I adore Anthony Bourdain, he’s unflinchingly honest, sometimes to the point of brutality, and his innocent mistakes can reveal how beautifully messed up in the head he is. I found one such mistake in one of his Top Chef blogs (I’m searching desperately for it, link coming) in which he misquoted Nigella Lawson as saying that Sugar, Salt, and Fat are the Holy Trinity of flavor. Close, but not quite Tony. Dear Nigella said that Sugar, Salt and Fat are the UNholy Trinity of Flavor. A small but careful distinction that acknowledges that any excess of the three can be dangerous to your health, your palate, or both.

I just finished making truffles (Yes, I know it’s almost 2am but it’s a project I started almost 3 weeks ago and couldn’t put it off any more). Chocolate is a great example of the elements of flavor coming together to create perfection, and when things go wrong, a terrible mess. This was my first foray into vegan candy making, and I swapped out heavy cream for coconut milk. The taste was excellent, a deeper true-er chocolate flavor but I failed to take into account that the lack of milkfat would cause the ganache to set too soft to roll. Fat (be it from dairy, animal, fruit, or nut) serves a purpose, in that it helps bind other elements to create new textures and flavors, and helps flavors cling to your tongue so your tastebuds have time to engage. But fat is not a flavor unto itself. Let me say it again, it’s important.

FAT IS NOT A FLAVOR

The nastiest thing i’ve ever seen was Paula Deen eating butter flat-out. And one of the nastiest things I’ve ever eaten was a crab rangoon with fat-free cream cheese.  All things in moderation, Friends.

Now, regarding sugar. That’s a bit more complex but the basic idea is the same -sugar is not a flavor, but an enhancer, an element. When used properly it highlights the quality of whatever it is in / on. Find the closest piece of chocolate. G’head, I’ll wait….

Back? Cool. Can you taste the grit of sugar on your tongue, between your teeth? Does it crumble as you chew? Spit it out, it’s shite!

Next time you’re in a grocery store and buy chocolate at the register instead of in an aisle, know that i’m judging you harshly.

Proper, high quality dark chocolate  should melt smooth in your mouth and be difficult to break by hand – that’s a sign that it’s got a high cocoa to sugar ratio, has not been exposed to moisture, and has been properly tempered. Sugar serves to make the natural bitterness of cacao more palatable. American chocolate tends to be excessively sweet. Mexican chocolate has a more coarsely ground nib and often adds spices, resulting in an intense flavor that works equally well in sweet or savory dishes. Good chocolate doesn’t have to be expensive;  the stuff I use for the truffles I get from the dollar store. Budget delicious FTW!

Finally, on to salt. I’ve just started using sea salt and haven’t decided if I like it yet. The taste is too intense, too…. salty. I also have kosher salt, seasoned salt, and adobo, which, yes, is mostly salt with some onion and garlic powders. I try to use them all sparingly and appropriately and have barely made a dent in the supplies i bought when stocking my kitchen 3 years ago.  Sea Salt especially seems to be the new ‘thing’ in confectioneries. By nature it’s not easily water soluble and adds a sharp contrasting flavor and crunch to the chocolate I directed you to just a paragraph ago. It started as a gourmet pairing but just last week i saw Lindt offering it’s own Sea Salt Dark Chocolate bar in the supermarket. This is in direct contrast to my personal opinion that salt is not a flavor and many people confuse salty with savory. If you taste salt first and foremost after you’ve added to any food you’ve gone too far. It’s about developing layers of flavor, and about creating the chemical reactions with the food. Example: Kosher salt + onions + low heat = caremalization. The salt draws out the water, leaving only the intense natural sugars of the onion.

Next time you’re cooking and think “hmm, this needs salt” add 1/2 as much as you ‘re inclined to, then add acid. Citrus (juice or zest), vinegar; it can draw out the existing flavor and help your brain recognize the salt that’s already present.

In short. sugar, salt, and fat are all necessary but all alone are not delicious… they just make other things delicious.

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