Making desserts is my jam, it’s my thing, and I’ll happily make endless amounts of it for friends. But if for some reason, you’re trying to win me over, don’t make dessert for me, cook me dinner instead! And if you manage to sneak in umami, well, kudos to you! But seriously, ever since I had a heart-to-heart with you last week, I’ve been thinking about and reading up about umami. Last week, I described it as the je ne sais quoi flavour, in addition to sweet, salty, bitter and sour that our tongues can identify. It is the long-lasting aftertaste that was naturally found in foods like tomatoes, parmesan, peas, seaweed and even cauliflower. It was only a little over a hundred years ago that Kikunae Ikeda identified ‘glutamate’ as that ‘it factor’ that contributed to the ‘umami’ flavour. He then went on to combine it with a sodium and water molecule to create MSG (monosodium glutamate) as a flavour enhancer.
This isn’t a lesson in history, but isn’t it fascinating to know how minds work to create such things? Could you have ever imagined that all you need to create a deeply chocolaty mousse are chocolate and water like we did in with this recipe? And we thought molecular gastronomy was all foams, sous vide and liquid nitrogen, difficult to recreate at home. In addition to Ikeda, Hervé This (who gave us the aforementioned water and chocolate formula), another such mind that I’m totally fascinated with is David Chang of Momofuku. I’ve never been to his famed restaurant, but I think it’s so cool that he has Dan Felder serving as his head of Research Development, dedicated to exploring flavours! And one such flavour they take very seriously is umami. An easy way to incorporate umami into our food, they suggest, is through the use of miso paste.
Miso was, traditionally, a fermented soybean paste, but today it has many variations. Traditionally, it’s used in Japanese cooking, but today, I’ve used it with pasta. I could very easily have used parmesan here for its umami flavour, but honestly, that wouldn’t justify the title of this post as an ‘exploration’, would it? I’m also using this recipe to demonstrate what I mentioned in last week’s post – that a deeply umami flavour, whether natural or through MSG, must be accompanied by a reduced amount of salt added to the dish. So really, take a deep breath, and I’m going take you back to what I said earlier, let’s move beyond our fear of MSG and the zillions of contradictory reports we read every day, and just enjoy food – cooking, eating and feeding!
Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit