Today’s Radio 4’s “The Kitchen Cabinet” (which is nearly always worth a listen) was focused on the science behind the tastes in cooking, with the bulk of the discussion centred around “umami“.
[NOTE: There’s a whole page here on umami for those who’d like some further reading: What it is, why it’s suddenly popular and how it can be used.]
Since the 1990s, it’s become more and more well known as the fifth flavour. It’s the one that gives that “brothy” and “meaty”, savoury flavour. It was also phrased as (and I’m sorry for this one) “mouthfulness” i.e. something that fills the sensorium. But you get the idea.
So, ‘what does this have to do with pork’ I hear you ask?
Let me explain: this post is the first under the Now we got it, what to do with the (bloody) thing? section [*] where I’m adding recipes and suggestions about how to use the wonderful, delightful pig.
We find ourselves more and more using umami in pretty much everything meat related – for all the reasons at the top of the page. Try it in sauces, burgers, stews, broths, soups, home-made ketchup, as part of a rub for roasting meat, as an addition to the items I use to encourage interesting (whilst staying perfect) pork crackling.
Seriously. Just try it. It doesn’t need much — a tea-spoon or two can make all the difference to any of the recipes here and can brighten up those you’ve used in the past.
Natural umami givers:
versus, er, a natural umami giver, albeit en-tubed:
As far back as 3,000 years ago, Greeks and Romans used a condiment called garum – a fermented fish sauce – unwittingly boosting the umami in their foods. In the 1825 treatise, “The Physiology of Taste“, French gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin established the word “osmasome” for rich, meaty tastes, which has since been considered a forerunner of umami.
And long before the current umami craze came along, chefs had been amping up dishes with rich ingredients like sun-dried tomatoes and balsamic vinegar – even chicken stock – for years. In the late 1800s, Auguste Escoffier, in restaurants in Paris and London, created meals that combined umami with salty, sour, sweet and bitter notes. He didn’t know the chemical source of this unique quality, just a natural talent for recognising what worked.
One of my favourite chefs, Richard H Turner,
(author of “Hog“, oft mentioned around here), knows the value of umami:
It’s hugely useful in cooking almost anything — pushes up the taste dial another notch or two, “brightens up” dishes, really punches above its weight when the taste buds need stimulating.
And on the latter point — as you age, your taste buds become less keen (which is why you find yourself adding more salt to dishes, more sugar to your tea). Nutritionists for some time now, have been suggesting using umami when cooking for older people. I make no comment…
* [Which occasioned some debate with Val — as I want people to read my pages as I post them whilst still retaining them as a resource. Despite her expertise in all things WordPress related, it looks as though I’ll have to duplicate them to make sure people see both the RSS feed as well as it being a more “permanent” part of the site as a page.]