When in doubt, go through your top five –
Is it Salty enough?
One of the chefs at work says, “if it is salty enough, you should feel bells and whistles right here.”
Too salty – Try adding a touch of sour or acid.
Is it Bright?
Food should taste a little “sparkly” for lack of a better term. Acid does this, or sour. Think ice water versus ice water with lemon in it. If it’s not sparkly, add an acid – citrus juice or vinegar.
Too acidic – Cut it with sweetness
Is it Sweet?
Even savory dishes often need a touch of sweetness, especially if it’s salty and bright, and there’s still something missing.
Too sweet – add sour
Is it Bitter?
You may not want that, but sometimes that adds a depth of flavor. Think the nipping quality of coffee. And beer. Delicious, delicious beer. Bitter also cuts the unctuousness of a very fatty dish. Some greens are bitter, alcohol, some people perceive citrus to be bitter in addition to sour.
Too bitter – add sweetness or cream/fat
Not really a taste but… Herbaceous/Spicy?
I’m tempted to lump this in with bright, but I feel it’s slightly different because it doesn’t have the “tang” that vinegar/acid does. Think of cucumber or a mint leaf. Bright, but not acidic. Spices also add a depth of flavor not covered in the top five. Cumin is earthy, cinnamon is warm, etc.
Too spicy/herby – try a touch of sweetness
Disputed fifth taste – Is it Umami?
Does it taste round and full? If not, you may need the disputed umami. Think parmesan cheese, tomatoes, mushrooms, garlic. Some people allege umami is just salty. *Shrug* If you’ve exhausted the rest of the checklist and it’s still not right, try adding something “umami”.
Too Umami – Well, since umami means delicious, “too umami” doesn’t really exist. Probably too much salt. Add sour.
Salty, Acidic, Sweet, Bitter, Spicy, Round and Full
If you have most of those things going on, it should be balanced and delicious. If not, bring in a friend, and make them go through the checklist. Sometimes another pair of “eyes” (or in this case, tastebuds) is just the thing.