Sunday, March 26, 2006

Refining Our Craft- a Tantric Taste

by McAuliflower from Brownie Points

When I'm writing a post about a new recipe I am currently infatuated with, I tend to get caught up with my image taking. Getting nice light, a good angle, and nice color saturation all lends itself to a yummy landscape. Sure a picture speaks a thousand words, but what I'm often finding in my posts and others' is a lack of description on how it tastes.

A quick scan of a recipe will usually give us a sense of the general idea, but it doesn't serve as a complete substitute for a good description of how these flavors played themselves out in your mouth.

What I'm ultimately seeking is a moment frozen into a sentence or two, a virtual lick of your spoon. A description that will seduce me beyond looking at your blog's picture and move me to recreate your scoop of bliss.

Do you smell your morsel before the spoon gets to your mouth? Does it taste like it smells? Is it crunchy, limp, smooth, gritty? What flavor hits first? What note remains in your mouth one minute later? After your dishes are put away, do you still taste your meal? What else did it really taste good with?

Flavor/Aroma and Texture

A quick scan of some of my favorite cookbooks and blogs yielded the following quotes. Some seem trite, some hit a memory spot. however, they build expectation and trigger a sense of what the dish will yield.
  • delicate texture

  • enhance the velvety finish

  • succulent in its richness and luxuriously smooth on the palate

  • tender, crumbly crust- almost like a cookie

  • adds a fruity sourness to sauces that works well with the umami sweetness of seared food

  • tastes simple, intense, even more like itself: clean, delicate, and verdant. It melts seamlessly into a light custard, morphing into a smooth, silky thing

  • has an intense fruity, sour taste which enhances the delicate sweetness of the fish

  • salt enhances the sweetness of butter

  • adds a sweet sour note that refreshes

  • earthy and soothing, a rich yolk running to meet sweet, garlicky broth, inviting slurps, burps, and other lapses in decorum

A list such as this can read like an episode of Iron Chef. Every recipe doesn't have to be so grand, but a little bit of tantric tasting every now and then won't hurt your readership.


Andrew said...

sounds like a tasting note for food much like a tasting note for a wine. Why is it that wine has such details but nothing else does?

Sam said...

Mcauliflower - I imagine because it is so hard to write and get right is why it gets glossed over.

Anonymous said...

Why is it that wine has such details but nothing else does?

Cause we use food terms to describe wine. You can describe a wine as having "apricot nuances" but can you describe an apricot that way?

Next time I have an apricot I'm gonna say "This has essence of 2004 Pinot Noir from the Marlborough Region of NZ."

Sam said...

paul you are cracking me up. I wanted to make the point but I couldn't think of a smart way of saying it like you did. Tee hee - good one!

Kalyn Denny said...

I do appreciate Mcauliflower bringing this up. It's given me a lot of food for thought. I'm one of those people who can usually read a recipe and kind of imagine how it will taste, and I think I assume that everyone else is too. I'm going to work on more descriptions of the taste.

Kevin said...

I don't describe flavors as often as perhaps I should, but I do try: "The Calvados, with it's apple nuances, highlights the sweetness of the scallops and the slightly medicinal tarragon plays off that sweetness delightfully. The touch of lemon adds brightness without being assertive."

And when was the last time anyone stopped to listen? "There's a faint gurgling as olive oil streams from the bottle and an even fainter tintinnabulation of oil striking the baking sheet. Paper rips when I open the package of trout and there's a slithery sound as I drag the fillet through the oil, coating it. Then glass rattles on glass and wood while I rummage in a drawer for herbs and spices."

Anonymous said...

Yea, I was trying to be funny , but I do find it very difficult to describe food without being obvious. I find Karen Page's book - Culinary Artistry helpful sometimes. It contains list of food types, groupings, pairings etc. primarily as a guide for creating dishes, but I find it useful to find the right words. That said, I still don't always find them.

Good point about sound - sometimes it's subconscious but think how important sound is during the cooking process - the sizzle of butter in a pan can tell you when the water in it has boiled off, a hollow thump when tapped tells you bread is completely baked.

I also like the way Scotch tasters have embraced non-food terms as descriptions - you'll see terms like leather, rusted iron, wet wool sweaters etc.

Vanessa said...

it's funny that you bring this up because my first ever post to my blog is sort of a quick blurt on how we use food/cooking terminology to describe human nature.

i personally can't write a recipe in terms of point by point action for the life of me. i cook by feel only and monitor time and temperature only for items in the oven, even then non-meat items just get prodded and adjusted as cooking time goes along.

part of the problem is efficiency in writing a recipe and cooking. often people don't take the time to sit and appreciate the stages of your product because you don't want to add that extra 15 minutes. now chefs on tv show you the product and taste it as they cook... so maybe recipes should be written nearly as stories. i'll keep this in mind when i write up my first recipe on my blog.

Jocelyn:McAuliflower said...

I hear you Vanessa- simply writing a recipe takes time. It may be overwhelming to seduce with every post, but it can be a nice habit to get into.

I was surprised at how difficult it was to find juicy phrases in my cookbooks. Even Bon Appetit and Martha's magazines were pretty relient on images to convey everything.

Kevin- your olive oil dribbles gave me goose-bumps! See that's what I'm talking about :)

Kevin said...

That was the lead ito a short piece describing and entire dish by sound (

The trout was pretty good too.

cookiecrumb said...

What. "Delicious" won't do it? :D

Catherine said...

For a really good laugh (and tons of material), enjoy Adrien Edmondson's Hamish (vogue food critic) character in Absolutely Fabulous. And, there's always Monty Python's Cheese Shop skit for some exciting vocab.

Andrew said...

paul - you obviously mean Sauvignon Blanc and not a Pinot Noir... ;-)

I think the whisky people nicked a lot from the wine side of things as all those can be used for wine.

kevin - I like that style of writing but I imagine it would be difficult to write in that style all the time and maybe grating on the reader over time.

Has anyone outside the UK seen Posh Nosh? Some superb words used there!

RadiationWatch said...

I sort of think this is a stylistic choice. I prefer a sort of restraint when it comes to the use of adjectives and metaphors in general, not just in food writing. (This is why MFK Fisher is my food writing hero. She never got too flowery). One thing that rather turns me off about some, not all, wine afficionados is the preciousness of their vocabulary.

Incidentally, my favorite term for describing food comes from the British and is often used by Nigella: moreish. How utterly non-flowery yet descriptive is that word?