Umami Yami

Hello friends! Welcome back to the latest instalment of Cooking With Me. Tonight we have a very special Ingredient Spotlight…umami!

What is umami, you ask? Firstly, umami is the fifth taste (after sweet, sour, salty, and bitter). It’s a sort of meaty taste, that you get from (shockingly) meat, mushrooms, soy sauce, anchovies, etc. Umami gives food HEFT. What is exciting is that you can now buy umami in a squeezey tube, rather than having to go searching for an amorphous taste. Although that could also be fun…

Umami!

Umami! “The Ultimate Flavour Bomb”

So there I was in London, feeling very posh as I bought my umami tube at Selfridges; lo and behold, I go to the Sainsburys in Oxford the next week, and there was my umami tube! Flop. However, this does mean that umami is for the masses (of which I am one), and not just for fancy Selfridges shoppers! Onwards.

Last weekend my friend and I decided to make a chicken (which is entirely unrelated to the umami), but with the chicken we made a kale Caesar salad (which is very related). I got most of the ingredients, but as usual, forgot a bunch of things, so I sent my friend out to get some anchovies. He came back empty-handed, since the shop didn’t have any, BUT WAIT! I thought. UMAMI!

This is what I was eating as I thought about my umami dilemma

This is what I was eating as I thought about my umami dilemma

This was an extremely exciting moment, you can tell, as I haven’t yet had the chance to use my umami tube! So I opened the shiny silver cap and took a whiff – this stuff does not smell awesome. It’s even a bizarre sort of…reddish color. Not clear what’s going on here. Anyway, I decided to take a leap of faith and squeezed a whole boatload of it into the dressing I was making (minced garlic, Dijon, parmesan, minced anchovies/UMAMI, lemon juice + zest, S&P, olive oil, if you are interested). It turned the whole thing a not-very-appealing browney-red color, but MAN WAS IT GOOD. I could have eaten that dressing by the spoonful (probably also due to the copious amounts of cheese, but no matter). The umami totally elevated this dressing to a whole new level, and you couldn’t even tell that it was missing anchovies. In the case of umami, the whole is truly more than the sum of its parts.

<Side note: if you are like me, you may find that using only olive oil in a Caesar dressing leaves a bit of a bitter taste…literally. In order to fix this problem, add extra lemon juice and/or a teeny drop of balsamic vinegar. Or, add more cheese. Problem solved!>

But getting back to a point I skipped over…we made KALE Caesar salad. Yes! Instead of using regular romaine, I chopped some cavolo nero as thinly as possible, and used that raw instead. Not even blanched! I was prepared to be making weird-bitter taste faces, but it was amazing. I almost ate this entire bowl myself:

I also tossed some cut-up baguette in a mixture of olive oil + umami paste. Really, really good.

Our chicken was equally impressive:

This burnished beauty is ready for the ball

We rubbed it with a compound butter (with herbs and garlic) all over, plus under the skin for extra goodness. You can see the delicious juices this made!

However, I think that my friend’s antics prior to roasting the bird also helped:

Doing the chicken dance

Doing the chicken dance

And:

Putting a nice stuffing inside!

Putting a nice stuffing inside!

I have to say that this was a really nice Sunday dinner; just goes to show that all my excuses of being a student and therefore not being able to cook proper food are baseless! (oh nooo what have I gotten myself into…). For my next act, I will make…more chicken. Yes, it’s true. It may not be very exciting, but at least it avoids the whole horse/pink slime situation. Perhaps I could also branch out into pork territory…

Folks, I now go to make pearly barley risotto. But that’s another post. Go out and buy some umami and stay delicious!

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