Photo by Joseph De Leo; styled by Mariya Yufest
The dark crust and meaty flavor of a flame-broiled steak, the sweetness and deep brown color of long-cooked onions -- we owe all of this to the Maillard reaction. Not to be confused with caramelization (a reaction of just sugar and heat), this phenomenon is the result of sugars and proteins reacting under heat, and is responsible for the browning of food and all of the flavors, aromas, and textures that come with it. We owe some of our best gustatory experiences to it, but we also know what happens when we accidentally take it a little too far -- burnt, bitter, unpalatable food, and a need for a new dinner plan.
But what if we "burn" our food on purpose? There are dishes that actually benefit by pushing the limits of the Maillard reaction, and it’s not only those with meat. The charred skin of an eggplant lends a distinct, smoky flavor to its silky flesh. Roasted red peppers' sweetness concentrates beneath skin blackened by contact with direct dry heat.
Here, lightly charring zucchini in a piping-hot cast iron pan slightly dries out the slices, making them (and us) thirstier than ever for the basil-lemon vinaigrette. The brown mottling that appears evokes the flavors of a grill when it hits your tongue, but the fresh taste of the squash is never at risk.
Pan-Seared Summer Squash with Basil and Lemon Vinaigrette
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 large green zucchini
What are your favorite foods to give a little char? Share your tips and serving suggestions in the comments section below.
Like this post? See the Easy Everyday topic from last week: Cashew Sour Cream.