Ever wondered why one flavour in your cooking works so well with another? Well Niki Segnit did and three years ago she set out on a mission to examine which flavour combinations work and why. The result is the impressive “Flavour Thesaurus”. Following the form of Roget’s Thesaurus, this guide helpfully lists alphabetically, 99 popular ingredients, and suggests classic and less well known flavour matches for each. The thesaurus also groups flavours into categories such as: spicy, earthy, sulphurous, etc. There are 980 entries in all and 200 recipes or suggestions are embedded in the text. It covers classic pairings such as pork & apple, lamb & apricot, and cucumber & dill; contemporary favourites like chocolate & chilli, lobster & vanilla, and goat’s cheese & beetroot; and interesting but unlikely-sounding couples including black pudding & chocolate, lemon & beef, blueberry & mushroom, and watermelon & oyster.
In an interview Niki says she wrote the book for herself. “I’m a bit too conservative when it comes to cooking so writing it made me more palate conscious; it made me more aware of what something tastes like. As a recipe slave, I was disengaged from what I was doing – just going through the motions, doing what I’m told. I’m good at that, but not necessarily being immersed in the sensual side of cooking.”
The Flavour Thesaurus: Pairings, recipes and ideas for the creative cook by Niki Segnit (Bloomsbury) is available on Amazon.
- Coffee & Beef
Caffeinated red meat. Something to serve your most militantly health-conscious friends. Coffee is used in the American south as a marinade or rub for meat. It’s also been spotted in fancier restaurants, perhaps because there’s a well-reported flavour overlap between roasted coffee and cooked beef. But my experience suggests it’s a shotgun wedding. I tried a coffee marinade on a steak and found it gave the meat an overpoweringly gamey flavour. Best to keep these at least one course apart at dinner.
- Black Pudding & Chocolate
A mixture of chocolate and cream is combined with blood to make the Italian black pudding, sanguinaccio. If that doesn’t sound rich enough to begin with, it’s often embellished with sugar, candied fruit, cinnamon or vanilla. Sanguinaccio is sometimes made into a sausage form, like other black puddings, but is also eaten (or drunk) while still in its creamier liquid state.
- Strawberry & Cinnamon
Strawberries have a hint of candyfloss about them. Cinnamon loves sugar and fruit. Warmed together, the pair gives off a seductively seedy fug of the fairground. For an irresistible sweet snack, dig out the sandwich toaster, butter 2 slices of white bread, spread one slice (on its unbuttered side) generously with strawberry jam, and the other with more butter and a good shake of ground cinnamon. Sandwich together, with the just-butter sides facing out, and press in the toaster till the bread is crisp, golden and, essentially having been fried rather than toasted, more like a doughnut than plain old jam on toast.