- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Lime has long been one of my favorite flavors. Whether it’s a lime Popsicle, key lime pie,

lime in iced tea, lime with grilled fish or even lime Jell-O, nothing sparkles in my mouth like lime.

Several years ago, I tried half a dozen recipes in my search for a cookie that was bursting with the flavor of a lime. I wanted that tart-yet-sweet flavor of a fresh lime, the burst that brings a small wince to your eyes and cheeks, but each recipe offered little more than a subtle lime flavor.

The answer to my quest was to fortify the flavor of lime. I ultimately doubled the amount of lime juice, then boiled it over moderate heat until it reduced to the volume needed. To this flavor-packed reduction, I added lime zest. Presto: a lime cookie that screams lime.

Inspired by my success, I asked other chefs about fortified, intensified and infused flavorings. The chefs offered their thoughts and recipes on ways in which to achieve fortified flavors or to intensify flavors by using complementary or contrasting ingredients.

Chefs frequently use reduction, just as I did with the lime juice. They reduce a basic beef stock to a glaze by slowly simmering until the liquid is reduced by 75 percent or 80 percent. The strongly flavored result can be diluted with any number of other liquids to form a sauce that has just a hint of beef stock flavor in the background.

I take 2 cups of glaze and dilute it with a mintjulep cocktail (ice and all, about 8ounces), making a mint julep sauce to serve with grilled leg or rack of lamb. The resulting brown sauce has the distinct flavors of mint and bourbon intermingled with the now-muted flavor of beef stock. You could also make a lamb stock, but the beef glaze works well.

John Judy, a chef-instructor at L’Ecole Culinaire in Ladue, Mo., likes to use variations of the same ingredient to heighten flavors. “For example,” he said, “I’ll mix equal amounts of Dijon mustard, whole-grain mustard and whole mustard seeds that I’ve toasted and crushed. I then coat a tuna steak or boneless pork chop. This might seem a recipe for sensory overload, but through the cooking process, some of the spiciness and pungency of the mustards is diluted.”

Purees are another way to fortify flavors. Try combining a can of tomato sauce and 1 tablespoon of fresh rosemary (or 11/2 teaspoons dry rosemary) in a food processor. Process until all of the rosemary has been liquefied.

Now make a second version by taking the same ingredients and simmering them together for 30 minutes. Compare the two; the sauce made in the processor will boast a much deeper rosemary flavor.

Roasting or toasting ingredients also enhances flavor. When food browns, the natural sugars caramelize, deepening the flavor. This is true for foods that are sweet or savory, such as onions.

“Adding corn to corn bread heightens flavor; roasted corn is even better,” says Susie Hurley, executive pastry chef at Westwood Country Club in Ladue. “I do a roasted five-onion bread. It really covers the board when it comes to onion flavor. I use yellow [onions], red [onions], leeks, scallions and garlic, which I roast with olive oil, salt and pepper to caramelize. (While not technically an onion, garlic is a fellow member of the allium family.) Caramelization is the key to many things I do.

“Turning sugar, whether in a slow or quick formula, into caramel intensifies whatever product I’m trying to produce, from a candy to a sauce.” She uses the same principle when making bananas Foster.

“I slowly cook down brown sugar almost to the point of burning before I add sweet cream butter and, of course, a very dark rum,” she said. “Then I let the sauce simmer down for quite a while to form syrup — perfect to serve flambeed with fresh banana slices over vanilla ice cream.”

Infusing is another way to intensify flavors. If you plan ahead, you can insert a split or whole vanilla bean or a cinnamon stick in sugar for a few weeks to infuse those flavors into the sugar.

Chef Robert Hertel, chairman of St. Louis Community College’s Hospitality Studies Program, says that as long as you start with great flavors, you can’t go wrong by fortifying them. His port wine sauce is testament to that observation. It’s a smooth sauce that goes as well with beef and pork as it does with chicken.

As you begin to experiment with fortifying flavors, remember to add salt and pepper at the end of the process. You don’t want to reduce a liquid by half and have it contain the volume of salt or pepper of the original recipe.

Whether you’re reducing a liquid, pureeing ingredients or introducing by infusion a different substance to achieve a desired flavor or consistency, your opportunity to create is as close as your garden, pantry or grocery store.

Georgetown lime cookies

This recipe was adapted by Gordon McKnight from “The Joy of Cookies” by Sharon Tyler Herbst (Barron’s).

5 or 6 limes (depending on size)

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground ginger, divided

11/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon, divided

3/4 cup (1½ sticks) butter, softened

11/3 cups granulated sugar, divided

Grease 3 or 4 large baking sheets. Set aside.

Using a rasp or fine grater, remove zest (colored portion of peel) from 3 limes. Cover with plastic wrap; set aside. Juice the limes; you will need 6 tablespoons juice. Pour juice into a small nonreactive skillet. Place over medium-low heat; cook until juice reduces to 3 tablespoons. Let cool.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt, ½ teaspoon ginger and 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter, 1 cup sugar and lime zest until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in reduced lime juice. Stir in flour mixture, ½ cup at a time, blending well after each addition. Stir together remaining 1/3 cup sugar, remaining ½ teaspoon cinnamon and remaining ½ teaspoon ginger in a small bowl.

Roll rounded teaspoons of dough into 1-inch balls. Roll balls in sugar-spice mixture; arrange, 1 inch apart, on prepared baking sheets. Use the bottom of a glass to flatten balls slightly.

Bake in preheated 350-degree oven 13 to 16 minutes or until deep golden brown on the bottom. Let cookies cool on the pan for a minute or two, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature 1 week; freeze for longer storage. Makes 3 dozen cookies.

Bananas Foster sauce

This recipe is from chef Susie Hurley.

1½ cups packed light brown sugar

1/4 to 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice, divided

½ cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut in large chunks

½ cup dark rum

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

4 bananas

Vanilla ice cream, for serving

Place brown sugar and a few drops of lemon juice in a nonreactive saucepan, stirring the juice into the sugar or rubbing it in with your fingers. Set the butter, rum, cinnamon, remaining lemon juice and a whisk next to the stove.

Place saucepan over medium heat. Using a heat-resistant rubber spatula or wooden spoon, stir the sugar until it melts and begins to turn a darker brown, taking care not to let it burn. With the whisk, carefully mix in the butter until completely incorporated.

Carefully add the rum in small batches (mixture will bubble up). Remove from heat; ignite rum with a match. Return to the stove over medium-low heat. (To make the sauce without flaming the rum, remove pan from heat; stir in the rum, then return to the stove over medium-low heat.) Stir in cinnamon and lemon juice to taste, but be aware that the sauce is very hot; use a tasting spoon and let cool before tasting.

Let sauce cook several minutes, until it reduces almost to the consistency of syrup, stirring occasionally. Peel bananas; slice diagonally and stir into sauce. Serve immediately over ice cream. Makes about 2 cups.

Port wine sauce

This recipe is from chef Robert Hertel.

1 cup tawny or ruby port

1 tablespoon chopped garlic

2 medium shallots, chopped

4 cups demi-glace (see Note)

1 sprig fresh thyme

1 medium bay leaf

2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, diced

Combine port, garlic and shallots in a saucepan; bring to a simmer and cook until the amount has reduced by half. Stir in demi-glace, thyme and bay leaf; simmer gently for 20 minutes. Remove from heat, strain into a bowl and whisk in butter. Serve with roasted or grilled pork or beef. Makes 4 cups.

Note: Demi-glace made from Knorr’s powdered demi-glace base, which is available at specialty grocers, is an alternative to homemade demi-glace.

Triple-mustard-encrusted tuna steak

This recipe is from chef John Judy.

2 tablespoons whole mustard seeds

1/4 cup whole-grain mustard

1/4 cup Dijon-style mustard

2 6-ounce fresh tuna loin steaks (see note)

Kosher salt

Freshly ground pepper

Preheat a nonstick skillet over medium heat; add mustard seeds. Toast for about 30 to 60 seconds, gently moving the skillet to keep them from burning, until they begin to pop and produce a toasted aroma.

Remove from heat; pour into a spice grinder and pulse 3 or 4 times, until coarsely ground. (Or pour the toasted seeds into a resealable plastic bag and crush with the back of a saucepan.)

Preheat a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Stir together whole-grain mustard, Dijon-style mustard and mustard seeds. Season tuna steaks with salt and pepper to taste; coat all sides with the mustard mixture.

Add tuna steaks to skillet; sear on one side for 2 to 3 minutes. Turn tuna steaks, being careful not to disturb the crust. Cook until steaks reach desired doneness, 2 to 3 minutes for medium-rare.

Makes 2 servings.

Note: This can be prepared with pork loin chops instead of tuna steaks. Despite the amount of mustard in this recipe, the searing removes much of the heat, producing a sweet and savory finish to the meat.

Gordon McKnight is a freelance writer and a culinary instructor at Normandy High School in St. Louis and Southwestern Illinois College.

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