’ll see when to push it and when to give it some time to beat in without adding more oil to be sure that the fat is incorporated into the egg protein. This is also why I like to use one egg and one egg yolk. The additional protein in the white makes a more stable mayo.
- 1 egg
- 1 yolk
- 24 oz oil
- 1 ½ tsp apple cider vinegar
- ¾ tsp salt
- With a whisk beat the eggs, salt and vinegar until frothy
- Slowly drizzle in the oil, as a trickle at first and then more steadily as the emulsification gets stronger
- Taste and add more salt and vinegar as needed