|The Impact of Texture
Texture impacts the way food looks and tastes, and how it feels your mouth. All ingredients have some kind of texture, but the way a chef layers ingredients with different textures can set a dish apart.
Chefs who are all about texture know that a texturally exciting dish involves more than just crunch. They incorporate silky, spongy, airy, flaky, gelatinous, and other consistencies to create innovative, often playful, combinations that are satisfying to eat.
There are a number of ways to achieve texture worth talking about. Certain ingredients (like uni) naturally have an unusual mouthfeel. Many cooking and preparation techniques work wonders to enhance the textural qualities of an item. Even the way a chef slices a vegetable can create an impact. And often, the whole is greater then the sum of the parts—in other words, it’s the play between different textures that is far more interesting than any one texture alone.
Ceviche is one of those preparations that can be texturally appealing to begin with; done well, the fish’s flesh becomes firm but tender. At Luma on Park in Orlando, FL Chef Brandon McGlamery takes a well-executed snapper ceviche and enlivens it with even further textural intrigue: crisp jicama is sliced into ribbons and tossed with the fleshy ceviche, tender, stringy mango, crunchy pumpkin seeds, and toothsome slices of jalapeno. The flavors all pop and the contrasting textures marry for an exciting sensation.
Using gelatin is a quick way to inject texture into a dish. Chef Gabriel Kreuther of The Modern in New York City adds substance to his cherry consommé with just enough gelatin to hold everything together and suspend the other ingredients. Here, the gelatin becomes a device with which to control the texture. The consommé is still a liquid but with the slightest gelatinous quality, allowing the meaty crab and caviar to float, ensuring a lively pop with every bite.
Stimulating textures can come from using unusual ingredients that surprise the taste buds. At JoLē in Calistoga, CA, Chef Matt Spector combines Lamb’s Tongue with Fresh Chick Peas, Chili, Feta Cheese, Garlic, and Roasted Red Pepper Sauce. Although lamb’s tongue is not the most common menu item, what’s even more surprising about this dish are the fresh chick peas, which are firm on the outside and tender on the inside. All together, the tender lamb melds—both texturally and flavor-wise—with the fresh chick peas, spicy chili, crumbly feta, and smoky, creamy roasted red pepper sauce.
Chef Rachel Klein of Aura in Boston, MA is another chef who likes to incorporate uncommon ingredients that add curiosity and pack a punch. Her George’s Bank Scallops with Parsnip Puree, Chamomile Beurre Blanc, and Grapefruit has an atypical flavor profile with serious wow factor. The rich chamomile buerre blanc is offset by the tart, acidic grapefruit gel and sweet, smooth parsnip puree. But the textural star of this dish is the garnish of Emerald crystal lettuce that catches you off guard—an edible succulent that has the appearance of cactus leaves and is slightly crisp with a good amount of chew.
Using usual ingredients in unusual preparations is another innovative way to play with texture. Pastry Chef Brooks Headley of New York's Del Posto incorporates lightly smashed sweet peas into his dessert of pea sformata, local strawberries and strawberry gelatin. The cold, creamy, melting ice cream is a bracing counterpoint to the fresh, tender strawberries, crunchy sformata, and suprising mush of the peas.
A well thought out play on textures makes a dish more successful and memorable. Whether a chef chooses to work with an ingredient that already has texture or a technique that imparts texture, when done with finesse, textures make the meal stand out.
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