By alexandrawilson on 10th February 2017

There’s a reason overcooked pasta doesn’t taste good and it’s got nothing to do with the flavour. Take the most pristine ingredient, give it too much or too little heat, and it will taste bad. Balancing textures is a technique often overlooked, but one that can deliver the most satisfaction or surprise in a dish.
One of the cornerstones of modernist cuisine, is the transformation of texture. Diners all over the world have certain expectations from ingredients. A tomato, a fresh strawberry, cooked pasta, we know what we are going to get, how it will break down in the mouth. But when those preconceptions are tested, you disrupt mindless eating. Surprise like this is what the Adria’s practiced and taught at El Bulli, but today customers are being wowed by similar techniques everywhere from those high-price Michelin starred restaurants, to dedicated gastro pubs tucked away in Dorset.
Jellification and spherification are no longer such mysterious techniques, yet still deliver a shock to many diners. Dehydrating ingredients to create powders of berries, vegetables or even meats is now more accessible to chefs and has given many a new arsenal of ingredients and kitchen tools. But there are still textural elements in cookery that many western palettes have little appreciation for.
In Asia, there is a deep rooted culture in celebrating textures like crunchy cartilage in chicken or duck feet, the slippery, slimy textures of certain sea creatures not to mention the Korean delicacy of still writhing octopus.
However, some of these boundaries are being pushed with the help of modernist techniques. Asking someone to appreciate a new flavour AND a challenging texture can be too much of a shock or surprise. But we can soften the blow by using a familiar intense flavour such as strawberry or orange, then use them within some of those slimy or slippery textures. Over the course of a tasting menu, it could prime the diner for one of your more challenging dishes.
The long burning trend of Asian cuisines is still going strong and ingredients like Japanese nato are being seen more and more. A product made from fermented soy beans, nato is slimy, funky, and potent, but it offers incredibly unique flavours and is being used in some pretty diverse ways.
It may sound a little obvious, but mastering and playing with texture is a skill that has the power to gain the attention of your diners and elevate dishes to a memory or talking point. Even the simple balance of contrasting of textures can be make or break for a dish. Crunchy, crispy battered fish, against soft, giving potato, is something that makes the iconic British ‘chippy tea’ so special and what separates the bad from the good.
Provenance and freshness are key, but only texture has the power to make your customers stand up and take note.