This is the superstar ingredient. Wide-ranging culinary use elevates the humble lemon, more than tomatoes, I suggest, to be the most important fruit in cookery.
Its pleasant acidity (citric acid) delivers focus and critical taste intensity to all sorts of dishes, from seafood preparations, salads, soups and main courses to desserts.
The lemons etheric oil, extracted from skin and leaves, not only adds seasoning, but also provides fragrance. Before the first bite is eaten, olfactory senses are stimulated.
Acidity in lemons prevents oxidation of fruit and vegetables such as peeled apples and celeriac during preparation time. The lemon’s high pectin contend is of importance in the cooking of jams, marmalades and jellies.
Just a drizzle of lemon juice added to cream before whipping adds stability, thus slowing the separation of fat and whey. This is of importance in cake and pastry making.
Like salt, lemon added to pastries and desserts lowers the speed at which dairy fats deteriorate, therefore, extending, for example, the storage time for ice-creams.
With such versatility, it is no surprise that lemons, whether juiced, pulped, pickled, salted, dried or preserved, are a staple in countless cuisines. The addition of lemon juice to a recipe lowers the perception of saltiness. They find appreciation in hundreds of beverages, such as tangy, yet simple self-made lemonade to a more sophisticated Cosmopolitan. The lemons impressive nutritional value makes them almost essential to any diet. Just the image or thought of a lemon suggests freshness and triggers physiological reactions that stimulate digestion and metabolism.
Patisserie and savoury cuisine would be quite likely only be half as interesting without lemons.
It is not only the lemon’s tartness that balances flavours within a preparation, making such recipe more assertive and only better tasting. Additionally to the many roles as outlined before, most intriguing is the lemons ability to enhance the flavour of dishes.
This is due to the natural occurrence of high levels of glutamatic acid (a constituent of protein), or what I like to refer to as tastiness factor (umami seibun), that forms a powerful synergistic effect with other ingredients.
The flavour of preparations will be uplifted, intensified and structured by adding lemon. Importantly, with precision in dosage, lemon, or their glutamic acid, modifies the flavour of dishes to more refined food and wine matches.
Try adding a drizzle of lemon juice to your freshly prepared risotto or crème soup and experience how the flavour profile has changed and arguably, improved. Lemon juice added to fruit poaching, balanced by natural fruit sugar, if not added sugar, elevates the compote to higher taste intensity. Admired for culinary merit, Italian cuisine (dining in Italian restaurants outside Italy does not always confirm this) suggests adding lemon to a Bistecca (grilled T-bone steak) for the simple reason that it tastes better and enables a far smoother correlation to wine. The lemons glutamic acid works its magic, specifically when un-coagulated proteins (rare or medium-rare steak) and tannins (thinking of Barolo right now) meet.
For audacious cooks out there, experimentation is one of the pleasures of culinary endeavours. Bite into your lovely pink and juicy rib of beef and appreciate the flavours. Have a sip of (red) wine, evaluate. Add a drizzle of lemon juice to the steak and taste again, followed by the wine... Mmhh, delicious, what a difference, I hear someone say. If people don't weep after such taste experience, I’ll be a bit embarrassed. It is about cooking and seasoning to excellence and preference, making best use of natural citric and glutamic acid, adding assertiveness to dishes. Cook, follow your senses and gut-feeling, to arrive at new and exciting flavour dimensions.
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