BY RICHARD MOOREY
SMELL is a very special and amazing thing. It allows us to associate with things in a far more up close and personal fashion than we could ever hope to have without it. Smell to me the one sense that isn’t really a sense all to itself but rather one that broadens and enhances the other senses.
I mean anyone who has ever been on the “receiving end” in the morning after a night of spicy food and draft beer might try to disagree how truly amazing our sense of smell is but think about life without it.
Smell can relieve stress, give you pleasure, relax you, help you identify things you can’t see and even warn you of impending danger. Your sense of smell from a chef’s perspective is one of our most important tools.
Aromas can make you feel warm and comforted, trigger endorphin release, spark a memory, make you feel nostalgic and most importantly enhance the experience of taste to the point where food without smell is dramatically different.
Most of what people perceive as “taste” actually results from their sense of smell. The human tongue can only detect four basic taste sensations. They are sweet, sour, bitter and salty, plus a fifth sensation known as savoury that is also referred to as umami.
If you have never tried this hold your nose, close your eyes and put an unknown jelly bean in your mouth. Start chewing that jelly bean and you’ll find the taste is limited, but open your nose midway through chewing and then you suddenly recognize cherry or apple.
That’s because as you chew, you’re forcing air through your nasal passages, carrying the smell of the food along with it. Without the interplay of taste and smell, you wouldn’t be able to grasp all the complex flavours food has to offer.
All of this scientific stuff aside smell can immediately teleport you to a nostalgic place without being there, make you salivate and make you crave that special something. As a chef that happens to us a lot.
Maybe it’s that super close relationship that smell and taste have that makes us associate aroma so much with food but it just could be how the mind of a chef actually works . . . you know a little off kilter to begin with.
Sometimes it will be barbecue or wood smoke, sometimes its fried chicken, sometimes it’s the smell of wild berries or even a spiced perfume in the air. Today it was a bakery. That quick whiff and recognition followed by a deep inhalation after the scent was caught, followed by that undeniable, eyes half closed reaction of MMMMMmmmmm. As my brain said Thunder Bay? Naw. Deep South. Praline. Nawlens and that unforgettable smell of walking past Café du Monde and smelling all those magnificent Beignets.
So here’s to that bakery and to our sense of smell. For you it’s the chance to catch all of those aromas that I caught with a recipe that can spark it all in your kitchen.
Just try it out and see, but do yourself one better and brew a pot of coffee while you are making them. Just be prepared to answer your doorbell more than once for neighbours wanting to borrow a cup of sugar.
Chef House’s Almost Du Monde Beignet
2 1/4 tsp. active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
1/2 cup white sugar
1 tsp. salt
2 extra-large eggs
1 cup evaporated milk
7 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup shortening
1 litre canola oil for frying
1/4 cup confectioner sugar
In a glass measuring cup, dissolve yeast in warm water. Allow yeast to sit a few minutes. Add yeast, sugar, salt, eggs, evaporated milk, and whisk well. Mix in 4 cups of the flour and combine until smooth. Add the shortening, and then the remaining 3 cups of flour.
Roll out dough 1/4 inch thick. Cut into 2 to 3 inch squares. Fry in 360F oil. Drain onto paper towels dust with sugar while still hot.
Richard Moorey (aka Chef House) can be reached with email to firstname.lastname@example.org, through his website at www.evot.ca, or on his Facebook group Evolution of Tastitude. You can follow him on Twitter @House_74.