Posts

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.

Dulse Tapenade: the Province meets Provence

dulse tapenade

When I was a child, I hadn’t yet discovered my high umami fascination. Olives didn’t tickle me, I only liked anchovies marinaded and one of the strongest memories of disliking a food in childhood came with one of the strongest flavours I tasted, in the shape of dulse. Dulse is a seaweed, very common around the coast of Ireland and particularly associated for us with the north coast town of Ballycastle and its famed Auld Lammas Fair. In an early adoption of the salt sweet craze, people bring Yellowman and dulse back from there as treats and it was this contrast that caused my long lasting reaction.

Yellowman is the sweetest crunchy thing you can imagine and dulse is intensely iron rich and seawater salty with a slightly rubbery texture and it is one extreme to the other for a five year old. I never eaten dulse since and the thought of it has always made me feel a bit queasy. But when I was back in Belfast last week, I went for lunch at the Belfast Barge and ordered their superb seafood platter and in with the spankingly fresh seafood and fish was a healthy sprinkling of dulse that would be hard to avoid.

Belfast Barge seafood platter

Bravely loading up my fork with some dulse, a caper or two and a marinaded anchovy, I tried it again, hoping the flavours I liked would hide the one I didn’t. I was very very surprised when I loved it. The flavours all went together like nobody’s business and appealed to my umami addiction utterly. It was so good that before I had finished the plate, I was asking my mum where I could get some dulse to bring home.

I wanted to combine those fishy and salty and savoury flavours to the fullest extent and my mind immediately went to tapenade, loaded up with olives, anchovies and capers and dulse. It needed something fresh and clean on the side and Felicity Cloake solved my dilemma by posting a ceviche recipe this week. Not only do I now know how to liven up a sea bream, but I’d found my perfect partner for the ultimate umami paste!

Dulse Tapanade: makes enough for two people

  • 20g dulse (mail order here or get from St George’s Market on a Saturday or the Bethany Fruit & Veg on the Cregagh Road)
  • 20 black olives, stoned
  • 2 anchovy fillets, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon capers, drained
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • squirt lemon juice
  • good handful parsley and fresh thyme

Check your dulse carefully for any small shells or crustaceans, then chop roughly. Add into a hand blender along with the olives, capers and anchovies, all of which should also been finely chopped. Blitz until mixed. (You could also use a pestle and mortar.)

Add the olive oil and lemon juice until you reach the desired consistency. Because this was a main course thing for me, I kept it drier and chunkier, but if you wanted to make it a dip add more until smooth. It’s super easy to make and should take about 5 minutes tops.

I served mine with boiled Charlotte potatoes (Sainsbury’s Basics Salad Potatoes are the less shapely Charlottes and are under a quid) and with the lime and salt rich ceviche on the side. This is not entry level umami. This is the equivalent of the 80s ads where the Tango man slaps you round the face with a salty fishy savoury explosion. It’s addictively good. I smothered my spuds in tapenade and when I ran out of carbs, ate it by dunking broccoli florets in it, revelling in every tantalisingly over the top mouthful, unable to get quite enough of it.

The sharp of tang of the soft fish (and Felicity’s recipe with sea bream was bang on) cuts through the oiliness of the tapenade perfectly while enhancing it completely. This was one of those meals that took less than 15 minutes to make, was utterly simple in its ingredients and was so good I could hardly believe it. Just perfect for these lingeringly warm autumnal days, I can hardly believe how much I’ve fallen for dulse. This must mean I’m a grown up now!

Dulse Tapenade

Bloody Mary Soup

Summer has taken a while to get here, but it’s all arrived at once and suddenly it’s hot enough to melt the tarmac and send you searching frantically for any way to cool one’s self even momentarily. Ice cream is the obvious answer, but if that doesn’t seem like a proper lunch, then a chilled soup is just the ticket.

Due to my dislike of peppers, I’ve never tried a gazpacho, but I figured that by taking my influence from fresh seasonal produce and chilling it, I would end up with something just as good. A quick rummage in the kitchen reminded me I had some lovely looking vine tomatoes and a particularly good bunch of celery. As celery only really come into its own for me as a cocktail ingredient, it didn’t take much of a leap to start knocking up a Bloody Mary soup.

Some celery and carrots went into a pan with an anchovy and half a Scotch bonnet for a fruity kick and both the veg and I sweated gently for around ten minutes. They softened and sweetened in that time while I used it to skin and chop some lovely ripe tomatoes. These then went into the pan with a good grinding of black pepper, a sprinkle of celery salt and a glug of tomato juice. Everything shimmered and simmered in the heat for about twenty minutes while I turned my attention to a sorbet.

I blended everything up to make a thick soup of unrivaled colour, adding a big splosh of Lea and Perrins, a delicate shake of Tabasco and some more black pepper before loosening the texture with two shots of ice cold vodka. The whole thing went in the fridge to chill down and I relaxed in the garden for a while. When it got overwhelming enough that I considered turning the hose on myself, I served the soup with a frozen stalk of celery as a garnish and literally drank in the refreshment.

The sleek sweetness of the tomato and carrot were lifted by the tickle of the Scotch bonnet and Tabasco while the icy cold vodka left a lovely mouth tingling kick behind. The mix of chilled liquid with the spice of the black pepper and cubeb-infused Sacred vodka and the savoury of the rich umami took my temperature down in the most delicious of ways, leaving me well refreshed and relaxed round the edges.

Not one to serve to visitors who have driven to visit you, there is no nicer way to chill out in the garden on a baking hot Sunday afternoon than with this super simple soup. Much healthier and more refreshing than any ice lolly around!

A Classic in Coke…

As a family, we don’t have many Christmas traditions (unless supping a lot of cava counts as a tradition?) but one thing has come to symbolise Christmas more than any other foodstuff and that’s a ham. More precisely, a ham cooked in Coca Cola as suggested by Nigella Lawson in her classic cookbook How to Eat.

Cooking with Coke has become quite fashionable over the past few years and the world seems to split into two camps about it, with those who are highly sceptical about it and those, like me, who embrace it wholeheartedly and seek any opportunity to add Atlanta’s finest to a dish from cake to Christmas ham. So I would be most disappointed not to get off the plane in Belfast to discover a perfect pink ham in the fridge waiting to be transformed into a smoky spicy sweet sensation in time for Christmas Eve supper.

Not only is the ham beyond tender and moist after its soft drink with vegetable extracts bath, it is also the easiest thing in the world to make. All you need is one plump piece of pork, about 2 litres of Coke and an onion or two studded with cloves, a large pot and a full stomach so as not to be driven wild as the ham infuses and cooks over the next 2 or 3 hours. Simply cover the ham in the liquid, add your onion and bring to the boil. Turn down to a simmer, place a lid on the pan and leave to just cook slowly at roughly an hour per kilo. I usually go off and finish wrapping my presents feeling utterly festive and increasingly hungry…

Normally we simply take the ham out to cool before serving in a selection of sandwiches, suppers and side dishes, omitting the crust Nigella mentions as it’s a bit too mustardy for our liking, but this year, we decided not to get stuck in our ways and try something new, glazing the top of the ham with a mix of black treacle, mustard and homemade quince jelly before blasting it in the oven to get a dark sticky crust to add another dimension to the barbecue influenced meat.

The glaze takes no time at all to make up, as I simply put some Meaux mustard, treacle and quince jelly in a pan to melt down, adding a splash of soy sauce and some tamarind paste and allowing it to all meld together before brushing it over the snow white fat on top of the pink porker and popping it in the oven for 15 minutes at 190 degrees. I then took it out, reglazed it and put in the oven again at 220 degrees for another 10 minutes.

After resting it for 20 minutes, it made the most amazing sandwich. Malted bread spread with mustard, the remains of the glaze and spiked with home made sweet pickles, it was soft and juicy with the right amount of salt and a delicious spiced flavour with a sticky sweet yet umami topping. The minute the sandwich was finished, we were reaching for another slice of the ham, unable to get enough of it. This is one tradition that gets better with every passing year!

Clamato: the clam before the storm!

As a small child following my parents round the supermarket during the weekly shop, my eye was always caught in the juice aisle not by the shiny foil packs of Capri Sun or the cartons of Um Bongo, but by the truly bizarre creation that is Clamato. Combining tomato juice with clam broth seemed like the most revoltingly fascinating thing I had ever heard of. Those glass jars taunted me as I half hoped my parents would buy it, but feared I would have to actually drink this weird fishy beverage. Then the independent supermarket we visited closed in the mid 90s and was replaced by a Sainsbury’s and so trips to buy groceries became much less exciting and I forgot all about Clamato…

An adult obsession with the Fifth Taste or umami reminded me of my childhood fascination with Clamato and suddenly the idea of shellfish infused tomato juice ceased to be scary, but in fact became oddly alluring. Imagine my disappointment when it turned out it had become incredibly tricky to get my hands of this bivalve infused nectar here in the UK. It may form the basis of Canada’s favourite cocktail, but the Brits are a lot less keen. I was tempted to pay vast sums of money for a bottle of the stuff online, but instead I was excited to find a quart bottle of Clamato nestled amongst the other treasures at Sawers Deli in Belfast last week. Mister North and I were definitely sampling a Caesar this weekend!

I was momentarily disheartened to see that the tomato base of Clamato is from concentrate instead of fresh juice, but since I’m not a particular coneissour of tomato juices, I figured I’d still enjoy it. I was less convinced though by high fructose corn syrup being the third ingredient on the list. The HFCS along with a dose of onion and garlic powder and only dried clam broth to add that extra umami kick makes me think Clamato isn’t as high quality as I thought it was. With a mounting sense of disappointment akin to discovering Father Christmas has the wrong house, it was time to actually sample the product.

I dusted down my best martini glasses, crushed some ice and enlisted the help of my mixologist friend G and got cracking with a round of Caesars. This is basically a Bloody Mary made with Clamato for those of us who like our cocktails to be a good substitute for brunch! They are as easy to make as a Bloody Mary, but because we were nervous about the taste sensation awaiting us we had decided to go for a smaller glass rather than the traditional long style of a Bloody Mary.

Feeling fancy, we dipped the rim of the glasses in celery salt and then shook a shot of Russian Standard vodka together with the same amount of Clamato along with a shake of Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco. This was poured into a glass rinsed out with fresh lime juice and garnished with a celery stalk since I couldn’t get either Mister North or G to join me in the apparently common addition of a prawn…

There was nothing left to do but to taste it. First impression was of celery salt. Lots of celery salt in fact. But the second impression was that it was pure umami heaven. The clam broth isn’t distinctly noticeable in its fishiness, but simply adds a rich base note that perfectly compliments the smooth tomato-ness. Once I’d brushed some celery salt off the rim of the glass, I couldn’t stop sipping this and enjoying every wave of glutamate goodness I got from it.

Mister North seemed less enamoured, but admitted he isn’t a huge fan of Bloody Marys at the best of times. Both G and I love them (especially the morning after the night before) and we rattled through our Caesars much more quickly and enthusiastically, going back for seconds before we went out for dinner. I was delighted to fulfil a childhood ambition by finally sampling Clamato (although I didn’t dream of vodka in it then) and even more chuffed to discover I hadn’t carried something so heavy home in my suitcase for nothing!

I have enjoyed a Caesar or two on several occasions since then, rather enjoying reintroducing cocktail hour in my house. In fact, so pleased clam-rich enjoyment of Canada, I decided to try out Mexico’s Clamato cocktail next in the shape of a Chelada. It sounded odd, but then hadn’t I thought that about Clamato itself?

It turns out mixing beer, Clamato, lime juice and hot sauce isn’t just odd. It’s repulsive in more ways than I thought I could experience in just one mouthful. Maybe it’s because I used Meantime London Pale Ale instead of the recommended Budweiser or maybe it’s because this combo is so disgusting that I find it hard to believe that even the most determined middle of the night drinkers could come up with this concoction and actually stomach it. To me it tasted of like the shame and acidity of a really bad hangover. I barely managed one mouthful and then threw the rest down the sink, running the tap as keenly as you might when faced with a massive spider and then removed the taste with the rest of the bottle of Meantime.

At £5.99 a bottle I won’t be buying Clamato again, but despite the hideousness of a Chelada, I am rather hooked on this umami-tastic drink. So I’ll be experimenting with making my own version of this drink with a better quality tomato juice and some shellfish liquor whether that be from cooking my own or simply adding a dash of bonito to oomph it up. Once you’ve gone to this level of glutamate joy, you’ll find it hard to go back…