Burning is the nightmare of any chef, whether at home or at a restaurant. Yet, overcooking and charring actually can help a dish, giving it a new layer of flavor and texture. It's a method not for the fainthearted but for the more daring cook.
The famed blogger, Tejal, Rao, wrote about the method in today's New York Times Food section. Burning food is long a tradition in Mexican and Caribbean cuisines,along with Southeast Asian. Caramelized sugar helps chefs with a limited arsenal of ingredients. According to cookbook author and cooking teacher, Andrea Nguyen, the Vietnamese use the mix of sugar and water overcooked to a golden russet on a regular basis. Nuoc mau. , as they call it, is made in clay pots over simple stoves.Once made,it's used in marinades and pots of simmering meat. The result is a kind of replacement for the Maillard reaction, the chemical swirl of amino acids and sugars which results in distinct savory notes in browned foods.It's big in West Indian cooking too. Chef Rawlston Williams employs it in many of his, learning it as a child in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.It's a major ingredient in his marinades and braised lamb shanks at his Brooklyn restaurant , Food Sermon. It also plays an important part in black cake, a molasses colored fruitcake.
Mexican cuisine also chars and toasts.. New York's famed Mexican restaurant ,Lalo features it , thanks to its' chef and owner, Geraldo Gonzalez . He uses it in his moles ,starting with toasting almonds,cashews, peanuts and pumpkin seeds to a deep , deep brown. He chars tomatillos too along with citrus because it produces an intense , almost meatlike depth of flavor. He does avoid charring meats because doing such does pose a health risk. According to Britian's Food Standard's Agency starchy foods such as potatoes and breads should not be cooked at high temperatures. This produces acrylamide which has been found to cause cancer in animals. Our own Food and Drug Administration does not know at what level can this occur. It is safe for anyone to eat burnt, crusts in small amounts which makes it okay to try the accompanying recipe from chef and cookbook author, Jennifer McLagan. It's a burned toast soup, based on a French country dish. It involves over toasting
sourdough bread, then soaking it in chicken stock.It' blended with steamed milk, vinegar and mustard. for a different take on cream soups.
Any chef, especially home ones should walk on the edge and try charring or burning. Start small and then work up to creating sauces with it.It'll give a different layer of taste and texture to any dish , savory or sweet.