If you love cooking but find your food is always lacking a little something, then one chef might have a solution for you.
In order to take her meals to new heights, Gemma says she uses ‘flavour bombs’ when cooking and she has six favourite ones.
She explained: “As a vegetarian, I learnt fairly early on that you’ve got to work pretty hard in order to get the maximum flavour out of vegetable-based dishes.
“In a way it’s served me well, as I now look at all recipes imaginatively and think how I can I push the taste of things to the absolute max? To not allow a veggie choice to be the boring or predictable one, but to turn it into a plate that’s envied by everyone else on the table – even the steak and fries guy (or gal).
“Even though our restaurant Gastrono-me in Suffolk is by no means a vegetarian one I still employ the ethos that only dishes that punch you in the chops get to make it onto the menu.”
She continues: “To achieve this flavour nirvana, I employ a whole host of items that I call flavour bombs, if you have these items in your pantry, I promise you food will never be dull or lacking in flavour again.”
So where do you start with adding flavour?
The ‘head honcho’ of the flavour bombs according to Gemma is garlic.
She says that at the restaurant it’s prepared in bulk, but in the evening at home after a long day, peeling and chopping up the stuff is really the last thing she feels like doing.
Instead she likes to use garlic that’s already peeled and minced from the freezer.
“My trick is to take a jam jar, fill it with olive oil and pop in some of the frozen garlic, it only takes about 20 mins to defrost and you’ll have garlic ready to use, plus a super infused garlic oil – keep it in the fridge and it’ll last for about a week.
“This neatly brings me on to flavour bomb two – garlic oil.
“Drizzle dishes with garlic oil after cooking and it brings it to life, not only with a subtler taste of garlic, but also in presentation; it’ll immediately make your dish look glossy, delicious and professional.”
Flavour bomb number three is smoked paprika, which Gemma describes as a “sexy, smoky and sultry spice you always want in your pantry”.
The expert recommends adding it wherever you need warmth, smokiness (invaluable in veggie cooking) and a hint of sweetness.
She suggests: “Use it in a homemade tomato sauce to change its identity entirely and it will remind you of hot summer Spanish nights eating patatas bravas.
“Add it to ‘sizzley’ onions and peppers when making fajitas or tacos, and it will reward you with the best Mexican flavours. Our longest standing dish at the restaurant is called the Gastrono-me Hash and its longevity and popularity I know is thanks to the complex fabulousness of smoked paprika.”
Celery salt initally sounds like it might not pack a punch, but it’s Gemma’s hidden ninja flavour bomb number four.
She explains: “Despite being a bit of a bland vegetable, once the celery’s seeds are ground up, they create one of the most with umami laden spices you can find.
“Completely underused in most kitchens and usually only brought out for sprinkling on a Bloody Mary, but it’s worth is far more than that. I use it wherever an extra hit of savouriness is needed – you know when you’ve made a sauce and it’s not quite hitting the spot? This is when celery salt comes to the rescue. I include it in so many of our mayo-based sauces at the restaurant too, and it just makes them pop.”
The fifth flavour bomb might surprise some, as Gemma recommends adding Marmite to your meals.
“Marmite is the reason my roast potatoes have earned the moniker ‘best ever’ amongst my family and friends. Not a smear of duck fat in sight with my roasties, just a salty slick of Marmite rubbed over your potatoes before roasting, and you too will have the most flavoursome roasters ever.
“Not just reserved for spuds, try it when using veggie mince in a bolognese or a cottage pie, just add a teaspoon or two of Marmite and it will enrich your dish no end.”
And last but not least, you’re bound to have a bottle of flavour bomb number six at home as it’s a kitchen staple – tomato ketchup.
“Ask any chef what their quick fix is, and they’ll begrudgingly admit, albeit it with a red face, that it’s ketchup! I think most people know that it’s the basis of any great BBQ sauce, but there are so many more ketchup hacks to discover,” Gemma comments.
“When a homemade marinara sauce, or chilli is missing that sweet rounded flavour, ketchup is key. My husband makes the best marinade when we make veggie kebabs at home and he always reaches for the Heinz (other brands obviously readily available!)
“It also makes an amazing sticky glaze when blended with soy sauce, honey, sesame oil, and five spice – simply amazing on tofu or chicken.
“So, I guess we just need to stop being snooty or embarrassed about using ketchup because it’s way more useful than just something to dip our chips in!”
She adds: “This is only six of my bombs out of a gigantic flavour arsenal – but start to look at your pantry in a different light, can a spice or ingredient make something sweeter, saltier, smokier? If you think it can, go ahead and try it, you’ll be surprised at how the most unusual or underestimated things will lift your food to new flavour heights.”
Gemma’s top six flavour bombs:
2. Garlic Oil
3. Smoked Paprika
4. Celery Salt
6. Tomato Ketchup
Do yo have a food story to share? Email email@example.com