The Color of Flavor

The Color of Flavor

In all the talk about healthy eating, flavor rarely gets its due, but there's no point in preparing a meal that no one wants to eat. Great taste should be the end goal every time you enter the kitchen. The good news is that there are a few key cooking techniques that help you bring out the best in whatever you're cooking.

One way to make any food taste its best is to give it a good crust. Whether you're making toast, grilling a steak, or roasting a head of cauliflower, brown is the color of flavor.

A good sear delivers more than just color, it also produces aromatic compounds that adds a complexity and depth of flavor not found in raw ingredients. It's called the Maillard Reaction, named for Louis Camille Maillard, the French scientist who first described the process. It happens when both sugars and proteins are heated to the point that they begin to color. 

One of the main challenges of browning is to get the surface of the food hot and dry enough to color without overcooking. One key strategy is to pat the meat dry before it hits the pan. Removing any excess moisture helps the color develop more quickly. High temperatures help, too, but only up to a point. Burning (otherwise known as pyrolysis, if you really want to geek out) is a very real risk when trying to get a good sear on your food. While a little bit of char can be a good thing, blackened food can quickly turn bitter. It may also be carcinogenic, so keep an eye on whatever you're browning and don't overdo it.

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