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Umamiest


Ilaine
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For me, it might be my recent attempt to fuse deep-Southern cuisine with Asian/healthy ingredients.

Inspiration: Southern style smothered greens.

If you are Southern, the non-Southern obsession with al dente vegetables is somehow WRONG when it comes to greens.

Really good Southern greens (e.g., collards, mustard greens, turnip greens) must be cooked into submission, aka smothered. And smoked pork products (bacon, ham, tasso, smoked hocks, sausage) are an essential element in this process.

How to achieve without smoked pork? Answer, dried wild mushrooms. The umamiest dried mushrooms I have yet to come across are Roland brand dried wild mushrooms, purchased at the Mediterranean Bakery and Cafe in Alexandria, 352 S Pickett St. Alexandria, VA 22304 (703) 751-0030. (Note that I am not saying that this can't be beat, as this is my first experience with this style of dried mushroom.)

Soak overnight an ounce or so of dried wild mushrooms in cold water. I used four cups of water to one ounce dried wild mushrooms.

Next day, saute a medium onion in olive oil until translucent. In a heavy pot, e.g., ceramic covered cast iron Dutch oven, put in a pound of well washed Southern greens (see above) cut into bite sized pieces, the reconstituted dried mushrooms, the mushroom water (strain through a cloth to remove sand and grit), the onions, and a tablespoon or so of dark miso. Cook into submission (well beyond al dente) over low heat. Garlic optional (I opted).

Oooh, mami, this is SO umami!

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The umamiest dried mushrooms I have yet to come across are Roland brand dried wild mushrooms, purchased at the Mediterranean Bakery and Cafe in Alexandria, 352 S Pickett St. Alexandria, VA 22304 (703) 751-0030. (Note that I am not saying that this can't be beat, as this is my first experience with this style of dried mushroom.)

Soak overnight an ounce or so of dried wild mushrooms in cold water. I used four cups of water to one ounce dried wild mushrooms.

I assume that the dried wild mushrooms in question were porcini (boletus edulis). Trader Joe's sells dried porcini in small quantity bags at the cheapest price around DC. There are probably lots of on-line sources; the one I am most familiar with, since I shop in their brick and mortar store when I am in L.A. is www.Surfasonline.com. You can also get porcini powder from them, which does not require soaking and adds umami and depth of flavor to any number of dishes without the detectable presence of pieces of mushroom (not that that's a bad thing, necessarily).

Overnight soaking in cold water is not necessary. A half-hour soak in hot water does the same thing--but you don't need that much water. A cup or two for one ounce of 'shrooms is plenty.

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Overnight soaking in cold water is not necessary. A half-hour soak in hot water does the same thing--but you don't need that much water. A cup or two for one ounce of 'shrooms is plenty.

That is what I use for my non-soy "soy sauce." I use some of that liquid, plus vegemite/marmite dissolved in a bit of hot water (very umami rich), plus salt, molasses if I have it around, sometimes a bit of red wine.

Oooooh mami. :rolleyes:

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I assume that the dried wild mushrooms in question were porcini (boletus edulis). Trader Joe's sells dried porcini in small quantity bags at the cheapest price around DC. There are probably lots of on-line sources; the one I am most familiar with, since I shop in their brick and mortar store when I am in L.A. is www.Surfasonline.com. You can also get porcini powder from them, which does not require soaking and adds umami and depth of flavor to any number of dishes without the detectable presence of pieces of mushroom (not that that's a bad thing, necessarily).

Overnight soaking in cold water is not necessary. A half-hour soak in hot water does the same thing--but you don't need that much water. A cup or two for one ounce of 'shrooms is plenty.

In my experience, dried shiitake work fine, and are typically more economical. As usual, the Chinese had these things down long before the Europeans showed up.

Speaking of Asia, liberal applications of fish sauce have beneficial umami effects on many more things than one might imagine. For example, tonight I served hamburgers that had fish sauce added to the meat before cooking, as is my practice of late. Eww mommy, so good.

And let us not forget that the purpose of adding the much (and in my opinion unfairly) reviled MSG to things is to add umami.

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In my experience, dried shiitake work fine, and are typically more economical. As usual, the Chinese had these things down long before the Europeans showed up.
In my estimation, dried shiitakes have nothing in common with porcini, flavorwise. I don't consider them interchangeable at all. They are cheaper, that's true--because they are cultivated, not gathered in the wild like the boletes are.
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In my estimation, dried shiitakes have nothing in common with porcini, flavorwise. I don't consider them interchangeable at all. They are cheaper, that's true--because they are cultivated, not gathered in the wild like the boletes are.

Perhaps so, but does that indicate porcini are the best choice to add to a pot of Southern greens, as a substitute for a smoked pork product? I don't know, but that seems to me to be a bit like using foie gras to make chopped liver. But of course to each his own--everybody's taste, and budget, is different. I'm kind of a "everything has its place" guy.

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Would it bring peace and harmony to mention another option for making a vegetarian version of Southern greens?

Long braising w red onions and pimenton. Got the idea from Deborah Madison.

There was/is a hip soul-food restaurant in Manhattan that made an incredible version w apples of all things, but I can't remember what else might have made you swear there was something smoky or meaty in it.

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Perhaps so, but does that indicate porcini are the best choice to add to a pot of Southern greens, as a substitute for a smoked pork product? I don't know, but that seems to me to be a bit like using foie gras to make chopped liver. But of course to each his own--everybody's taste, and budget, is different. I'm kind of a "everything has its place" guy.

I wasn't responding to the addition of dried mushrooms to a pot of greens, in fact. Just to the idea that they needed to be soaked overnight, and that porcini are the umamiest 'shrooms I know of. If the subject is how to make a pot of collard greens taste authentically Southern without the addition of smoked pork of some sort, that's entirely another kettle of ...er...well, not fish. I, in fact had faced that challenge for quite a few years, with my daughter not eating meat. I solved first by adding smoked salt just before serving. And then came up with the best option--Liquid Smoke. Contrary to many misconceptions, Liquid Smoke is not an artificial, chemical-laden product. Read the label if you are a doubter. The first time I used it, my daughter took one bite and looked at me suspiciously: "Is there meat in this?"

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I wasn't responding to the addition of dried mushrooms to a pot of greens, in fact. Just to the idea that they needed to be soaked overnight, and that porcini are the umamiest 'shrooms I know of. If the subject is how to make a pot of collard greens taste authentically Southern without the addition of smoked pork of some sort, that's entirely another kettle of ...er...well, not fish. I, in fact had faced that challenge for quite a few years, with my daughter not eating meat. I solved first by adding smoked salt just before serving. And then came up with the best option--Liquid Smoke. Contrary to many misconceptions, Liquid Smoke is not an artificial, chemical-laden product. Read the label if you are a doubter. The first time I used it, my daughter took one bite and looked at me suspiciously: "Is there meat in this?"

Hmmmm. I'm one of those who has been in the doubter camp on liquid smoke, but if you say it's OK, then I'm going to have another look. It certainly has some good potential uses.

As to pepping up a pot of greens with some non-pork umami, I'm starting to think about taking my own advice and trying fish sauce. Of course that's not exactly vegetarian, but maybe worth a shot. My local Bi-Lo has greens on sale this week...... If I do it I'll report back.

BTW, Zora I'm worried about you--what are you doing out of bed at 3AM?

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The Szechuan recipes in Fuchsia Dunlop's "Land of Plenty" burst with umami flavors, especially the "Fish Fragrant Pork Slivers," which have nothing to do with fish or fish sauce, but are so named because the combination of flavors (light and dark soy sauce, black vinegar, Shaoxing rice wine) evokes the flavors of fish. Cloud ear fungus also adds to the umami notes. I love cooking from this book.

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Perhaps so, but does that indicate porcini are the best choice to add to a pot of Southern greens, as a substitute for a smoked pork product? I don't know, but that seems to me to be a bit like using foie gras to make chopped liver. But of course to each his own--everybody's taste, and budget, is different. I'm kind of a "everything has its place" guy.

The mixture according to the label: "An assortment of five wild mushrooms:Cepes, Trumpet, Porcini, Chanterelles, and Morel."

That ounce of mushrooms cost me about three bucks, which is less than I'd spend on pork products, assuming I was eating meat these days, which I am not, I gave up meat for Lent.

A really good pot of smothered Southern greens is, to me, a thing of beauty. I've loved them all my life. It's hard to get good greens around here, but there are places (Mary Mac's Tea Room in Atlanta, Dooky Chase's in New Orleans) that do them justice.

Liquid Smoke -- will try that on greens and report back, but would you call the flavor umami?

Now, for another umami-rich dish: The coop in Takoma Park carries South River organic miso. The Three Year Brown Rice miso is very umami indeed.

I made a salmon rub/marinade with equal parts miso and toasted soybean oil, doctored with ginger and garlic, and rubbed it all over a nice piece of salmon in a microwave safe dish. I prefer tender salmon. Let it sit for about half an hour. Microwaved for about three minutes. It was extremely tender and fragrant. The edges, which are flatter, cook sooner. I had the edges for supper over brown rice, with some of my mushroom smothered greens, and the next day warmed up the center piece and the leftovers in the microwave at work, and it was cooked by the time it was warm.

My office mates complained about the smell. Either you like this kind of thing or you don't. I bet if I worked in Japan there would be no complaints!

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That ounce of mushrooms cost me about three bucks, which is less than I'd spend on pork products, assuming I was eating meat these days, which I am not, I gave up meat for Lent.

My earlier comment wasn't to suggest it wasn't appropriate to substitute some sort of mushroom for the pork, but to suggest the use of shiitake might work just as well as the porcini etc. for the substitution and would be more economical. Much has since been made of my suggestion, which was only made in the spirit of sharing ideas. Let me say that, many years ago, I was doing a lasagna (Macella Hazan) dish that called for porcini but, having none, I substituted shiitake. It turned out very well indeed, everybody loved the dish, and I've done it many times since. Maybe it doesn't taste the same as it would have, but what the hell!!!!! Maybe it tastes better.

It just seems to me that, particularly in making a simple, cheap, and earthy dish such as greens, rather than using expensive ingredients it might be useful to consider other ways to achieve the same end--at least the less-expensive approach deserves consideration.

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It just seems to me that, particularly in making a simple, cheap, and earthy dish such as greens, rather than using expensive ingredients it might be useful to consider other ways to achieve the same end--at least the less-expensive approach deserves consideration.
Earthy. Very good word.

Earthy is exactly the effect I was trying to achieve, and you can't get earthier than dried mushrooms!

I have found very good bargains on dried mushrooms at ethnic grocers, like the Russian grocery in Rockville in the same shopping center as Joe's Noodle. I just looked in the pantry, and saw two trays of boletus edulis from the Russian grocer and a big plastic jug of dried mixed mushrooms, including boletus edulis, from Costco that I had forgotten about. Of course, dried shiitakes are cheaper, especially if you get them from an Asian grocer, but boletus edulis is umamier.

Parenthetically, I have been exploring the world of essential oils, and recently purchased a bottle of cepes absolute, which is essence of cepes. Wonder what to do with it? I was going to put it in perfume to add an earthy note, but wonder if I can use it in cooking, as well as the black pepper oil, basil oil, fennel oil, etc.? These are all used in perfumery to add spicy notes, but can you cook with them?

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Of course, dried shiitakes are cheaper, especially if you get them from an Asian grocer, but boletus edulis is umamier.

Parenthetically, I have been exploring the world of essential oils, and recently purchased a bottle of cepes absolute, which is essence of cepes. Wonder what to do with it? I was going to put it in perfume to add an earthy note,.........

Would use of such a perfume make one an earth mother? :rolleyes:

Upon what do you base the assertion that porcini are "umamier" than shiitake? I have been researching the subject of umami for a long while, but have never happened upon that one. Shitake are mentioned more frequently in the articles I have read, FWIW. In any case, everybody seems to agree that dried mushrooms are a great way to go in general, not to take anything away from fish sauce (anchovies), parmesan, dashi, tomatoes, etc. Gosh, a nice tomato salad with anchovies and parmesan sounds good right now! Too bad it's March.

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Parenthetically, I have been exploring the world of essential oils, and recently purchased a bottle of cepes absolute, which is essence of cepes. Wonder what to do with it? I was going to put it in perfume to add an earthy note, but wonder if I can use it in cooking, as well as the black pepper oil, basil oil, fennel oil, etc.? These are all used in perfumery to add spicy notes, but can you cook with them?
Not sure about your essence, though I suspect it's akin to truffle oils.

Caveat emptor when it comes to flavored oils, in general. Not all, certainly, but many are produced w an inferior oil, relying on the strength of the flavoring agent to mask the poor quality of the oil.

Whether you could cook w them or not would depend on the kind of oil used. I've made an incredible orange-chili oil for Chinese cooking in which it's used either in a marinade (which means it does get cooked) or to finish the dish. However, you still add peanut (or relatively neutral, heat-tolerant) oil to the hot pan, first, before tossing in your aromatics (ginger, garlic...), etc.

Most nut oils (vs. flavored oils) are reserved for flavoring because they don't respond kindly to heat. Sort of like a Tennessee Williams-heroine, fragile, best stored in refrigerator (the analogy works only up to a point) lest they become rancid. Since toasted walnuts are so good in salads, the oil might work w certain cooked greens.

I realize this is moving away from your original questions, but cf. discussion of quinoa since a little walnut oil, say, would be great added to any grain dish after it's come off the burner. Stir in, cover w paper towel or cloth, lid, then let rest 5-15 minutes before serving.

Lots of variations on pesto. Drizzle on hummus, mashed eggplant... Bean purées spread on grilled/toasted bread. Just the toasted bread rubbed w raw garlic.

And if olive oil and salt complement bittersweet chocolate melted on toast, imagine what a little hazelnut oil would do.

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I have been researching the subject of umami for a long while, but have never happened upon that one. Shitake are mentioned more frequently in the articles I have read, FWIW. In any case, everybody seems to agree that dried mushrooms are a great way to go in general, not to take anything away from fish sauce (anchovies), parmesan, dashi, tomatoes, etc.
And soy sauce. IIRC umami is a descriptor for naturally occuring glutamates, so for the most umami, maybe we should go back to adding MSG.
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And soy sauce. IIRC umami is a descriptor for naturally occuring glutamates, so for the most umami, maybe we should go back to adding MSG.
Zora, you made me curious so I googled about a bit, and come to the conclusion that we might indeed give MSG another try. Interesting article in the Guardian. And another one.

At least, I might give it a try.

John, why do I think dried boletus edulis mushrooms are umamier than dried shiitakes? Merely subjective perception. As far as I know, there's nothing like the Scoville scale for measuring umami.

And, even if there were, my own idiosyncratic perceptions might differ. For example, Habanero peppers are way up there on the Scoville scale but because I perceive the taste of Habaneros as rounder and fruitier than, say, prik kee noo peppers or Pequin peppers, I perceive the latter as hotter.

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And soy sauce. IIRC umami is a descriptor for naturally occuring glutamates, so for the most umami, maybe we should go back to adding MSG.

I would say there's no maybe about it. To boost umami is exactly why we use MSG. That is why MSG was developed in the first place, back in 1907. It is glutamates, which in essence is umami. And BTW MSG is not a purely chemical concoction brewed up by dumping strange and nasty things into a vat as some might think. It started out as a seaweed extract, and nowadays is produced by fermenting starches/sugars and ultimately extracting the glutamate salt.

Personally, I think MSG has gotten a bad rap.

John, why do I think dried boletus edulis mushrooms are umamier than dried shiitakes? Merely subjective perception. As far as I know, there's nothing like the Scoville scale for measuring umami.

Ilaine, I'm not saying shiitake are more umami than porcini, I was just curious where you got your information that there was a difference. I've searched, but am unable to find any scientific reference to the relative umaminess of dried porcini vs. dried shiitake, or among various dried mushrooms in general.

There is a scoville-type scale for umami, BTW. Essentially, it simply relates to the mg of free glutamates in a food per gram of that food. There apparently are differences between protein and non-protein based glutamates however, so proteins and other foods each have their own scales. Either way, the higher the glutamates, the higher the umami.

Oh, and to close the loop, I did try a pot of greens (kale and mustard mixed) with some fish sauce, among other things, and it turned out pretty well.

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There is a scoville-type scale for umami, BTW. Essentially, it simply relates to the mg of free glutamates in a food per gram of that food. There apparently are differences between protein and non-protein based glutamates however, so proteins and other foods each have their own scales. Either way, the higher the glutamates, the higher the umami.
Interestingly, umami researchers claim that there is a synergistic effect between glutamates (found in meat, fermented soy products, mushrooms, parmesan, tomatoes, etc.) and inosine (found in fish).

Example: "It is well known that synergistic effect of umami taste occurs between monosodium glutamate (MSG) and inosine 5'-monophosphate (IMP)", Science Links Japan.

Another: "There are two main categories of umami substances: Amino acids like MSG and nucleotides such as IMP and GMP. Many common foods such as tomatoes, eggs, seafoods and especially fermented ones like cheese, fish products and soy sauce contain active umami substances. It's important to note that various active umami substances are synergistic. That is, when they used in combination, their delicious umami taste is greatly amplified." Certified Savory.

Long before I ever encountered fish sauce, I became introduced, via some friends from Sri Lanka, to the concept of Maldive fish, which I knew from my study of history was similar to the Roman condiment, garum, made from fermented fish guts. Sounded awful!

Little did I know that one day I would consider nuoc mam one of the spices of life! And now, after learning about umami synergism, I know why!

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Most of us have heard about Parmigiano Reggiano in this context. (Click my signature line should you care to watch others sing praises to the cheese.)

However, is it unique among cheeses, or just singled out as the most familiar?

Just about any cheese with some age will have some umami, but the more age the more umami. Generally it takes age/fermentation to develop and bring it out. Thus the hard cheeses and blue cheese are those with the greatest "umami hit", but others are also rich--aged cheddar, aged gouda, emmental, and so on come to mind, but there are probably hundreds more. Even mozzarella has some.

There is a good scientific reason why pizza and caesar salad are such popular dishes.

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