The skies are cloudy and moody. Outside, it looks more like fall than being right smack dab in the middle of summer. Peeking at the 7 day forecast, tells me this is my one and only opportunity this week to use the oven without heating up the house to beyond uncomfortable levels; the 90’s are returning.
Having spent the morning at the farmstand gathering red and yellow cherry tomatoes, Italian prune-plums, beets, potatoes and cilantro I was set for the weekly menu that I’d scratched out on a torn piece of yellow legal pad. My organizational skills are usually a little more technical, but not today. And, that is ok.
Returning home with the bounty that seems greater to me than any buried treasure full of gold and silver and jewels, I scrubbed, snipped and pinched dirt, stems and ends from the candy-like cherry tomatoes, hairy-rooted beets and perfectly tiny green beans. Each precious vegetable was spattered with olive oil and sea salt and placed in the oven to roast at 425 degrees, where the magic browning and charring happens.
What is it about those browned bits on food that makes it so enticing?
I’m guessing it has something to do with caramelization and the Maillard reaction; a big scientific word for what occurs when heat meets up with the naturally occurring sugars and acids in food. A quick food-geek moment here: in simple terms, caramelization involves sugars only, while Maillard is both sugar and acid.
When this action happens on the bottom of a pan, while searing meat it’s called fond, which morphs into pan sauces and gravies that are taste bud enchantment. I might have used my finger on more than one occasion to have a taste or two. Not to mention the edges of a casserole dish. Lasagna is great, actually really great, but the crisp edges and tads of cheese stuck to the dish can’t be beat.
A simple answer to the question, “what is it about charred and burnt food?” is the flavor. It’s concentrated and intense, and I can’t get enough of it. If you think about steamed, poached or boiled foods, they lack that umami flavor that our palates crave. The ever so slight burnt pieces are crunchy and smoky (if done on a grill). Quite frankly, the scraped-off parts have a forever place in my gastronomic heart.
Question: do you char and pick the browned bits from the lasagna pan?