Day #1: Flavor

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Welcome to Day 1 of the Home Chef Challenge!

We are going to start with one of my absolute favorite concepts… when I learned simple concepts like this one, I suddenly understood how things that don't sound like they'd be good are great…

… like chocolate and sea salt …
… or caramel and cheddar cheese popcorn …

and I got a ton of different ideas for things to try in my kitchen.

Today, in Day 1 of the Home Chef Challenge, we are going to explore flavor profiles and one of the most important ingredients in your kitchen!

Today's Overview

I know… flavor profiles… it sounds a little boring… sounds like we are back in school… but in fact, if I were to teach you only one thing in The Home Chef Challenge, it would be today's content.

Once you learn these basic concepts, your food will improve immediately.

…you'll learn why you need to use salt in the kitchen …

… you'll learn that adding a bit of acid to a dish, like a drop of lemon juice or a splash of vinegar, is a key technique chefs use in their restaurants…

… you'll learn how and why flavors are combined… like why Sour Patch Kids… you know… those sour gummy bears… are so delicious!

So let's get going!

The 5 Basic Tastes

There are five basic tastes… they are:

  • Sweet – signals the presence of sugar, which is a core source of energy, hence, desirable to the human body.
  • Salty – enhances the flavor of foods. Adding salt to traditionally sweet dishes is necessary to amplify the sweet notes.
  • Sour – a taste that detects acidity. A mouth-puckering sour sensation is common in citric fruits such as lemons. The sour taste can also be obtained from foods soured through fermentation such as sauerkraut and yogurt, or through the addition of vinegar.
  • Bitter – most sensitive of the five tastes. Many bitter compounds are known to be toxic, which is why many perceive bitter flavors to be unpleasant. Bitterness can make food more interesting, like the hoppy taste in beer, dark chocolate, or coffee.
  • Umami – described as savory or meaty. It is the most recently identified and accepted of the five basic tastes. Examples include soy sauce, mushrooms, and MSG (monosodium glutamate).
    So those are tastes… but we said we are talking about flavor… well, flavor is the art of combining these tastes together.

So those are tastes… but we said we are talking about flavor… well, flavor is the art of combining these tastes together.

When you do that, you start talking about the foods aroma or its texture… even fancy words like mouthfeel come into play…

… at the end of the day… when we are cooking, flavor is what we care about.

One of the best ways to increase the quality of your food is to combine two of these tastes together.

Here's a quick story about combining flavors to create something incredible:

I remember the first time I went to Chicago, someone told me you NEED to have Garrett's Popcorn… that's right… NEED to have it.

“What's Garrett's Popcorn?” I asked…

“Well… I know this is gonna sound weird, but trust me… it's incredible… it's a mixture of caramel corn with popcorn that has been dusted with powdered cheddar cheese” my friend replied.

“That sounds horrible!!!” I exclaimed.

“Just trust me….” he said confidently.

So, I got to Chicago and made my way to a Garrett's Popcorn store (they are everywhere!) and ordered the caramel and cheddar cheese popcorn. Stuck my hand in and reluctantly put a handful of kernels in my mouth.


Oh… My… God… was it good!

It sounded horrible… but here's why it works… it's mixing tastes to form an incredible flavor. They combine the sweetness of the caramel and the bitterness and saltiness of the cheddar cheese into a legendary mix of sweet and savory.

About Salt

Let's talk about salt for a minute.

This is probably the most important ingredient in a chef's kitchen…

Why you ask?

Well, salt brings out the tastes and flavors of other foods. One of the most important skills a home chef can have is appropriately salting their food. Not enough salt and a dish will be bland, too much and the salt overpowers the other flavors. If you ever taste your food and think that doesn't taste as good as it should… add a bit of salt.

But what kind of salt? There are so many out there…

There are three main variants of salt:

  • Table Salt – has very fine grains and contains potassium iodide and an anti-caking agent that helps prevent it from clumping. The anti-caking agent can give off a metallic taste when used in large quantities.
  • Kosher Salt – has a texture that is light but coarse, which helps avoid over-salting and dissolves easily. It can be used in any application and is quite affordable.
  • Sea Salt – Gathered from evaporated seawater in dry climates, where there are bays and ponds. Large salt crystals are produced when the water evaporates from the salt, creating the lightest and flakiest salt type. Regarded as gourmet and typically very expensive.

Let's start with one thing: Chemically, there is virtually no difference between table salt, Kosher salt, and sea salt.

All of them are close to 100% pure sodium chloride, with a few trace elements thrown into table salt to prevent caking, and with sea salt, they are present when the salt is harvested from the ocean.

But there are a few differences…

The first difference is in its shape. Table salt is basically little cubes, tightly packed together. Kosher salt has long and flaky grains – this makes it easy to pick up, grip between your fingers, and accurately add to your food. Table salt, on the other hand, because it's cubed, will slip out of your hands, making it very difficult to season correctly, often resulting in over-salting.

The second difference is how much room it takes up. This is important if you are measuring by volume. Since different salts have different shapes, a tablespoon of one salt is not equal to a tablespoon of another salt.

Here is a quick breakdown, by weight, of different salts:

  • 1 tablespoon table salt = 18 g
  • 1 tablespoon Diamond Crystal Kosher salt = 9 g
  • 1 tablespoon Maldon sea salt = 7 g

You can see that in a tablespoon of table salt versus Diamond Crystal Kosher salt, there is actually twice as much salt.

What does this mean? Well, you need to know what kind of salt you are using. There is no problem using regular table salt instead of Kosher salt but you will need to use half as much (by volume).

Finally, sea salts are usually very expensive. The best (and really only use for them) is as a finishing salt for your dishes. They obviously add a burst of salt to your food, which is a great way to balance all the other flavors, but they also add texture and crunch. Don't use these expensive salts in your pasta water though!

So… what do we recommend?

In our home kitchen, we use Diamond Crystal Kosher salt, and the recipes we include assume you will as well. But you don't have to! If you want to use table salt, feel free. Your dishes will be just as good… just be careful with some of the volume-based measurements.

Today's Recipe

So, this 7-day challenge is about challenging you to try new things, new recipes, and new techniques in your home kitchen… all with the goal of making you a home chef.

So at the tail end of each day, we'll give you an activity to try. We hope you can try it tonight. I know sometimes things get in the way… but you do need to eat, so think about trying these as soon as possible!

We are going to start off pretty easy:

Chicken Piccata

This is a delicious and simple weeknight recipe, using one of the world's favourite proteins – chicken. Importantly, we are using flavor combinations to create something delicious here. A tangy/sour lemon butter sauce, matched with salty capers!

See this recipe »

Chicken Piccata

This is a delicious and simple weeknight recipe, using one of the world's favourite proteins – chicken. Importantly, we are using flavor combinations to create something delicious here. A tangy/sour lemon butter sauce, matched with salty capers!

Read More »

Finishing Thoughts

I hope you enjoyed Day #1 of the Home Chef Challenge.

Today was a foundational day. The coming days will include a lot more recipes, but understanding your dishes and why they taste good is so important.

If you try the recipe, notice how we are combining flavors! The saltiness of the capers, with the acidity of the wine and lemon juice.

That's a wrap for Day #1. See you tomorrow.

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