Contrast for the palate is the initial reasoning for our use of crusts and toppings. In order to make something pronounced there needs to be a counterpart. Without a canvas there is no painting. Without hot fudge, there is no sundae. In many of our recipes we design toppings which first add character and structure to the dish and second through the emergence of contrast enhances a certain aspect of the dish.
Our thought process in designing toppings does not always originate from the topping or the product to be topped. Many times our inspiration comes from a flavor we wish to convey or a particular cooking method we wish to highlight. For instance, we gently poach chicken breasts in buttermilk to make them silky tender and slightly tangy. In order to make the delicate nature of the chicken breast remarkable and not just seem like an overly tender piece of chicken we top them with a crust. In one particular dish we made the crust with piave vechio cheese, butter, salt and espelette pepper. We pulverized the ingredients and then rolled them to an eighth of an inch thick. Next we cut the crust into squares which we used to top the just poached chicken breast. We finished the chicken and its crust under the broiler to melt the cheese, brown the crust and unify the two together. The flavor and texture of the crust accentuated the silky tenderness of the chicken breast, rather than allowing the breast to be construed as too much of a good thing.
Toppings are equally useful and complimentary in our cooking. They add and unexpected burst of flavor, accent or crunch. Toppings help tie a dish together. Toppings can be adhered to proteins and vegetables and then seared or roasted, thus becoming a crust. In the same sense, a mixture of toasted pistachio nuts, yuzu zest, togarishi and muscavado sugar can be sprinkled on braised fish or slow cooked vegetables to add flavor explosions which accent the recipe.
The choice and design of toppings and crusts are dictated as much from the ingredients used to the flavor sensations we choose to express. We can push flavors, textures and ideas forward by tweaking and adjusting what we use to accent our ingredients. Similarly, we can use main ingredients to demonstrate the importance of flavors, textures and intricacies in the toppings and crusts.