The acrid smell of smoke and burning in the kitchen almost always means the charred remains of what was once a potentially delicious meal.
Of course, depending on the severity of the damage, there may be an attempt to remove the blackened bits in order to salvage what is good. So it seems rather a strange trend for many culinary establishments to go for the burn, and serve the charred meal.
The magic of burnt food
The demand for food that is burnt, smoked, blistered, and charred has certainly seen a surge. Devotees of the flame celebrate the properties char lends to food, describing such dishes as having deep smoky complex flavours and layers of interesting bitter notes. Food somehow gains an added authenticity and edginess compared to their less incinerated counterparts.
The classics: marshmallows and crème brûlée
Of course, it was never a secret that marshmallows taste better toasted over an open fire. Juicy steaks seared to perfection with beautiful criss-cross blackened grill marks will always cause the carnivore to salivate. Crème brûlée is sacrilege without its signature burnt sugar topping. But lately, other foods traditionally less associated with the direct kiss of fire are getting the charred treatment as well.
A new way to serve vegetables
Vegetables are no longer boring, conventional dishes. Instead, they are served crisp, crunchy and caramelised from methods usually reserved for charring meat.
In fact, burning vegetables produce an almost meat-like flavour, and adding a burnt vegetable or fruit to vegetable dishes lend a depth of character and substance to the dish. Some have taken this even further, incinerating vegetables to a blackened crisp and mixing the vegetable ash into oils and terrines for a more intense, smoky flavour.
Sinful, sinful caramel
Caramel has long been used to colour and flavour food. Made by melting sugar until it’s gooey, sticky and brown, this classic ingredient usually complements desserts or is eaten on its own as candy.
Burn this to the next level and bitterness ensues, a characteristic desired in many dishes, such as those created in Vietnamese kitchens. Nuoc Mau, a burnt caramel sauce, is added to a variety of meat dishes and marinades to bring out the umami, a touch of delicious bitter to the savoury sweetness.
Similarly, Caribbean cooking also incorporates a sauce of burnt sugar to lift savoury dishes to new heights. Called browning, this bittersweet sauce is used to marinate meat, creating deep, complex flavours.
A breakfast favourite: burnt toast
Of course, toast is a regular breakfast feature. But even toast’s biggest fans would hesitate to having it burnt. Or would they? The bitter flavour of the blackened parts of is favoured by many kitchens and adds a more robust, earthy savouriness to stews and thick soups. In fact, pizza with its crust burnt to a blackened crisp has been making the rounds, with many claiming the smoky charcoal of the dough balances the rich toppings to perfection.
Burnt food: a modern culinary art form
Burning food has certainly been elevated to an art form, and is no longer the sole result of careless cooking. So the next time you do unintentionally reduce your food to a cinder, remember all is not lost!
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