Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Art of Substitution and Manipulation

A couple posts ago – Summer, Oh Summer... Where Art Thou? I touched on establishing flavour profiles for individual ingredients. This is important to keep in mind because often ingredients can be replaced and substituted with things you have on hand.

Make sure you have a good look in your fridge and pantry before heading out to the store find exact matches for ingredients listed in a recipe.

For example, if you don’t have honey in the cupboard, but have an orange marmalade or an apricot preserve, simply use that instead. The sweet, stickiness of the jam will do the trick just as well as honey, and in fact lend further flavour dimensions with the fruit extract adding zing.

The key is to understand the function of individual ingredients in a recipe. Why has the ingredient been included? Is it purely on the basis of flavour, consistency, texture or the ability to change the other ingredients (like a binding agent, a rising agent, a lightening agent etc)?

The functions of an ingredient may range far beyond the list cited above, and it is important to think about the ingredient as it gives you a better understanding beyond that particular dish, but then on whatever you cook using that ingredient you have an idea of the characteristics of that ingredient and how it behaves and responds.

Honey, like Jam or Marmalade contains sugar – i.e. glucose and fructose. Sugar in any form has a caramelising property when it comes into contact with a heat source. The characteristic flavour of caramel is smoky, sweet goodness. Vegetables like onions and carrots that contain natural sugars caramelise upon cooking, given the right amount of heat and time to do so. In a marinade, caramelising agents are used so that once they coat the meat they will infuse the meat with the flavour that is associated with barbecuing – smoky, sweetness – a taste that the world has come to love!

In other instances, substituting an ingredient with another can be done purposefully to alter or change the recipe to yield a certain flavour, texture, colour or appearance that one may prefer or require for a particular reason. Again, an understanding of both the original ingredient as opposed to the substituted ingredient is vital for the success of the final dish.

For example using ready-made short crust pastry sheets instead of home-made pie dough will make no difference in the end result because they are basically one and the same. However, substituting short crust for puff pastry in a recipe must be done carefully as both have different qualities and are thus used uniquely to each other.

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