5 foods worth paying for

Posted on September 25, 2012

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Fresh or jarred?

While I’m all for bargainous ingredients – there’s not much point paying for premium flour to make a roux – some ingredients are so much better when you shell out for them. And often the enhanced flavour means you don’t use as much of it, making it tasty and economical. Hurrah!

1. Balsamic vinegar. There is a world of difference between £1-a-bottle balsamic and £10-a-bottle balsamic. They’re totally different things. The cheap stuff has a similar thickness to malt vinegar and is really acidic. The expensive stuff is thick and syrupy, wonderfully sweet and a little goes a long way. My favourite at the moment is the Sainsbury’s Balsamic Vinegar Of Modena 4 Leaf, Taste the Difference 250ml at £11.99. Yum.

2. Beef mince. Pay pennies and who knows what’s actually in your mince. While piling the spices into a chilli con carne will help disguise a dodgy meat flavour, you can’t hide from the texture and cheap meat becomes very obvious in burgers and meatballs. No one wants pink slimy mush. If I could, I’d always go to the local butchers, but failing that a premium-packed, organic and non-lean (fat is flavour!) mince would be my pick.

3. Cheese. Although I’m thinking of cheddar and parmesan here, this applies to pretty much any cheese. You might have to be an addict like me to hand over wads of cash for dairy goodness, but cheap cheese is rubbery, weak and lifeless. It matters less if you’re just going to whack it into a lasagne, but even then a good, strong choice can do wonders to enhance the flavour. Try grating some 24-month Parmigiano-Reggiano (parmesan) into bolognaise for a big punch.

4. Olives. Okay, so a jar in the fridge is great for whacking some olives into a salad (or onto a homemade pizza). But fresh olives are a completely different ball game – they’re brined less (as they don’t need to be kept so long) so have a much more defined flavour. I can’t get enough of Italian green olives from Borough Market – buttery, creamy and salty, I’d eat them all day if left to my own devices. One last tip: to really taste olives, don’t get the marinated ones. Good, plain olives are far better and less oily.

5. Eggs. Aside from avoiding the guilt of buying eggs from hens kept in a few square centimetres, the flavour – and colour –from free-range eggs is so much richer. It’s easy to ignore the difference when sticking them in a cake, but scramble good eggs and bad eggs and you’ll see the difference. And you’ll get a nice warm glow inside from using free-range. Guaranteed.

Image from wollombi‘s Flickr photostream.

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Posted in: cuisine