A Little Dab Will Do It

A little dab will do it when you’re taking a dish from good to great! A few years ago, I was talking to a chef who remarked, “I taste things all the time that are good, but if they just added a spoonful of honey, would be great! I just don’t understand why they don’t add that one little thing that would take the dish to the next level.”

I think of this often when I’m testing recipes. Last week, I created a gluten-free, dairy-free lasagna. Unlike many recipes, this first try was remarkably good. I sent some out to tasters. They voted it a keeper.

But as the week wore on, and I tasted it cold, then hot again, I was nagged by the vague feeling that something was missing. It took me a moment (by which I mean days) to determine what.

Nutmeg. I hadn’t thought to grate in a little nutmeg. Once I realized I wanted that flavor addition, I was surprised. I’ve eaten plenty a lasagna wondering why anyone bothered to add nutmeg. Now, I guess I know. The flavors just call for a little dab of it.

I had a similar experience recently in which I created a dish that was nicely balanced and tasty but was missing a standout flavor. I thought of serving it with pico de gallo, but then decided liberally garnishing with cilantro would work better.

I tried it and it was better. That bright pop of flavor worked well, but it still wasn’t quite right. My tasters tried soy sauce, Cavender’s® All Purpose Greek Seasoning*, Tony Chachere’s® Creole Seasoning, and Goyo® Adobo All Purpose Seasoning with Saffron. We also discussed cardamom, turmeric, and orange juice.

Finally, I decided to add another dab of a seasoning blend that was already in the dish – a combination of salt, pepper, garlic, lemon peel, and onion. That did the trick. That 1/2 tsp changed an okay dish to one that left you wanting more.

And you don’t even have to taste a dish to know it needs something. Sometimes all you need to do is stand over the pot and breathe in the aroma. You can smell when something needs salt, or garlic, a savory undertone, or a citrusy top note.

Adding a little dab at a time gives you the opportunity to add more if needed. It’s much easier to add than to dilute, so I like to start small. I say that. I’ve been known to liberally shake spices over a pan before smelling or tasting. Usually, I’m happy with the result, but I’ve overdone it a time or two.

And it’s possible to add a little bit of too many flavors. The first example that comes to mind is gin, specifically Monkey 47. I find the 47 different botanicals less than pleasing (give me Hendrick’s® any day). But the same thing happens with food. Too many flavors can send your taste buds scrambling to decipher what they’re experiencing. That can overshadow the pleasure of cohesive flavor.

Sometimes I like to pretend it doesn’t matter I left out a 1/4 tsp of something or other. But it does. It may not mean the food is inedible, but that little dab does make a difference. It may even be the thing that makes a dish great!

*The Cavenders were customers of my parent’s business. We gave jars of this spice blend as gifts to family and friends for years before it was widely distributed. It was a hit every time!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Author: Cheri Thriver

Hello, Cheri Thriver here blogging about cooking, thriving, and the intersection of the two. I’ve been living a gluten-free lifestyle for over 15 years. I understand that it’s rarely a lack of knowledge or the availability of appropriate food that keeps us from making healthy choices. More often than not, it’s an emotional connection, previous trauma, or fear of social reprisal that keeps us stuck. My wish is that you’ll find something here that informs, entertains, or inspires you to change anything that needs to be changed for you to live fully and thrive.

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