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ingredient combining - theory?

post #1 of 18
Thread Starter 
Hi everybody

I want to get a better working knowledge of how to combine ingredients to create new dishes. Im bored of following someone elses recipes. I know people will say "just invent lots of new dishes" but Ive found that its better to have a rough understanding of what your doing and then explore than just mindlessly experimenting. In photography for instance people always say to get good "you need to take lots of photos". Id been doing that for 5 years and getting nowhere untill last month i found 1 great book that really disected what makes a great photo ("learning to see creatively"). Id like the same for cooking.

Artists have color wheels and color scheme rules which allow you to create pleasing combinations. What about for ingredients?

I know from experience that you can have ingredients that contrast such as honey and lime and then those that work together such as banana and peanut butter. Are there any books that discuss such patterns? And i know that true artistry doesnt follow rules but in order to break the rules you first need to know what they are.


books, links, tips will all be greatly appreciated.
post #2 of 18
Two books by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page: The Flavor Bible which just came out last year and their earlier Culinary Artistry are just what you are looking for.
"Notorious stickler" -- The New York Times, January 4, 2004
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"Notorious stickler" -- The New York Times, January 4, 2004
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post #3 of 18
are the books on amazon?
post #4 of 18
:look:

Ummm those are amazon links, click them.
post #5 of 18
If your going to buy off of Amazon use the link provided thru ChefTalk. Look for it set-up as a forum link.


I've often wondered the same thing. Did you ever see one of the electrician's reference pocketbooks? There are several out there, Ugly's is just one of them. But it's designed to be a useful pocketbook that you can carry on the job site that's filled with useful, to the point information for referencing/cross referencing.

that's what I pictured when I once asked BDL if he came in a pocketbook version. You can view your job site, as an at home cook, as anywhere you may be cooking or pre-planning your meals. If you've got a question regarding herbs and spices on a certain meat that work well (or not) you can find that information in the quick reference book. Accompaniments or side dishes that would go with that flavor combination. Useful conversions. Possible substitutions. A chart on what types of meat can take what type of cooking method. A troubleshooting section with remedies.

Would this be best achieved in a strict bullet type presentation? Or maybe set up so similar items can reference the same "go to" pages where questions/answers/answers/answers may be set up similar to an ERG book? Or maybe an algorithm or "code" type presentation may work best.

I think there are several presentations that may prove useful. But I believe there is a market out there for the at home cook who is looking for something a little more from themselves. A quick reference to not only technique and simple do's and don'ts, but also aiding in the thought process that goes into building a flavor profile for a dish...and that meal. Something that would be as useful for quick-referencing information not only when your cooking, but also when your planning the meal or shopping for fresh ingredients at the store.

just a thought...or two ;)

dan
post #6 of 18
There was also a discussion here not too long ago where we discussed food pairings, essentially what flavor combinations go together really well, you might like to have a look at it as a starting point.

http://www.cheftalk.com/forums/food-...ect-pairs.html

"You are what you eat, so don't be fast, cheap, easy, or fake."

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"You are what you eat, so don't be fast, cheap, easy, or fake."

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post #7 of 18
Your photography example is a good one. Your own personal experience is educational, but also look at classic photos. Watch where your eye goes. Why does the composition work. And so on.

The same applies to food. Look at the recipe. What are the ingredients. What are the ratios? Analyze the food and see if you taste those ingredients and what role those flavors play in the dish.

The actual cooking is like the darkroom. Taste as you're cooking so you learn how ingredients taste at different levels of cooking. They'll taste differently at different points in the cooking. It's often useful to add the same ingredient at different points in the cooking so you get a well cooked flavor, a less cooked fresher flavor and so on. This is particularly true with spices and seasoning. This creates layers and nuances in the dish.

With practice in analyzing the ingredients, cooking and results, you'll develop your own ability to create recipes or tweak them more to your liking. You'll know how much of this you can add to that without overpowering it.

Paul Kirk goes through this for barbecue rubs and sauces in his excellent book Paul Kirk's Championship Barbecue Sauces: 175 Make-Your-Own Sauces, Marinades, Dry Rubs, Wet Rubs, Mops, and Salsas It's a surprisingly nuanced book that you won't grasp as a beginning cook. But there's a lot between the lines Give it a try after some practice on your own.
Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
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Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
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post #8 of 18
I should add, there is no universal theory of combining ingredients. Each cuisine represents a different view of proper combination.

As a gross generalization, Western cuisine focuses on harmony and blended flavors, Eastern cuisine focuses on contrasts and distinct simultaneous flavors.

Chinese cuisine has a perhaps more codified theory on ingredients that ties into a whole philosophy. Ingredients are yin and yang, but also from metal, fire, earth, wind and sea (I think those are the classifications) as well as how its cooked affecting those classifications. The cook chooses different balances in the meal according to a number of issues to maintain or restore proper balance in the diner.
Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
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Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
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post #9 of 18
I was thinking about this last night, you kind of have to come to terms with "most likely it's been done" so, every idea you might have google it for some "refinement" of your idea. Not that that's bad. But, from my understanding it's not like you want to be one of a kind innovative, but rather juts understand flavor combination. I pondered this at 3:30am last night when I couldn't sleep, and while i don't have an answer I have some silly theorys that probably don't hold water:

- the more different things you eat, and the better memory you have, is a big key.
- it's kind of a far far more sophisticated version of balancing a (real) cocktail, and I can't get my head even around that...yet.
- gotta experiment. Which most people don't have time for.
- being innovative in the kitchen is absolutely a huge talent and a huge artform.
post #10 of 18
I think most ppl take a different approach but I like to see flavors and colors and relate the two. High notes or citrus to me is bright so I use yellows and oranges and then look to balance them with something darker or brown, bell peppers and spicey chili's may be a green and need somethinkg sweet to balance them like a brown sugar or molasses. Steaks are dark and like to be lightened up with herbs and garlic or even complimented with wine which will help cut the fat with a pink or red note. Do you see where I am going? It works for me and was a real eye opener when it was explained to me by two of the chefs who helped me understand flavors and food.
Taste: The sensation derived from food, as interpreted thru the tongue to brain sensory system.
Flavor: The overall impression combining taste, odor, mouthfeel and trigeminal perception.
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Taste: The sensation derived from food, as interpreted thru the tongue to brain sensory system.
Flavor: The overall impression combining taste, odor, mouthfeel and trigeminal perception.
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post #11 of 18
While not the end-all be-all bible that some claim it to be, Kitchen Conversations is a book that would help you in this endeavor.
Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
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Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
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post #12 of 18
As the great Chef Andre Soltner of Lutece fame once said,: No one invents new dishes, they just alter other ones::chef:
CHEFED
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CHEFED
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post #13 of 18
>No one invents new dishes, they just alter other ones:<

Sometimes unknowingly.

The other night I was "creating" a sauce. Mentally thinking of it as a roasted red pepper aioli, I combined mayo with roasted red peppers and a couple of minced garlic cloves. It needed a bit more color, I thought, and a hint more acid, so added a squeeze of tomato paste.

Voila!

Except, while browsing James Peterson's excellent Sauces, what do I come across but a formula for Sauce Andalouse---in all essentials the sauce I had just created.

>Im bored of following someone elses recipes.<

I suspect, thegeezer3, that that's all you've done: followed the recipes. What you should be doing is mentally analyzing the recipe: why those ingredients?; how do they work together?; what makes this a tasty dish?; how would I change it next time?. Eventually you'll reach an understanding about how flavors come together, and will be creating Sauce Andalouses of your own.

Same with your photography. If you take a thousand photos, and pay attention to the results, it is almost impossible to not learn what makes a good photo. The key is to analyze both the good ones and the bad ones to understand what makes them so.

Sure, there are design and composition books that can teach you the "rules." But truly understanding how those rules work, in practice, is only done by doing.

In both photography and cookery, time in grade certainly counts for a lot---more so than the later than the former. But time in grade, alone, does not count unless you learn along the way. Reminds me of a colleague who once described someone else, who'd been on the job for almost a quarter century, as having had one year's experience 24 times. That's the syndrome you want to avoid.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #14 of 18
KY's hit the nail on the head, I think. Geezer, you've got to stop thinking of it as following recipes.

Start by reading Pepin's Complete Techniques. Now divide a couple of your favorite recipes into two blocks: ingredients and technique. Write down the ingredients to remind you, but don't include any quantities -- just think about proportions. Write the names of the techniques, but no instructions. Now execute the dishes.

Now open up your fridge and pull out everything you really ought to be cooking ASAP. Repeat the process: think, "what techniques do I use to make these random things into good food?"

Keep going from there. Pretty soon you'll find that recipes read differently. You read them and think, "hmm, I hadn't thought about doing X to Y, and that dab of Z in it makes good sense." Then you go to the kitchen and execute the dish... without the cookbook.

Not that cookbooks are bad or something. But until you are truly free of them you can't use them with more enjoyment than you've been getting. You're stuck in the "somebody else's recipe" rut. Get out of it. Once you're out, "somebody else's recipe" will become fun again, for quite different reasons. That's when you're actually learning to cook.
post #15 of 18
Hi.. i think that was a nice thread which you started... your question is what each and every chef on earth would think at times.. i have also thought of this point and hence tried some weird combination of ingredients.. sometimes it came out well sometimes it did not.. i dont think we need any rules and tis.. it is all based on basic instincts of a chef or cooking personnel..
post #16 of 18
Hi all,

I ended up going to the library and getting The Flavor Bible:by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg. After even a quick start to this I suspect I'll be purchasing this book very soon in the future.

dan
post #17 of 18
If one was to look at flavour combinations and look between the lines, several concepts in kind come to the fore.

Acidic food sauces generally combine or accompany fatty types of meat. Duck with orange sauce, Beef with red wine sauce/jus etc. The reason for such combinations is that the acidity of the sauce serves to cut through the richness of the red or game meat making it easier to digest.

Likewise, white meats like chicken and fish generally receive fat based or emulsion sauces to offset the dryness of the meat.

Even in chinese cookery, the usage of light and heavy soy sauces refer to the type of meat being used.

That is pretty much stage 1.

Other techniques I use is association. Once at college, I had to make pumpernickel bavarois. By smelling the pumpernickel and having it trigger memories of fruit cake, I added mixed fruit macerated in brandy and it worked.

Yet another method I use is partly connected to the above, In that I would pair foods from the wild with the actual animal. An example would be mixed berries paired with venison.

But anyway.
"Nothing quite like the feeling of something newl"
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"Nothing quite like the feeling of something newl"
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post #18 of 18
If you're interested in the basics of the Chinese approach to ingredient combination, you should pick up a copy of Lin Hsiang-ru's The Art of Chinese Cuisine. The longer chunks of prose were written by her father, Lin Yutang, one of the great Chinese aesthetes and literary giants of the early-middle 20th century. His discussion of how ingredients are classified and how one thinks about their interactions is amazing.
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