I just posted about umami–how I was at first flummoxed at the term, how I soon came to understand that my cooking was long a quest for umami without thinking of it as its own thing and how I then came to realize the extent of umami fixings I already had around the house, prepackaged or homemade.
After writing the post, I thought again about umami evidence. I’d just finished off large jars of homemade saurkraut and kimchee, but in the freezer and elsewhere I found I currently have additional umami bomb components ready to be deployed.
Here are some.
The first is ssamjang. This is a Korean paste made by mixing together Korean bean paste (doenjang), red pepper paste (gochujang) and sesame oil/seeds.
That’s the basic flavor combination, though most recipes call for some sweetening from honey or brown sugar as well as scallion, onion and/or garlic. Here it is mixed together.
It is popular as a dipping sauce, or spread on grilled meats. You can use it in cooking too. Great with slow cooked beef ribs.
The Koreans know their umami. The cuisine is highly flavored. Not for nothing one of the nation’s popular dishes is budae jjigae, or army base stew, so named because Koreans took to the spam, hot dogs and American cheese G.I.s brought with them during the Korean War, and incorporated them into a mixed-culture stew.
I also realized I had in the back of the refrigerator another condiment/flavoring agent that I cooked up recently. It doesn’t have a name, but it is loosely based on the flavors often found in Sicilian cuisine, a heady mix of fish, nuts, fruit and garlic, like this.
I had recently made up a large batch of pickled raisins. A nice chutney-like condiment resulted but I had too much. So I tossed a large bunch in the food processor along with an equal amount of capers
and roasted tomatoes (from the last post). Then some anchovies, garlic, pine nuts and walnuts. The result is quite tasty, with the sweet and sour from the raisins, salty/briny from the capers, the woodsy elements from the nuts and, natch, umami from tomatoes and anchovies.
The ready for deployment result.
Next: schmaltz. In the freezer. Rendered chicken fat, a Jewish contribution to the umami cause.
The classic way to render the fat is to chop up chicken skin into small pieces and simmer in a small amount of water until all the fat is rendered and the water evaporated, at which time you are left with schmatlz (reserve this) and the crisped-up skin, which is known as gribenes (you eat this, probably right away). Gribenes are great with caramelized onions and chopped chicken liver. Something a Jewish umami would make.
Me, I find the chopping of the skin a chore. I tend to use a short cut. I typically take chicken skin from on-sale thighs (you can get for a buck a pound on sale, and why pay three times that for skinless and boneless?) The skin is pulled off easily
and put in the oven in a baking dish to render the fat. Again, save the fat for cooking and eat the skin, this time done as a chicken equivalent of pork rinds.
Continuing, I found another pepper infused oil I had made. This one is more of an acquired taste: oil infused with Szechuan peppercorns.
These aren’t related to black pepper and are shall we say very distinctive. The most distinctive element is their numbing quality. I remember a large bowl of soup I had in China that was dominated by this pepper as well as capsaicin-hot red chilis. The broth was as scarlet as a communist banner, with a layer of slippery hot oil on the top, also bright red.
The broth and oil were both scaldingly hot temperature wise. And the Szechuan pepper created a numbing sensation, hot in its own unique way. If I had to name it I would call it, in Chinese fashion, Scarlet Soup Three Way Hot (硃紅湯辣三種方式, courtesy of Google Translate).
I made the oil in a similar fashion as the Chiu Chow oil discussed in the last post, with some umami additions like soy sauce.
I found more umami evidence but this should suffice.