While salt and pepper are always a consideration for final tweaks, our test cooks also look to a range of other pantry ingredients that can help bring a dish into just the right balance.
Toward the end of developing a recipe in the test kitchen, tasters often make comments such as “it tastes just a bit flat” or “a smidge lean” or “too rich.” While salt and pepper are always a consideration for final tweaks, our test cooks also look to a range of other pantry ingredients that can help bring a dish into just the right balance. Such ingredients encompass sweet, bitter, sour, and umami (or savory) flavors; we also may adjust with ingredients that add richness. Just a small quantity of one of these finishing touches (from a pinch to 1/2 teaspoon) is a good starting place. Here are a few of our favorites.
|Ingredient||What It Does||Suggested Uses|
|Sweet||Granulated or brown sugar, honey, maple syrup, mirin, sweet wines or liqueurs, jams or jellies||Rounds out sharp, bitter, or salty flavors||Salsas, relishes, sauces, vinaigrettes, bitter greens|
|Sour||Vinegars, citrus juice, pickled vegetables (such as jalapeños)||Adds brightness to flat-tasting dishes, cuts through richness or sweetness||Meaty stews or soups, creamy sauces and condiments, braised or roasted meats|
|Bitter||Dry or prepared mustard, fresh ginger, chili powder, unsweetened cocoa powder, dark chocolate, horseradish, cayenne pepper, coffee, citrus zest, beer||Cuts sweetness||Barbecue meats, slaws, chopped salads, chili|
|Umami||Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, Parmesan cheese, fish sauce, anchovy, mushrooms, tomato paste, miso, sherry||Adds meatiness, depth, or earthiness; boosts dishes that taste a bit flat||Bolognese and other meaty sauces, hearty vegetarian sauces, soups, deli sandwich fillings such as tuna salad|
|Rich||Heavy cream, butter, olive oil||Rounds out flavors, adds viscosity||Vegetable-based soups, sauces|