There are certain little things that chefs and pro cooks do that make their food taste better than the standard home cook’s. Some are hard to replicate at home (like keeping a team of prep cooks on staff), while others are no-brainers that every weekend chef should employ, like flavoring with acid.
How often do you use acid in your cooking? It’s a good bet that you’re not using it enough. There are very few dishes that can’t benefit from a well-metered hit of acid. It shouldn’t always be perceptibly sour. Most of the time, it just serves to round out flavors. It balances things. A good beef stew can be rich and flavorful, but a bit flat after a spoonful or three. Add bit of red wine vinegar to it, and suddenly things get more interesting for your palate.
Matching acids with foods is a lot like pairing wines, but much easier and a hell of a lot less convoluted. Here’s a quick run-down of standard matches:
White Wine Vinegar or Lemon Juice: fish, poultry, lighter soups
Red Wine Vinegar: red meat dishes, stews, hearty soups
Sherry Vinegar: rich, creamy dishes
Lime Juice: Latin American dishes, cocktails
Distilled White Vinegar: a stand-in for any other type of acid
For a variety of reasons, keeping fresh limes and lemons in the house can tough and/or annoying. And even when you do, there always seem to be leftover halves and quarters that get old and lose their vibrancy. The solution: this stuff.
It’s essentially the zippy acid punch of citrus, in a shelf-stable powder form. A little bit goes a looooong way, and it’s relatively inexpensive. Use a pinch in your gin and tonic, and just put the cap back on the bottle and back into the pantry it goes.
So, the next time you’re putting that final pinch of salt in a dish, add a few dashes of acid or a tiny pinch of citric acid. Your food will taste better for it.