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Bitter: A Taste of the World's Most…

Bitter: A Taste of the World's Most Dangerous Flavor, with Recipes

by Jennifer McLagan

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701259,727 (4.44)1
"The champion of uncelebrated foods including fat, offal, and bones, Jennifer McLagan turns her attention to a fascinating, underappreciated, and trending topic: bitterness. What do coffee, IPA beer, dark chocolate, and radicchio all have in common? They're bitter. In this deep and fascinating exploration of bitter through science, culture, history, and 120 deliciously idiosyncratic recipes, award-winning author Jennifer McLagan makes a case for this misunderstood flavor. Biologically-speaking, the taste of something bitter--unlike sweet, which can indicate a nutrient-rich food, and salty, which indicates the presence of needed minerals--can signify a poison, so an appreciation for bitterness must develop with age and experience. Bitter is a known appetite stimulant and is often just the thing to add dimension and balance to a dish. While some culinary cultures, such as in Italy and parts of Asia, have an inherent appreciation for bitter flavors (think Campari and Chinese bitter melon), little attention has been given to bitterness in North America: we're much more likely to reach for salty or sweet. However, even in North America, bitter is making inroads with increased interest in cocktail bitters, craft beers, and artisanal coffee; and consumption of bitter salad greens and chocolate is growing. In the capable hands of McLagan, bitterness will emerge from the shadows of the culinary underworld and get its deserved place in the spotlight"--… (more)
  1. 00
    Bones: Recipes, History, and Lore by Jennifer McLagan (dajashby)
    dajashby: The same formula; history, lore, memoir, science and recipes, handsomely presented.
  2. 00
    Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, with Recipes by Jennifer McLagan (dajashby)
    dajashby: The same formula; history, lore, memoir, science and recipes, handsomely presented.
  3. 00
    Odd Bits: How to Cook the Rest of the Animal by Jennifer McLagan (dajashby)
    dajashby: The same formula; history, lore, memoir, science and recipes, handsomely presented.

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I’m not sure that bitter is an acquired taste. Yes, as author Jennifer McLagan points out, the number of our tastebuds decreases as we age, turning flavors we hated in childhood into favorites. Some people come to bitter gradually, others like it from the start, and there are those who never learn to like it. Jennifer McLagan likes bitter—really likes it—and has the culinary, historical and scientific chops to offer us remarkably thorough treatise on this loved/hated flavor.

I’ve liked bitter since I was a kid: mustard, not ketchup, better yet, horse radish; Sen-sen, horehound, or salted licorice, not fruit pie. (OK, that’s an exaggeration. I did like pie. But I did also love those bitter candies.) As a result, as soon as I saw the cover of McLagan’s Bitter, I knew this was a book I’d want to spend time with.

McLagan breaks bitter tastes into six groups, each with its own chapter, everything from “Liquid Bitter” (beer jelly, tea poached pears, even homemade tonic water) to “Dark, Forbidden, and Very Bitter” (lamb with dark chocolate pepper sauce, tobacco chocolate truffles, roasted squab with ganache).

While there are a few “standard” offerings here (Belgian endive bathed in butter, bratwurst in beer, Brussels sprouts, bacon, and chestnuts), things you might find in an issue of Eating Well or Fine Cooking, most of her recipes fall into the I-would-never-have-come-up-with-that-on-my-own category (see the previous paragraph).

Her book gives us the histories of these foods and explains their taste chemistry. There are lots of recipes, but having this additional information makes for interesting reading—and might well convince you to taste something you thought you’d never try.

I acknowledge that I’ll never cook with marrow (yes, there’s a recipe using it) nor with cow bile (only mentioned, no recipe offered), but I’ll be making active use of this book for a good time to come. ( )
1 vote Sarah-Hope | Nov 13, 2014 |
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