By Tanya Schaap
Certain flavour combinations will be together for life. I’m talking peanut butter and jelly, chicken and waffles, salt and vinegar, bacon and eggs, wine and cheese. These couples are in it for the long haul.
Simply put, some things taste better together. The humble baked potato reaches new heights when topped with a dollop of sour cream. Pasta transforms into a glorious rich bowl of cacio e pepe with the addition of a little Parmesan and pepper. Okay, maybe a lot of Parmesan and pepper. Even a dish as complex as ramen hits another level with a jammy soft-boiled egg.
In his most recent cookbook, Flavor, best-selling cookbook author Yotam Ottolenghi explains how flavour can be “dialed up” by the pairings within a dish. According to Ottolenghi, the four most important pairing components are sweetness, fat, acidity and chile heat. You won’t always find all four, he says, but in every great dish you’ll find at least two: “Satisfaction is about the combination, the layering, the contrasting of tastes.”
A quintessential pairing like wine and cheese works so beautifully because the acidity in the wine cuts through the fattiness of the cheese and vice versa. Peanut butter and jelly work because the sweetness and acidity from the jam balances the rich fatty saltiness of the peanut butter. The result? A symbiosis of flavour. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
This, of course, is nothing new. Yet once you start paying attention to the components of perfect pairings, you become a better cook. Add an acidic component like oranges to an overly sweet chocolate dessert. Finish roasted asparagus with some olive oil, butter or even a poached egg to add some fatty unctuousness. Once you understand why certain ingredients go together, even the simplest ingredient becomes a canvas for new flavour combinations.
In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, let’s explore some exciting culinary couples sure to please your palate on February 14 and all year long.