Friday, March 12, 2010

Umami... made up word or rich lost secret flavor profile

It was Tuesday this week, I was off work and on a nerdy food mission.  Mr. Man and I were on a quest to find Umami when we were thrown out of the Asian grocery store.  Ok that doesn't make much sense yet...  A few months go I saw a commercial for Kikoman soy sauce when they were bandying the word Umami around.  I kind of figured it was a word they made up as a marketing tool.    A few weeks later I was watching "The Next Iron Chef" (I really did like that show) Alton Brown was setting up the compitition to bring "Umami" to the dishes they were preparing using the collection of Kikoman sauces that were available.  Not that food network is above paid advertising, but I started to look into what Umami was all about.

The best way describe the 5th flavor but a bit more illusive than I thought.  Sweet, Sour, Salty and Bitter we all know, Umami in all my poking around is something like "Earthy" or "Full bodied" anyway... I get email updates from regularly I received an article about a company that is selling something they call Umami paste "Flavor No.5" or something.  The discussions that followed were a lot of people saying giving their opinions of what they thought Umami actually was.  Some of the flavors that came up, Mushrooms, Parmesan Cheese, Seaweed, Worcestershire Sauce, dried Fish... The list goes on, does any of this make sense to you?  I was lost.  One comment suggested making your own Umami Seasoning using a mixture of:
Dried Nori (seaweed)
Dried Mushrooms
Dried Anchovies
Parmesan Cheese
Sea Salt
to that I added Worcestershire Sauce

I started by trying to grind some dried Chilean Mushrooms in my mini chopper, no luck there, who knew that the steel blades would have no effect on the little fungi?  So I got out the hardest working appliance in my house, the coffee grinder and took them down fast.  I put these guys and the rest of the ingredient, sans salt, into the chopper and mixed them thoroughly. No there are no measurements here I am a pioneer breaking new ground (read "have no idea what I am doing") however the Worcestershire made it all into a mushy paste, so I put all of this into the oven for a few minutes to dry it all out then added salt and there I had it 1/2 cup of Umami dry rub (I hoped anyway).

I rubbed this generously on some Salmon drizzled with Sesame Oil and hoped that I was ready to go.  After the salmon sat on the counter for a few minutes I threw it onto the grill.  I served this with Radicchio that I grilled.

Here you go Umami Salmon on a bed of Grilled Radicchio.  How was it?  Really to describe it I would have to use words like "earthy" and "full bodied" The stuff in the rub seems like a mess that only the Mad Hatter could come up with but it really worked together well.

The question that is more in mind I am sure is "Why did Bryan and Mr. Man get thrown out of the Asian Grocery store?"  Nowhere near as exciting as it sounds, the Asian grocery store was actually the fourth place on our list.  We went to several Stores before we stopped there but none of them had dried seaweed or anchovies.  We went to this place I picked up Seaweed, Dried Anchovies and some Chopsticks.  When we got to the checkout the total came to $5.74 and I handed the checker my credit card.

"I sorry, we only take cash if purchase is under fifteen dollar"

"Seriously," I replied "I don't want to go somewhere else"  Yeah that is when the poor little guy lost it.  I just picked him up and left.  I guess we weren't so much "kicked out" as "run out like Frankenstein's monster."


  1. I've always thought umami was a sense, not a thing. A feeling, a taste, a flavor. Not something you can put your finger on and make.
    But I'm glad you were happy with your rub. That's all that counts in the end!

  2. Nice to hear that the rubbed worked out. I lived in Japan for a few years and can say with some authority that umami is a basic taste like salty or sweet and the best translation is savory. Miso is a great source of umami.

  3. Thanks Devon! I will try a couple of things with Miso. I have used it a few times but it has been awhile. It is fun to try new stuff.

  4. I giggled as I read about your Umami experiment. Glad it worked out!

  5. I'm glad your rub work out nicely!