BooksHow to CookIce Cream & Frozen DessertsIngredientsTips & Techniques

A Simple Tweak for More Chocolatey Chocolate (& Brighter Sautéed Greens, Too)

7 Save

If you like it, save it!

Save and organize all of the stuff you love in one place.

Got it!

If you like something…

Click the heart, it's called favoriting. Favorite the stuff you like.

Got it!

Inspired by The Art of Flavor, we're explaining (a few of) the major principles you need to be a creative, more confident cook. Check back throughout the week to learn all of the flavor rules.

Before we dive into the third and fourth rules of flavor (for a refresher on the first two, look here and here), consider an organizational system that comes from the parfumerie (where the book's co-author Mandy Aftel crafts her artisan perfumes) and the musical studio. As in fragrance and music, in the world of flavor, there exist three broad categories (which, of course, are altered by cooking method and accompaniments—so take them with a, har har har, grain of salt):

Advertisement
  1. Base notes: ingredients that anchor the dish and provide depth; these are a sounding board for the other flavors
  2. Top notes: like herbs and spices, these lift the dish, providing lightness and finesse
  3. Middle notes: these ingredients connect the top and bottom, rounding out the final product and often adding richness

Understanding these three groups, and where the materials you're working with fit in, will allow you to conduct the notes so that they create harmony, not dissonance.

Which brings us to the third rule...

Photo by Emily Dryden

The base notes often act as the foundation of the dish, taking up the most physical real estate. But especially in traditional comfort foods—pot roast, pudding, congee, mashed potatoes—they're also the heaviest, densest, and flattest flavors. They may compose the bulk of the plate, but they're not necessarily the most memorable or significant.

Advertisement

How can you boost a heavy or monotonous dish so that eating it doesn't feel like completing a marathon (or, more likely, watching a never-ending movie)? As is the case with like ingredients, which need a contrasting note, base notes need a boost from a top note—a hit of acid, the freshness of an herb, the balance of salt (like on that chocolate sorbet pictured below). An all-black outfit needs a colorful scarf (or at least a shiny necklace or spiffy belt buckle).

Swoooosh.
Swoooosh. Photo by Emily Dryden

How does this rule translate to the kitchen?

Practical ideas for lifting up your heavy or one-note dishes:

  • Meat: Introduce lifting notes via puckery preserved lemons, sweet-tart pomegranate molasses and seeds, balsamic vinegar (and raisins that have plumped in it), briny olives, or a fresh herb-based marinade or sauce.
Braised Moroccan Chicken and Olives

Braised Moroccan Chicken and Olives by Sonali aka the Foodie Physi...

Pomegranate Braised Lamb Shanks

Pomegranate Braised Lamb Shanks by ieatthepeach

Chipotle Braised Lamb Tacos with Balsamic-Soaked Raisins

Chipotle Braised Lamb Tacos with Balsamic-Soaked Raisins by clintonhillbilly

Roofeeo's Simple Grilled Chimichurri Marinated Skirt Steak

Roofeeo's Simple Grilled Chimichurri Marinated Skirt Steak by Roofeeo

Short Rib and Pumpkin Chili

Short Rib and Pumpkin Chili by Pete

Chicken Cutlets Grilled in Charmoula with Quick-Cured Lemon Confit

Chicken Cutlets Grilled in Charmoula with Quick-Cured Lem... by creamtea

  • Greens: Heavy flavors aren't always meaty and rich—even greens, when sautéed till tender, can lose their brightness and turn flat. "Without exception," write the authors, "acids like lemon and vinegar make cooked greens tastier, but the exact kind of acid that might work best and the effect it will create varies with the greens." Try adding lemon zest and juice to sautéed kale (with white beans as a middle note) and sherry vinegar or sour cream to beet greens.
Heidi Swanson's Pan-Fried Giant White Beans with Kale

Heidi Swanson's Pan-Fried Giant White Beans with Kale by Genius Recipes

Pink Greens

Pink Greens by Marissa Grace

  • Grain salads: Because grains have a homogenous flavor, Patterson suggests adding middle notes in the form of additional sweet, flat flavors, like cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, shredded brussels sprouts, or roasted sweet potatoes (among other vegetables and fruits). That way, you'll have a greater bulk of stuff to absorb the acidity and herbs that will rev up the whole salad. Try adding salty olives or feta cheese, lemon juice and dill, or peppery arugula and a generous amount of red wine vinegar.
Heidi Swanson's Mostly Olive Salad, With Some Farro

Heidi Swanson's Mostly Olive Salad, With Some Farro by Sarah Jampel

Farro Salad with Onion Confit, Persimmon, and Arugula

Farro Salad with Onion Confit, Persimmon, and Arugula by Josh Cohen

  • Brownies and chocolate cake, ice cream, pudding, cream pie... can all be lifted with a sprinkle of flaky salt (Alice Medrich and David Lebovitz know this well). A touch of salt will bring back chocolate's savory elements, leading it away from the scary world of tooth- or tummy-aching sweetness or richness.
Alice Medrich's Best Cocoa Brownies

Alice Medrich's Best Cocoa Brownies by Genius Recipes

Chocolate Torte with Almonds and Sea Salt

Chocolate Torte with Almonds and Sea Salt by Alice Medrich

Olive Oil Pancakes with Dark Chocolate and Sea Salt

Olive Oil Pancakes with Dark Chocolate and Sea Salt by arielleclementine

Salted Double-Chocolate Olive Oil Cookies

Salted Double-Chocolate Olive Oil Cookies by Phyllis Grant

Now that you've studied up, there's nothing like some chocolate sorbet for a bit of practice, right?

3e23144f 1c76 42c5 80a8 244a56235334  food52 01 15 13 5233

David Lebovitz's Chocolate Sorbet

8a456b44 3c6a 4e34 8371 61e78852cc87  7029531297 620861934a z Genius Recipes
1,886 Save
Makes about 1 quart (1 liter)
  • 2 1/4 cups (555 ml) water
  • 1 cup (200 g) sugar
  • 3/4 cup (75 g) unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • 6 ounces (170 g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Go to Recipe

Check out the first three rules of flavor below, and come back tomorrow to see the fourth (and final!):

How do you save a dish that's just too heavy? Tell us in the comments below!