It’s the stuff of kitchen nightmares. Smoke (or fire) billowing from a pan or oven of what was formerly food, now burned to a charcoal crisp, setting off the smoke alarm and possibly the sprinkler. What ensues is a scene of utter chaos, panic, and misery over a perfectly ruined meal.
It might sound crazy, but that is exactly what is trending at quite a number of popular eateries, minus the smoke alarms and general scene of destruction.
The difference between food that is burned, and food that is burnt is that the first is an intentional culinary sensation, and the second is an unfortunate accident.
Charred food is in demand for the rich smoky flavours and layers of depth it adds to traditional food, and customers are quick to select food, desserts, and even cocktails from the menu with the descriptions “burnt”, “blistered”, “smoky”, and “charred”.
In order to produce these in-demand qualities, chefs resort to the following tried-and-tested methods:
Method 1: Place food directly on fire
The most obvious method is to place vegetables, such as tomatoes and onions, directly on the fire until it blisters. Pureed and added to stews and gravy, the burnt bits add a deep complexity in flavour that’s usually lacking.
Method 2: Cast-iron griddles/grills
The same effect can be achieved using cast-iron griddles or grills. Long used to sear steaks to perfection, you can now char vegetables such as eggplants.
The burnt outer exterior can be pureed together with its soft inside to achieve the perfect combination of taste and texture, for example, to create an out-of-this-world dip. In fact, burning vegetables to a carbon-laden crisp and adding the vegetable ash to oils and terrines is a popular method to get the burnt flavour across.
Method 3: Bury your food in hot ashes
Another method for getting smoky flavours from vegetables is to bury them in the hot ashes of a wood-burning pit or hearth. Not only does this achieve that authentic charred effect, the woody notes the vegetables acquire add a distinct and interesting dimension to the dish.
In fact, adding a burned vegetable or fruit to vegetable dishes is known to produce an almost earthy meat-like flavour.
Method 4: Blowtorch it!
The scrumptious touch of direct fire extends to desserts and even cocktails. Here the blowtorch – once the reserve of treats like the classic crème brûlée – is put to good use for that scorched effect. The bitter scorched juice from charred half limes added to cocktails balances out the sugar perfectly.
Smoked ice, smoked salt and smoky syrups elevate cocktails to a refreshing sophistication. Charred fruit or burnt sugar toppings added to desserts lends an assertive bitterness, which works in harmony with the sweetness.
Burning food is no longer an accident to be avoided. In fact, it takes a certain skill and ingenuity to create an intriguing dish that’s burnt just right.
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