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Alternative seasonings…

Whether it’s to add depth to your sauce, or lift the natural flavours of a casserole, seasoning is arguably the hardest thing to master in the professional kitchen. Beyond the fine art of administering salt and pepper to a dish, inquisitive culinary minds will reach for a wide variety of ingredients to add layers of complexity to their creations, blurring the lines between what is and isn’t considered a seasoning.

The recent launch of Marmite peanut butter provoked widespread controversy across social media, prompting an eye-opening article in the Guardian. Chefs Sat Bains and Tom Cenci of London’s Loyal Tavern opened up about their culinary love of the black stuff, utilising it to add depth to a multitude of dishes. Sat Bains confessed to using it whipped with butter to baste fish and meat in, while Cenci uses it as a cornerstone to a vegan friendly stock. From adding gloss, shine and saltiness to sauces, to coaxing along simply cooked vegetables, at the Loyal Tavern you can find exuberant dishes that hit the high notes such as potatoes with onion and Marmite. No matter which side of the fence you sit on regarding Marmite’s ‘love it or hate it’ mantra, the professional uses of the vegan-friendly yeast extract arms the kitchen with a truly versatile ingredient.

In Japan, creating a dashi is where depth, complexity and seasoning begins. A simple delicate broth is made from boiling dried konbu seaweed along with katsuobushi – the shaved flakes of dried bonito fish. Among the vast ‘borrowing’ of Japanese kitchen techniques, the art of dashi rides strong and the use of seaweed can add some incredible new flavours to modern dishes. Furikake is perhaps one of the most glorious seasonings created, consisting of dried nori seaweed, sesame seeds and dried fish. Adorning Japanese donburi and rice dishes, the seasoning migrated to Hawaii seamlessly where it’s used in poke bowls. The umami charged rice seasoning knows no bounds though and the versatility of this blend can weave its way through everything from meat and fish cures, through to hefty spring salads.

When we talk about adding depth to dishes, we are often talking about adding glutamate to a dishes makeup. While the much maligned MSG does this swiftly, there are a number of natural alternatives that can do the same job. For example, Parmesan cheese and sun-dried tomatoes have very high levels of glutamates, as do shiitake mushrooms. Fish sauce, is one of the foundations of south Asian cookery, but the lip-smackingly delicious liquid can also migrate across into other styles of cooking too. The fermented fish element of fish sauce is actually not too dissimilar to one of the key ingredients in Britain’s own depth-charged seasoning, Lea & Perrins.
Which kind of brings us full circle into another best loved heritage brand of the British Isles, a secret weapon in the creation of shepherd’s pie, Welsh rarebit and hearty casseroles. Seasoning a dish is an art form, and one that deserves continuous experimentation in the pursuit of culinary success.


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