Homemade umami powder

Homemade Umami Powder

Homemade umami powder

I mentioned last week that I am obsessed with salty savoury umami things, usually in the shape of anchovies. This is partly for health reasons and partly because I just love those deep fifth taste flavours.

I occasionally worry that I’m desensitizing myself to them as I increase the amounts of umami in my diet constantly. Where one anchovy would have sufficed in a dish, I’m up to four at a time and adding seasoning as well.

I half expect that soon like I’ll just install a salt lick by the front door like I’m a horse and start dropping anchovy fillets straight down my throat like an insatiable salt seeking penguin.

I’ve dabbled with parmesan, done a bit of nutritional yeast, tried the No 5 Umami range by Laura Santtini and worked my way up through the levels of miso and still I just need a little bit more….

This week I was looking to cook for a vegan friend (which an event and a half when all our dietary requirements combine) and looking for ways to add flavour without animal produce, stumbled across the idea of ‘vegan parmesan’ on Serious Eats.

Made by dehydrating green olives, miso and fresh rosemary and blending them to a powder, it bears about as much resemblence to parmesan as I do to the Archbishop of Canterbury. But since I was looking for an umami bomb, I made it anyway.

And I am actually obsessed. It is insanely good. So intense, so delicious, so savoury. In the space of a few days I’ve made a cucumber salad with it, sprinkled it on a plate of bucatini with tomatoes and beef mince, combined with rice, seaweed and salmon and put it on fried eggs. And I can’t stop.

I’ve got through at least a quarter of my small jar and was contemplating not giving my friend the one I made for her. Instead I’m already planning a second batch with anchovy stuffed olives this time and maybe some lemon zest.

It’s super easy to make and considerably better value than those pots of umami paste or powder you can buy. It’s also fodmap friendly as it lacks garlic or lactose and of course the basic recipe is vegan.

Homemade Umami Powder (makes about 250g)

  • 500g pitted green olives (supermarkt basic types are fine)
  • 75g miso paste (I used hatcho)
  • 5 sprigs fresh rosemary

This isn’t a quick recipe and you’re going to need the oven on for 4 hours so make a bigger batch if you like. I’d probably just end up face down in the jar getting stuck if I’d done that though.

Using a food processor or mini blender, pulse the olives until they are roughly chopped. Set aside and pulse the miso paste too. Add to the olives. Use the food processor or a spice grinder to blitz the fresh rosemary too and mix it all together. It will look like green mulch. Don’t worry. Like a lot of things in life, it gets better.

Line a baking tray with a silicone mat or double layered greaseproof paper and spread the mixture out with a spatula to form a thin layer. Allow it all to dry and dehydrate in an oven at 100C for about 2 and half hours. It will look like brownish mulch. Stay with me.

Scrape it all back into the food processor and blitz it all again for about 5-6 pulses. Spread out on the tray again and stick it back in the oven for another 90 minutes or so.

It will now look like a rich dark brown crumbly powder that you can’t wait to use. Tip into a sterilised jar and allow to cool. Add to everything you eat for weeks to come and reward yourself for your patience.

Fresh white anchovies

Marinaded Fresh Anchovies

Fresh white anchovies

I think anchovies might be my favourite ingredient in the kitchen. Or at least the one I use the most. I don’t do a lot of vegan or veggie cooking but when I do the thing I always have to think about is not just adding something anchovy based into it.

Lea & Perrins, Gentleman’s Relish, Anchovy Essence or just whole fillets in oil, those little cured fish are a big way I season my food. The only thing you’ll ever hear me say I have in common with Ella Woodward is that it looks like, along with all my other ailments, I have the same chronic condition as her.

POTS or postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome is very common in people with ME/CFS like me and causes faintness, low blood pressure and low blood volume amongst other symptoms. It means I need to drink vast amounts of fluid to help prevent worse fatigue or dizziness and it’s not unusual that I can put away 4 litres of fizzy water, 5-6 cups of peppermint tea, a few mugs of builders tea and all the fluid in my food each day.

This also means I need more salt in my diet than the average person. Salt helps raise my problematically low blood pressure and if you drink a lot of fluids, you need to replace salt even if you’re healthy. This is why I prefer fizzy water which has higher sodium levels than tap water, but I also need to add salty stuff to my food.

I get through a lot of good old basic sea salt, eat a fair bit of parmesan, love an olive or two but treat anchovies as medicine. I’m on my second Kilner jar of them from Lidl this year as I often chuck a couple of fillets on top of my morning eggs for an extra salty savoury kick to wake me up.

I also adore those little marinaded white anchovies you get in Italy and Spain as antipasti or tapas. That shimmering silvery sheen to their flesh with a  silky vinegary tang on your tongue. They were my absolute favourite treat on family holidays to Italy as a kid and now I love them with a dry sherry or crisp Cava on the side.

Sadly they are usually quite expensive to buy so a rare sunshiney summer treat for me, but when I went to my local fishmonger last week, she had fresh white anchovies for £1 per 100g. I had no idea what to do with them but came home with 200g all the same.

My friend Sherri from the fabulous Blue Jay in Brixton suggested I smoke them on a cedar plank to add an extra depth and that was my plan until I was invited to a friend’s for dinner and needed to bring something.

Then my attention turned to how one marinates an anchovy and I realised from Rachel Roddy’s expertise that it’s basically like ceviche but with more oil to stop the flesh going mealy from over-cooking in the acid. This seemed like my Saturday night level of cooking right now.

The anchovies were skinless and headless, but I needed to pull the spines out before marinating them. This was easy to do with my fingers and I laid the fillets in a dish and salted them well before adding the juice of three lemons, two tablespoons of white wine vinegar and two tablespoons of oilve oil and leaving them to sit at room temperature for three hours.

They were served up scattered with fresh parsley and some capers and some freshly ground pepper and we slithered them all sharp and oily into our mouths with our fingers in a very undignified fashion while sitting on the sofa gossiping. All they needed was some bubbles on the side and they were pretty much the perfect low maintenance, high salt starter.

If you get the chance to buy fresh white anchovies don’t pass it by. It’s testament to how much I like my friend that I shared them. The texture was much firmer and plumper and satisfying than the commercial ones I could easily have devoured the lot by myself they were so good. Plus there’s something so pleasurable about eating a whole tiny fish as a full sized human…

Fodmap Friendly Chicken Stock

Fodmap Friendly Chicken Stock

Fodmap Friendly Chicken Stock

When I tell people about fodmaps, they all always without fail tell you how they couldn’t live with onion or garlic. And yet neither of those are things I miss at all. Yes, it’s a pain the proverbials not to be able to eat them but I don’t crave either.

I would however sell a kidney (and this means something. My kidneys are one of the few bits of my body to work perfectly) to eat a ripe crunchy apple. And I miss soup so much it feels like an actual grief.

Technically there are lots of things I can still make soup with so you’d think this was slight melodrama, but the issue is the stock itself. Everyone makes stock with onions and celery and thus I can’t eat it. I can absolutely never order soup when I’m eating out and I can’t even reliably use stock cubes or pre bought stock at home because of the dreaded onion powder issue.

I’ve been working on a version of homemade chicken stock for months and still every bowl of soup I ate made me feel dreadful. When the Monash Fodmap App updated most recently on my phone, I discovered celery is in the amber category and it all became clear.

Because fodmaps aren’t confusing enough with all the different types, they are also dependent on portion sizing as to whether they are suitable for you or not. So for some people even a small amount of wheat or garlic is instantly problematic but with other items you have to exceed a certain serving size to have an issue.

And celery falls into that camp. A 1/4 of a stalk is considered safe and low fodmap. So if you add a stick of celery to a pasta sauce for four people there’s no issue. But because fodmaps are water soluble, if you add two whole sticks of celery to a litre of stock, you end up with fodmap overload.

This explained why stock has still been pushing my fodmap buttons no matter what I did. It was that pesky celery. I hadn’t realised because I’d rather eat cat food than raw celery and when I use it as a sofritto, portion sizing kept it safe.

So how do you make chicken stock that tastes of something if you can’t use onions or celery? You get creative and you use all the fodmap tricks you can. Another little fodmap cheat is that the green bit of spring onions and leeks are safe. Button mushrooms aren’t suitable, but shiitakes (ie porcini) are. And you fall back in love with celeriac.

This knobbly bobbly root veg is the magic ingredient for the depth you need in a stock when you’re so restricted. All the celery fun with none of the pain and discomfort. It is my new best friend in the kitchen.

And my other secret weapon is MSG powder. I know lots of people say it causes all kinds of issues, but the Chinese use it in everyday cooking as we use many umami flavours here and it adds real depth with minimum fuss I find. Try it and I think you’ll be surprised and pleased.

Fodmap Friendly Chicken Stock (makes 1.5 litres)

  • 1 roast chicken carcass
  • 150g chicken wings or extra chicken bones from thighs
  • 2 carrots, grated
  • 100g celeriac, peeled and finely chopped
  • 4 spring onions, green part only or 1 leek, green only
  • 2 anchovy fillets
  • 1/2 teaspoon MSG powder (sold as Chinese salt often)
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 2 dried porcini or shiitake mushrooms, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
  • 1.5 litres of cold water

I always always always make my stock in the slow cooker because stock is best simmered very slowly for a long time and that’s basically the whole reason for the slow cooker.

But my friend Carolyne makes amazing chicken stock on the lowest heat on her cooker left for 24 hours in a Le Creuset oval pan with the lid on and simmers it in something her Jewish ancestors would be very proud of.

It’s really worth grating the carrot and finely chopping the celeriac as the smaller the pieces the more flavour you add to the stock. I use the leftover bones from a roast chicken as the base of my stock and when I bone out chicken thighs, I save up the bones in a tupperware in the freezer to add in rather than waste them.

Then it gets really easy. Simply put all the ingredients into your slow cooker crock. I break up the carcass to submerge it and add the cold water. Put on low and cook for 12-18 hours. Allow to cool slightly in the crock before straining and chilling in the fridge. It will become jellified so don’t cool without straining or you’ll have bits in it.

If you’re doing it on the stove, put everything in your pan and cover with cold water. Allow it to come to a bubble around the edges on a medium heat and then reduce to the absolute lowest temperature possible and allow to simmer for 12-18 hours. Strain and chill.

I have two suggestions about this recipe. Actually three in total, but bear with. Firstly, don’t call it bone broth. No one likes a try hard. Secondly, if you’re going to make a lot of chicken stock, buy a slow cooker even if you just use it for that. It’s perfect for it since most people can’t leave their cooker on and go out.

And third, speaking of try hards, I’ve now got a TinyLetter you can sign up to. I’ll be sharing interesting things to read about food and health and what I had for dinner. You’ll get an email once a week and you can share my other love too: nail polish…

 

 

Salt Cod Scotch Egg

Salt Cod Scotch Eggs

Salt Cod Scotch Egg

Salt cod is one of things I always want to use more of in cooking since I live in an area that is heavily Portuguese and Caribbean and it’s a staple foodstuff to both cultures.

Unfortunately the UK has no real relationship to it and when I moved to Brixton, the closest I’d come to it was reading Mark Kurlansky’s excellent books Salt and Cod and had never eaten it or learned how to prepare it.

Bearing in mind I also still only had dial up internet in those days so couldn’t easily nip online to give myself a crash course in it like I do now with unusual foodstuffs.

Which is a long winded way of explaining how and why I came to make a leek and salt fish stir fry with unsoaked salt cod the first month I lived in Brixton. And a very good reason why it’s taken me the guts of a decade to buy it again.

However I wanted to do an Easter recipe with it in homage to its Southern European heritage where bacalhau is traditionally served on religious holidays. Potatoes, salt fish and olive oil beaten together to be smooth and creamy could not be wrong.

And it wouldn’t have been if I had been so busy getting the gossip from my fishmonger to realise I’d only ordered the tiniest piece of salt cod that would barely feed a mouse (especially not the overstuffed gluttons currently terrorising my kitchen) and I needed a way to make it all go further.

Years ago I had a salt cod scotch egg at the Lido Cafe at Brockwell Park and it was the best thing on their menu and discovering last year how easy scotch eggs are to make meant I had my answer to my shopping mishap and a way to get even more eggs into my life than usual.

Salt Cod Scotch Eggs (makes 4)

  • 250g salt fish (see instructions below)
  • 250g potato, mashed
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • dash lemon juice
  • 4 hard boiled eggs
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 teaspoon mustard powder
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 150g breadcrumbs
  • 500ml oil for frying

Start by soaking your salt fish. Mine was a fillet with the skin an bones still on and it’s almost impossible to remove these before soaking, so if you are lucky enough to get this kind of salt cod, buy a heavier piece and account for the drop in weight after soaking.

Soak this style of salt cod in cold water for 24 hours, changing the water halfway through. Remove the skin and as many bones as possible, place in lots of cold water, bring to the boil and then gently simmer for about 45 minutes until the fish starts to flake apart. Drain and rinse well, removing any remaining bones with your fingers.

If you can only get the little plastic packets of skinless and boneless salt cod in the Caribbean style, you can actually cut down this stage. Simply put the salt fish in a saucepan and pour boiling water over it and leave for 5 minutes. Drain and repeat. Then add boiling water for a third time and boil rapidly on a rolling boil for 15 minutes to break up the fish. Drain and rinse and allow to cool.

Peel, dice and boil the potatoes until tender. Drain and mash well, beating half the olive oil and lemon juice into it until it’s as creamy as possible. Set aside to cool slightly.

Blitz the salt cod lightly in a blender with the rest of the olive oil or mash it into a smooth paste with a pestle and mortar and mix it in with the mashed potato to form a smooth, almost stiff mash. You can make more than the recipe states and use it for making dishes you’d use regular mashed potato for. Allow the mix to cool.

Hard boil the eggs while the bacalhau is cooling. I do this by putting the room temperature eggs into boiling water, bringing back to the boil and boiling for 1 minute. I then turn the heat off, put a lid on the pan and leave to sit for 6 minutes. I then put them into cold water to stop them cooking so the whites are set and the yolks are still soft. Once cooled, simply peel them.

To make the scotch eggs, divide the bacalhau into four portion and roll into a ball and flatten it out onto the palm of your hand. Set the boiled egg on it and start to shape the mix around it so the egg is completely covered. You maybe need to do a bit of pinching and patching. Repeat with each egg and chill for 30 minutes.

Put the oil in a deep saucepan and heat to about 180C according to a thermometer or when a bit of leftover mash bubbles and rises to the surface.

Set out a dish with flour and season it with mustard and salt and pepper. Beat the eggs into a another dish and put the breadcrumbs in a third. Roll the covered egg in the flour and then into the beaten egg and then into the breadcrumbs.

Put straight into the hot oil and fry for about 2 minutes each side. Depending on the size of your pan, you can cook two at a time before the temperature drops too much and you get a greasy egg. Drain onto kitchen roll and repeat with the other two eggs.

Serve warm or cold. Mine went very well with a cold beer both straight from the fridge when I felt peckish but not really hungry enough for a meal. The salt cod goes really well with egg and despite not being that hungry, I managed to inhale two of them in a row. Well worth all the various steps!

Lamb Ciste

Lamb CisteTucking into some boiled mutton last week simply gave me more of a taste for lamb and made me determined to try this traditional Irish recipe for Easter.

A lamb ciste* (pronounced with a hard C) is the biggest festival of meat I’ve seen in a long time and I think we all know I am pure carnivore these days. You layer lamb chops and lamb kidneys with lamb mince and then top it all with a topping of suet pastry and put your hands over the eyes of any passing vegetarians just in case.

I have never heard of the dish before stumbling across it on a random online search for slow cooked dishes and I have no idea if it’s actually that traditional or Irish, but I can tell you that it’s utterly brilliant in every single way.

I used shoulder chops, made the mince rich with a gravy using stock from the boiled mutton and then baked it all in the oven to give that perfect chewy lightness that only suet can give pastry. I served it as Easter lunch and it was fantastic and very easy to make in advance.

Lamb Ciste (serves 6)

  • 8 lamb shoulder or saddle chops
  • 750g lamb mince
  • 3 lamb’s kidneys (optional)
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 150g celeriac or 3 sticks celery, diced
  • 1 onion, diced (if not fodmapping)
  • 150g swede, diced (turnip for our Scottish and Norn Iron chums)
  • 3 tablespoons plain flour
  • 200ml lamb stock
  • 3 anchovies
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • salt and pepper
  • 450g plain flour
  • 250g suet (not the ‘veggie’ stuff)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon mustard powder
  • salt and pepper
  • 250ml milk

I made the meat part of this the night before and the suet pastry just before serving as it works best freshly made. It made for a really easy and impressive Sunday lunch which required little effort beyond opening a bottle of something fizzy while it cooked.

Season the lamb chops well and seal in a hot frying pan for about 3 minutes each side. Rest in the dish you intend to serve the ciste in.

Seal the lamb mince in the same frying pan you used for the chops. You might need to do it in two batches to stop it from boiling in its own fat instead of sizzling.

Once it’s about halfway cooked, drain the fat off and then put all the lamb mince together in the same pan and scatter in the tablespoons of plain flour, the anchovies and Worcestershire sauce. Add the lamb stock and allow the mince to thicken into the gravy. Season well.

Tip it all into a bowl and pour the reserved fat back into the frying pan and soften the diced vegetables in it for about 15 minutes. Add the lamb to them all and mix well. Take off the heat

Core the white part out of the kidneys and cut each one into 4 pieces and stir through the lamb mince mix. Spread the mince mix over the top of the lamb chops and allow to cool. Refrigerate overnight if needed.

Allow the meat to come back to room temperature next day and allow the oven to heat to 180C. Put the flour in a large mixing bowl along with the salt and pepper, mustard and suet and baking powder. Add the milk half at a time and bring the dough together until it just comes together cleanly.

Roll it out on a lightly floured surface until it is about 3/4 inch thick and big enough to roughly cover the dish you are using. Drape over the dish and pull any overhanging bits off and patch them onto any gaps. Brush it all with a bit of milk.

Bake for 45 minutes and then turn the heat to 200C for ten minutes to give the top a golden sheen. Serve immediately. Your lamb chops should still be slightly pink if they are quite thick but the mince and kidneys will be smooth and rich.

I served mine with roast potatoes and parsnips but honestly I think some peas or kale would be more apt as it’s a very rich dish. We had generous lunch portions and I had three decent goes at leftovers too. I might have finally reached my lamb limit (for this week at least) but my mince love is back in action for sure!

This post was inspired by #livepeasant for Simply Beef and Lamb. *And I’m told by the fantastic Wholesome Ireland that ciste in Irish means ‘treasure chest’ which fits this dish beautifully!

 Irish Lamb Ciste