November 27, 2019 11:19 PM   Subscribe

Dear MeFi foodies! Every time I go nuts about food, it involves umami. Can you be a chef in my imaginary themed restaurant and create a two- or three course feast to let me revel in umami?

I am not a very good cook (though I am an excellent eater), so I'm probably not going to dare cook this myself - but it would make me very happy to imagine all the details. And perhaps I will try some of them. So please yes recipes, tales of things you've eaten yourself with guesswork how it was made and creations that have not been made yet but should totally taste good are all welcome.

I would especially like to hear about two or three courses and how they fit together to amplify each other or balance each other out.

I generally prefer comfort food from all cultures to anything gourmet.

Thank you!
posted by Omnomnom to Food & Drink (15 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
I don't have time right now to describe what I would cook you as guest chef in your imaginary restaurant (although I might later if this is still up and not deemed chatfilter), but what I will say is that you should acquire some of the manga comics called "Oishinbo". They will, I suspect, be so far up your street that they've got a foot in your front door.
posted by greenish at 1:12 AM on November 28, 2019

I'm no good at matching courses, I'm afraid, but I can tell you that your dessert is going to be some kind of white miso ice cream. I tried the version made by Hackney Gelato, and it might be the best ice cream flavour I've ever had... if you happen to be in London, I strongly recommend trying it for yourself. Their recipe is not publicly available, but I would think any recipe that combines white miso with caramel/butterscotch/brown sugar flavours would be pretty much a winner. This one, maybe.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 4:11 AM on November 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

Do you use Liquid Aminos? Adds umami to most any savory dish. Some people call it soy sauce without the salt. May be, but LA doesn't make food taste "Asian." Used to be I could find it only in natural food stores but now my nearby small Publix carries it. And for those to whom it matters, LA is vegan.

Also, keep the rinds of parmesan cheese. Freeze them if you're not using them soon so they don't mold. Use in any long cooked, savory dish, like stews, stocks, tomato soup. They won't dissolve; you'll have to fish them out at the end of cooking. They add much umami. You can even make a stock of just parmesan rinds, it you collect enough of them. Good taste. Terrible to waste them.

Dried shiitakes also will add umami to long cooked dishes but they won't get soft enough to eat. Fish 'em out. If you have an Asian grocery nearby, buy the dried mushrooms there. Much cheaper.

Trader Joes has a spice they call Umami. It's mostly several kinds of dried mushrooms ground up. It DOES add umami to dishes. In very mild flavored dishes, like scrambled eggs, you might taste mushrooms, per se,--which isn't bad--but in dishes with flavors the spice just boosts umami.

Sorry, no recipes but four general hints. You are not alone in discovering and wanting more umami.
posted by tmdonahue at 5:24 AM on November 28, 2019 [9 favorites]

MSG got an (unfair, undeserved) bad rap for a few decades but it is pretty much distilled umami, discovered by the discoverer/namer of umami in seaweed as he searched for the source of the yumminess of Japanese broths.

Anyway you can add msg to almost anything to kick up the umami. Tomato paste is another often-overlooked source of umami.
posted by SaltySalticid at 5:35 AM on November 28, 2019 [9 favorites]

I'm a vegetarian, so a big part of cooking for me is finding vegetarian foods that provide umami in place of meat providing the glutamates.

Miso soup gets its umami in the form of miso (fermented soy beans) and a broth made from soaking dried mushrooms and seaweed, as well as soy sauce.

The vegetation thai red curry recipe I have gets umami from dried mushrooms again, as well as tomato paste and coconut milk.

If you want an easy-to-make umami bomb, I make popcorn and season it with butter (of course), nutritional yeast and smoked salt. Nutritional yeast has a very similar flavor to parmesan cheese. Together with the smoky flavor from the salt, it's instant umami for my Netflix watching.
posted by soren_lorensen at 6:59 AM on November 28, 2019 [5 favorites]

I do something similar to soren_lorenson but I add a little Worcestershire sauce to the butter.

I think crostini with mushrooms belongs in your dream meal. Topped with cheese.
posted by bunderful at 7:07 AM on November 28, 2019

Marmite (and/or Vegemite -- and yeah, I know there are OPINIONS on the interchangeability of these) is another source of umami.

Kenji López-Alt has been on about Marmite and umami for quite some time now (e.g., his vegetarian chili).
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 9:05 AM on November 28, 2019 [3 favorites]

A stew with meat and mushrooms, with tomatoes in the sauce, has three umami sources; boost it a bit more with a teaspoon of yeast extract, a couple of anchovies (they dissolve and don't make it taste fishy), and a shake of seaweed flakes, and it'll be intensely savoury.

Maybe a starter of smoked cheese crostini? The miso icecream mentioned above sounds amazing, but you might not want two rich creamy courses, so you could have grilled mushroom and fresh tomato crostini instead. (You could take the mushrooms out of the stew, or chop the ones in the stew very fine just for the taste and have whole wild mushrooms in the starter, to keep them from feeling samey). Ooh, or get some really good quality sardines or pickled anchovies for the starter.
posted by Shark Hat at 2:41 PM on November 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

Umami brunch!
First course: toasted sesame bagel spread with cream cheese mixed with Kalamata or other really good olives, topped with heirloom tomato slices brushed with balsamic vinegar. Seaweed salad on the side. Lapsang souchong tea.
Second course: quiche of mushrooms, sausage (impossible/beyond meat if you are vegetarian like me,) grueyere and caramelized onion. Shaved truffle on top. Seltzer with fresh squeezed citrus and muddled basil.

Cheese plate/treats!
You want a cheesemonger to pick you out some fancy blues and gnarly sharp numbers. Soft bread, olive oil crackers, marinated mushrooms, smoked nuts, lavendar honey, fig jam, and pickled veggies. Wine.
Dessert: dark chocolate truffles with smoked sea salt. Salted burnt caramel pots de creme. Strawberries. Chicory coffee.
posted by prewar lemonade at 4:47 PM on November 28, 2019

Err, missed the part about comfort food > gourmet, sorry! All of the above can be made very simply: bagel with cream cheese and supermarket deli olives, egg (can just be scrambled!) with leftover stir fry veggies, cheese and sausage. The cheese plate can be a couple basic blues and a chedder, toasted bread and ordinary sandwich jam. These are things I eat often as comfort food!
posted by prewar lemonade at 4:55 PM on November 28, 2019

Eponysterical fun!

Starter: a selection of crostini with sundried tomatoes, mushrooms and prosciutto
Main: osso buco milanese with safran risotto (be generous with the parmigiano in that risotto, and add a couple of anchovies to the osso buco, or fish sauce)
Dessert: Chocolate mousse or ice-cream with truffle. Once I lived near an Italian charcuterie where they had little chocolate "tartufi" which is both the Italian for truffle and the Italian for delicious chocolate sweets, and ice-creams. These tartufi combined the meanings into truffle-flavored chocolates, and they were amazing. IMO this could and should be developed into the perfect umami dessert.
posted by mumimor at 8:27 AM on November 29, 2019

I have a shaker of MSG salt that I used when I've cooked something that feels a little blah. But if you have access to a Costco, go buy one of their excellent hunks of aged parmesan and make it your go-to cheese. It elevates everything. (You can find it other places, too, but it's almost certainly cheapest at Costco.)

Baked tomato and good parmesan are loaded with umami, so I make a lot of eggplant lasagna. It's easy to make and freezes well, too. Just peel and salt some eggplant, then cook it however seems easiest to you. (I brown it quickly on a large cast iron pan with as little olive oil as I can get away with, but grilled is also fine.) Brown some Italian sausage, then add it to the tomato sauce. I usually go very simple for this -- drain and blend a couple cans of tomatoes mixed with a bit of garlic and salt. You could also just use jarred sauce that you like. (The Trader Joe's Three Cheese Tomato sauce is delicious here, but very rich.) Layer the eggplant and the sauce. If you choose to layer in dry, quick-cooking lasagna sheets, remember to add a little moisture. Cover the top of the dish in a mix of aged parmesan and mozzarella (skip the ricotta layer completely). Cook for at least 45 minutes, and let it cool for at least 10.

The obvious pairing for a heavy pasta dish is a caesar salad -- you can make your own, umami-rich dressing easily if you buy anchovy paste. (I don't like mortar and pestling the little bastards in the tin, but you might be less squeamish.)

Desserts are trickier...maybe something with bacon?
posted by grandiloquiet at 8:34 PM on November 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

Vegemite (or Marmite, its milder, sweeter British cousin) on toast.

1. Butter the toast generously. GENEROUSLY. Preferably with real actual butter. (If using margarine, do you like the taste of it by itself? FFS.)

2. Apply thinnest possible scrape of vegemite/marmite evenly over entire surface. Probably by applying a thicker layer and then scraping it off. Do not return excess back to jar, Vegemite keeps indefinitely but butter and crumbs do not. ("That's yuck!" - my mother.) You put the excess on the next piece of toast or if desperate discard on the edge of the plate.

3. The proportion of vegemite to butter should be no greater than 1:1.

Fancy versions-
4. add sliced or mashed avocado on top.

5. Sandwich- Butter both slices of bread generously. Vegemite THINLY applied to one slice. Add finely chopped/sliced celery and crumbled walnuts.

Remember it's mostly salt, you might want to watch your salt intake with these suggestions (for this whole thread I guess).
posted by Coaticass at 1:18 PM on November 30, 2019

I'm mean sure go no butter if you're hardcore enough... the commando version...
posted by Coaticass at 1:23 PM on November 30, 2019

I thought this book was too meat-focused, but if you're ok with that, check out Flavor Bombs: The Umami Ingredients That Make Taste Explode by Fleischman, Adam
posted by aniola at 2:45 PM on December 28, 2019

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