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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…

 

 

Crispy Chicken Slow Cooker Stew

chicken skin stewFew people in the world love slow cookers more than I do. I will never be a crazy cat lady living alone with a selection of kitties, but I will be surrounded by my beloved crockpots. At the height of recipe testing for Slow Cooked, I had seven slow cookers in my one bedroom flat and I’ve never been better fed nor warmer.

The only issue was that sometimes I wanted a little bit of bite to my food. Slow cookers do make everything very tender and soft which is both their selling point and their disadvantage to some people. I’ve cheated slightly here and added a non slow cooker step to this chicken stew to further convert the slow cooker sceptics who think it makes everything brown and tasteless.

Chicken thighs were slow cooked with lemon zest, stock, black olives and potatoes. About 20 minutes before the end, I added some chopped kale to wilt it down in the slow cooker and then for my masterstroke: the chicken skin from the thighs was crisped up under the grill and served on top of the stew. When I say it was good, I mean I’ve thought of nothing else all week waking or sleeping….

Crispy Chicken Slow Cooker Stew (serves 4)

  • 6 chicken thighs, skinned and boned, skin reserved
  • 450g potatoes
  • 1/2 celeriac
  • 1/2 lemon, zested and juiced
  • 1/2 small jar of black olives
  • 2 anchovy fillets
  • 50g smoked pork sausage (optional)
  • 500ml chicken stock
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 bag of curly kale

This is ridiculously easy to make. If you aren’t fodmapping, an onion would work well here or some sweet potato instead of celeriac. Don’t buy skinless chicken thighs or you’ll lose the magic.

Start by pulling the skin off the chicken thighs carefully in one piece and lay each piece on one sheet of kitchen roll, folding another sheet over the top of it. This will help dry the skin out so that it crisps up better later.

Snip the bones out of the chicken with kitchen scissors and tie them together with a bit of kitchen string. You’re going to pop them into the stew to add flavour but you want them easy to fish out again.

Cut each chicken thigh into six to eight bits and put in the slow cooker crock. Chop the potatoes and celeriac into 1 inch chunks and add along with the lemon zest, lemon juice, chicken stock, olives, whole anchovy fillets, sliced pork sausage and salt and pepper to taste. I used those tinned black olives because I love them and don’t care that they are basically dyed green ones sold on the cheap.

Put the lid on the slow cooker and cook it all on low for 8 hours. About 25 minutes before you want to eat, you need to do two small steps to add crunch and texture to a good, if pedestrian stew.

Firstly, remove the centre stalks from the kale. I detest the way supermarkets sell kale all chopped up with big bits of withered stalk in the middle. Luckily I can get it as a whole leaf and just rip the leaves off the centre which makes it much less bitter. Wash you kale and add it in the slow cooker. Put the lid back on for 20 minutes to allow it to come back up to temperature while wilting the kale.

Secondly, season the chicken skin well and heat your grill as hot as you can without setting the smoke alarm off. Line your grill pan with foil and lay the chicken skin out. Grill for 4-5 minutes under a very hot grill so that the skin bubbles up and becomes crispy. Keep an eye on it as it can go from golden to charred very easily.

Use a sharp knife to cut these chicken skin scratchings into strips. You want to serve them as soon after cooking as possible either on top of the whole crock served at the table or scattered on top of individual dishes of the stew. They don’t reheat well, but you won’t have leftovers when it’s this so that’s academic really.

There’s the perfect mix of bite and crunch and beautifully tender meat and I think this is probably one of the best things I’ve ever cooked. Everything else I ate this week suffered from not being this stew. You need to make it. Trust me. I know slow cookers after all…

Slow+Cooked+Challenge