I don’t know about you, but I love ACID.
Not that kind, really, I’m not a druggie. I am addicted to using all kids of acid in the kitchen, though.
Why the hype about acid? The acid and salt in your food is what makes it taste so good in a restaurant. If you want something to taste bright and dance along the tongue, acid is what you need. Even if you don’t want that the be the focus of your dish, acid cuts through the richness of a plate and refreshes your palate so you want to keep eating it.
The salt/acid balance of food is something that line cooks finely hone over their days of preparing the same dishes, over and over. You know when you get it right because the flavors of the ingredients all burst out and fill your mouth with each one of their unique flavors, without overwhelming each other.
I don’t use a lot of salt in my cooking, but I definitely use acid in everything. I think that it’s probably the biggest factor in making my food feel fresher and lighter and healthier as I eat it.
The Big Acid Categories are CITRUS and VINEGAR. Can you get a kick of sour acid from yogurt? Yes, but it’s far more noticeable with other ingredients with an addition of juice.
- Lemon- Bright, fresh, and the most sour, lemon juice is the most common acid used in American kitchens. We add lemon juice to risotto, to salads, to fish, to literally every dish. One of my favorite ways to cut the lip curling acidity, but keep the juice is to grill the lemons. Cut them in half, rub a little oil on the cut side, and grill until they are GBD- Golden Brown Delicious.
- Meyer Lemon- A sweeter, more subtle cousin, Meyer lemons are a special treat for chefs, as they are only available during the winter in most parts of the United States. To get a strong hit of acid, you would need to use regular lemon to bump up the Meyer lemon juice, or embrace it, and make it the star of your dish. One of my favorite resources, The Flavor Bible, recommends it as an accompaniment to the flavor of other citrus, as an addition to cream, or sugar, but I have seen it used successfully in a “relish”, essentially a combination of tons of chopped herbs, the pulp of the lemons, and some olive oil. Now tell me that doesn’t sound good on top of some grilled tofu, corn, or fish!
- Lime- Probably the most used citrus outside of traditional French and American cooking, limes offer a more subtle and chlorophyll filled flavor that favors Asian and Latin cooking. I have gotten away from dressing my salads with lemons and olive oil, and started using limes instead. One of my favorite quick dinners is a Morning Star Black Bean Burger with Trader Joe’s Salsa Verde, some feta, and a bunch of greens, dressed with lime and OO.
- Key Lime- These little babies are just so cute! But a right pain in the ass to get any juice out on your own. I usually buy Nellie & Joe’s Key Lime Juice if I am going to make a Key Lime Pie, but I rarely look for the tiny guys unless I want them for plating.
- Kaffir Lime- This citrus is a bumpy, vibrant cousin from SE Asia and it is the best for curries and stews that rely heavily on the regional trio of garlic, ginger, and green onion. You often will have a hard time finding Kaffir Lime in the US, but try to get your hands on their double hearted leafs to use in those soups. They are the coolest shape, have a very unique (not unpleasantly so) aroma, and add a great flavor that echos authenticity.
- Orange- Not usually thought of a strong acidic contender, oranges bring a more robust and sweeter flavor that blends flawlessly with Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food. I use orange juice in dressings, braising carrots, and for marinating, especially with spicy marinades where I need to balance the strong heat with a flavor my taste buds want more of. (Hint: this is why Americanized Chinese food is often so sweet- it takes away from the high spice levels that the Chinese, specifically in Sichuan province,traditionally use.)
- Blood Orange- Also not a super tart member of the citrus family, blood oranges are more known for their color than their flavor. An amazing combination is a Blood Orange and Mint dressing that I adore with just some toasted almonds, but can absolutely be used as either a marinade or a finishing sauce for any grilled items.
- Mandarin Oranges- Mandarin oranges were the bane of my existence when I was little- I hated those fruit cups, blegh! Today, the make a great addition to a fruit compote, a dressing, or salad component.
- Grapefruit- I’m the first person who will admit that I am so not a fan of grapefruit. I spit out grapefruit gummy bears, for goodness sake! However, I have had some fantastic salads that use grapefruit juice in their dressings and one of my favorite desserts of all time included a candied grapefruit peel. Its father, the Pomelo, is much more prominent in SE Asian cuisines, and has a similar, but less obscenely tart flavor.
- Kumquat- OMG, if I could get my hands back on a pan roasted pigeon with some kumquat mostarda, I- well, I can’t get my hands on it right now, but that dish has stuck with me. Kumquats have a unique feature, besides being adorable. You can eat the entire thing! No peeling, woohoo! They are super tangy, and I love slicing them really thin and tossing them in a salad, or using a kumquat jam to make a dressing.
WHEW! We’re already hitting near the quadruple digits here people! Next week, we take on the mother: VINEGAR.