Even though taste is the most important aspect of any dish, there are several other factors that can further enhance the flavours of food.
Our taste buds can only perceive five basic tastes, namely, sweetness, sourness, saltiness, bitterness, and umami (savoury). Therefore, we must also rely on other sense organs, such as the nose, eyes, and ears, to make food taste even better. Our sense of smell (olfaction), in particular, can greatly improve food flavours.
Speaking of our sense of smell, different cuisines use aromas in varying ways to achieve distinctive results. In Thai cuisine, the focus is usually on storytelling, complex ingredients, meticulous cooking methods, as well as appealing aromas.
The following 7 tips will help add aroma to enhance the taste of your favourite Thai dishes.
1. Spice in an amount that’s just nice
Spices feature heavily in Thai food, as they help accentuate the taste of high-quality ingredients and enhance flavours. However, spices should be used sparingly and in well-balanced proportions: too much and they can overpower a dish; too little, and the flavour will be too subtle. With this in mind, you’ll be sure to create a well-balanced dish that’s both aromatic and appetising.
2. Presentable, bite-size pieces
Some people might think that chopping up ingredients into ready-to-eat pieces adds extra work. In fact, not only does this step ensure a presentable and appetising dish, it also affects how the food is cooked, especially for quick stir-fry dishes. Slicing the ingredients into bite-size pieces ensures they are cooked more thoroughly too.
3. Don’t overcook
This is very important, since overcooking can make food turn mushy and look unappetising. Overcooking can also lessen the cooking aromas.
4. Prep the ingredients to suit the cooking method
When cooking fried dishes and stir-fries, it’s important that the ingredients stay dry to prevent oil from spattering during cooking. If the ingredients are not dry, the taste and aromas of a dish will also be affected.
5. Order is crucial
It is important to consider the order in which each of the ingredients is cooked. If ingredients are added in the wrong order, some of them may become overcooked or undercooked. In stir-fry dishes, for example, garlic, onions or ginger must be fried first, since these herbs will become aromatic when exposed to heat. Then, the ingredients that take relatively longer to cook should be added. For instance, pork should be cooked first, followed by vegetable stems and leaves. Simply follow this method and you’ll have a well-cooked aromatic dish.
6. Use a high heat
Cooking with a high heat is a sure way to extract the best aromas from food. Using a medium or low heat, on the other hand, will drain water from the ingredients, thereby diluting the flavours and aromas of the food.
7. Mix and match for best results
Different cooking techniques yield different results, depending on the desired dish. For example, while salt brings out the flavours of raw garlic, using oil to marinate it yields a more balanced result. For a sweeter and more aromatic garlic, try roasting it, but be careful not to burn it.