Savvy contemporary chefs have a secret ingredient in their cuinary tool box. If you remember this treat from your childhood, you might guess what this mystery ingredient is.Lik-m-aid, a sweet-sour treat was eaten by licking your finger, sticking it into the little envelope and coating your wet finger with the crystal-like powder inside. Then you would lick your finger to eat the tart-sweet goodness. It came in several fruit flavours; lemon, lime, strawberry, raspberry, grape and orange, but a quick look at the ingredient list (dextrose and citric acid) revealed that this treat contained no actual fruit. Today Lik-m-aid is sold under the name of Fun Dip and it comes with a candy dipping stick so modern kids do not have to use their fingers. I hope that kids today appreciate how good they have it. Chefs in the know are using citric acid to create pucker-inducing flavours that consumers are starting to embrace. Sour is no longer a four letter word. Sour beers are gaining in popularity, and the pickling craze is not about to die down any time soon. I fully expect Carla Hall to introduce “Can you Pickle it?” based on her wildly amusing (well, amusing certainly to my sisters and I ) game, “Can you Blend it?”
Citric acid occurs naturally in lemons, limes and other citrus fruits. It is also manufactured in a dry powder form by adding a special mould to glucose and letting it ferment. The dry powdered stuff is the one that chefs are using to elevate flavours and bring harmony and balance to a finished dish. It is easily available in small bags at most bulk food or health food stores. Food writer Shawna Wagman calls it the “fairy dust of flavour amplification.”
Here in Ottawa, Chef Kevin Mathieson, founder of Art is In Bakery, is creating magic with it. He sprinkles a touch of citric acid and confectioners sugar on citrus peel or wild Quebec blueberries and lets it dry out for a week. Then he grinds it all up in a coffee grinder and adds it to jellies for filling house-made chocolate truffles and marmalade that gets thickly spread on their buttermilk multi-seed bread for Sunday brunch.
The Food Section of the April 9 2014 Globe and Mail featured a recipe for a Greek salad dressing using citric acid. Chef Carlotte Langley learned to make this from the French-Lebanese mom of the very first chef she worked for. I decided to creat a Farro Greek Salad to showcase this fantastic dressing. Tart and full of bright zingy flavour it plays very well with the nutty, chewy farro and all the fresh crunchy vegetables. I usually just cook farro in boiling water, but I learned a great method over at Food52. I added half a red onion, a clove of garlic, parsley and salt to the water to infuse the farro with more flavour. I am not a huge fan of raw red onion, so I thinly sliced and pickled it. A short 20 minute bath in red wine vinegar, water, salt and sugar are all that’s needed to tame the harshness.
Click here to print recipe for Greek Farro Salad.