February 9, 2010

Dim Sum: The 5 Tastes

Dim Sum is a great way to sample a few dishes if you're someone like me who can never decide what to have on the menu. A lot of Dim Sum is also very healthy as many of the dishes come steamed (for example dumplings), but of course for those who prefer food to watching waistlines you can be as naughty as you like.

I learnt how to cook some great dishes courtesy of the Angela Malik cookery school, with favourites including King Prawn Toasts, Spring Rolls and Stuffed Gyoza Dumplings, so all credit for my Dim Sum posts must go to Angela who was an excellent teacher and I would highly recommend (classes available in Cambridge and London).

Before I get started on the dishes, I want to share with you a few useful taste tips that I picked up.

The 5 Tastes

Different foods produce different flavours, and all of these can be defined in five tastes:
  • Hot
  • Salty
  • Sweet
  • Sour
  • Bitter (Umami - comes from Japan)

These five elements may not always be exactly what you expect. For example, coriander is considered a 'hot' taste. Try chewing a leaf; the flavour is distinctive as coriander, but the feeling in your mouth produces a hot sensation. This goes for other herbs and leaves, for example rocket and watercress.

When deciding what flavours to put together in your recipes, there are different combinations of the five tastes that really work well together:

Hot + Sweet

Bitter + Sweet

Salt + Sour

Sweet + sour

The great thing about these combinations is that you can work them into any recipe whether Dim Sum, Indian (e.g. curry + chutney), British (roast beef + horseradish) or any cuisine you fancy - and even drinks (e.g. Margaritas with salt). If like me you are sometimes unsure of what flavours will work well together these are some great simple rules to adhere to.

Here are a few ideas of how to define certain foods, and I'm sure you will begin to understand these tastes as you go along.

  • Herbs and leaves (rocket, coriander, watercress, mustard leaves)
  • Spices (cayenne peper, paprike, red chilli, green chilli, pepper, coriander seeds)
  • Condiments (mustards, horseradish, wasabi, ginger, galangal)

  • Salted fish (anchovies, cod, dried squid, dried prawns)
  • Smoked fish (smoked salmon, smoked tuna, smoked mackerel)
  • Smoked meats (smoked ham, smoked beef, smoked pork)
  • Cured meats (prosciutto, salami, chorizo)
  • Natural and smoked cheeses (pecorino, feta, haloumi, parmesan)

  • Bitter leaves / salad leaves (dandelion, chicory, frisee lettuce, spinach)
  • Berries (blackcurrants)
  • Game birds and meats (venison, wild board, pigeon, wild duck)
  • Condiments (soya sauce, miso, dark chocolate, red wine, vinegars)
  • Umami flavours (Bovril, Marmite, MSG)

  • Roasted veg and nuts (beetroot, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, almonds, peanuts)
  • Green veg (peas, broad beans, asparagus, cucumber)
  • Ripe fruits and their juices (mangoes, bananas, nectarines, grapes, figs)
  • Dried fruit (dates, apricots, sultanas, raisins)
  • Seafood (clams, mussels, crab, lobster)
  • Firm white-fleshed fish (monkfish, halibut, turbot, sea bream)
  • Oily fish (fresh tuna, swordfish, salmon)
  • Dairy products (cream cheese, mascapone, coconut milk)
  • Sweeteners (honey, palm sugar, maple syrup)
  • Herbs and spices (basil, cinnamon, allspice, saffron, nutmeg)

  • Citrus (lemon juice, lemon zest, kaffir lime leaves and juice, lemongrass)
  • Other fruits (tamarind, apples, gooseberries, rhubarb, pineapple)
  • Dried fruits (cranberries, sour cherries)
  • Unripe fruit and veg (green tomatoes, green olives, green mangoes)
  • Herbs (tarragon, dill, fennel, mustard leaves, coriander)
  • Dairy products (creme fraiche, sour cream, yoghurt)
  • Vinegars (malt, sherry, red wine, white wine, cider, raspberry, balsamic)
  • Pickles (chutneys, relishes, gherkins, pickled ginger, olives)
  • Spices and seeds (fennel seeds, stair anise, juniper berries)
  • Fermented spirits (Pernod, campari, gin)