By markbodle on 21st November 2016

The exciting edge of dishes isn’t found in the middle ground. Finding the perfect balance and harmony between ingredients doesn’t have to mean flavours can’t dart off in a particular direction. Heading off into deep, dark and heavy flavours is a sure-fire way to create a dish that has integrity. Building layers of satisfying flavours, rich with glutamates is an art in itself, balancing profiles of ingredients like salty anchovies, Parmesan and sun-dried tomatoes. However, in the depth of winter, a time when diners crave these deep and enduring flavours, the comforting roasts can become tiresome, particularly for the kitchen – if December’s onslaught of a thousand Christmas dinners doesn’t make you grow weary, nothing will. But here’s where extremes can be tested. Taking rich, heavy foods that extra step darker, more mysterious. Inserting hidden layers from things like truffles, dried mushrooms, or even dried shrimp paste.
Masters of hitting the dark and heavy with the vibrant and light, are south east Asian cuisines. That aforementioned shrimp paste, fish sauce, or venturing out to Hong Kong’s XO sauce – a punchy seafood sauce that adds cavernous depth to everything from vegetables to roasted meats. The thing is, winter dishes are prime for experimentation and stand up to a lot more than the already delicate and light summery plates.
Acidity is the most often overlooked element in kitchens these days and it’s one that can be experimented with heavily. While we are still in the Asian pantry, Shaoxing rice wine is an incredible partner to any and all braised meats, but adds remarkable, well-paired depth to seafood – particularly scallops.
Citrus is obvious, but often used sparingly in winter. With yuzu enjoying increased enthusiasm from chefs over the past 12 months, this can be a welcome acidity hit in a breadth of dishes, as can the juice of a pomelo.
Other blasts of brightness can be pulled from leftover pickle juice, a thrifty way to cut down on wastage too – particularly when the pickle juice contains caraway, perfect for winter. It’s also worth giving some thought to poaching or braising in fruit juices, pineapple has a pleasant acidic kick and much like Mexican al pastor, it is pretty much best friends with pork. In true Cuban style, you can at least marinate your chicken and pork in a mixture of orange and lime juice, then utilise that run-off in a jus, rather than your traditional gravy.
Whatever culinary restrictions that you may have to work to, or existing regular customer bases you are wary of challenging too much, know there are ways to inject new life into a dish without transforming them too far away from their traditional origins. So reach for the ultra heavy and the super bright, those elements could be just what your kitchen was looking for.