While doing a cooking demo at the local high school last week, I reminded myself and the students of a very important step to all good cooking; smell your food.
Wafting those airborne molecules towards your schnoz helps your brain and your taste buds to put the first strokes on the canvas that is your hard earned meal. As items in your pan simmer away, they change chemically and emit different odors at each stage. I smell just about everything before it goes into the mixing bowl or pan. I look for off odors (especially in dairy and protein) and prime my taste buds for the coming tasks. I think that inhaling deeply over a simmering pot gives you a status report on what’s going on inside and what to expect down the road from your ingredients. Are your caramelized onions smelling sweet? Does your carrot and ginger vinaigrette smell exotic and are the two flavors coming together as one spicy condiment?
Like a soup that tastes bland towards the end of the bowl, religiously smelling your food can have a deadening effect on what you taste in the end. Whenever I’m cooking particularly odiferous foodstuffs like curry or heavily spiced dishes, I always step away when I think there is enough. I have someone else give it a taste because I realize that I can no longer smell the curry spices that I am adding to it. My nose is worn out on the smells before me and is looking for something new to experience.
Smell everything all the time. The more you do, the more educated your palate will be in the end.