Post # 348 Holy Umami, Batman!

March 9, 2015 at 1:13 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 348 Holy Umami, Batman!

Had a bad weekend, and still playing catch up.  For some reason, I have a knot of pain underneath my right shoulder blade which makes sitting at the computer for any period longer than 30 seconds incredibly painful.  It’s also made sleeping problematic, so my days have been hazy and uncoordinated.  Luckily, Partner/Spouse has been a brick and handled things over the weekend perfectly, giving me a chance to get on the mend.  It’s slow, but getting there.

It was a weekend of slow cooking, starting on Thursday.   I made Beef Onion soup, then on Friday we ordered pizza.  Saturday was a slow cooked ham, spiral cut and glazed with lingon berry juice and Dr. Pepper.  Yesterday, crock pot spaghetti to die for.  What’s most amazing to me when I take downtime like that is how much email and FB posts I get behind on.

The thing I wanted to tell you about for this post was the Beef Onion soup I made.  I love the flavor combination of beef and onions, as long as they’re both cooked.  Don’t like raw beef and don’t like raw onions.  But when they’re cooked, they’re excellent.  When they’re cooked together, they’re sublime.  I had most of a bag of onions that I had to use or toss out.  So it was a no-brainer; I had to use the onions.  I was going to make onion soup, but since I had a good chunk of roast cut in two, I decided to make beef onion.

I did the standard recipe.  I ended up with nearly four pounds of roughly chopped onion, and two pounds of beef cubes running about 1/2 an inch to 3/4 of an inch square.  The roast had this huge knob of fat in the center with I left intact but separate from the meat.  I heated a little good quality olive oil and tossed the onions in to sweat them down.  Then I remembered that if I allowed the onions to caramelize, it would give a good brown color to the stock.  I cooked and stirred for about a half hour, watching the wonderful transformation from plain old yellow onions to a rich brown syrupy mass that smelled heavenly.  Then I chopped up five cloves of garlic (because that’s all the was left on the one head I was using and I wanted to use it up) and stirred that into the onion.  The smell of onion and garlic cooking together is the best smell ever!  It’s rustic; it’s homey; it makes the mouth water.

Years ago, when I was attempting to teach my sister how to cook, I was explaining how to make stew.  I was chopping the roast and leaving a small line of fat around some of the pieces of meat.  She was insisting that I cut those off.  I was trying to make her understand that I would be cutting off the flavor, but she wouldn’t hear it and we had a lifeless stew.  Since then, I’ve managed to convince her to cook with the fat on, and cut it off later.  Fat equals flavor.  So I tossed that large knob of fat from the roast into the pot and started it browning and sizzling along with the onion and garlic.  Finally, after about fifteen minutes, I added the meat and about 8 cups of water.  I turned the heat down to a simmer and walked away from the stove.  Now it was up to the soup itself to recreate itself.

About every 45 minutes, I checked on it and stirred it to make sure it wasn’t burning.  There is a point when meat is simmering in broth where it will tighten up and become completely inedible and indigestible.  Then, fifteen minutes later, it will relax and soften, and the more you cook it, the better it will be.  And it hit that point.  I tasted the broth and it was good.

But I’m never satisfied.  I went to the ‘net and perused my cooking sites for other people’s ideas for Beef Onion soup.  I found all kinds of regional and cultural things people do to make it succulent and healthful.  I remembered things my own mom had done.  Then, I remember a word – Umami.

Umami is a Japanese word and it’s used to describe one of the five basic flavors.  Those five are sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and savory, or umami.  To me, umami is what makes my mouth water.  There are loads of things that have umami, and I think I like every single one of them.  Meats, veggies, particularly tomatoes, and mushrooms are loaded with it.  Red wine is another.   So if I added various foods high in umami, it would only make my soup better, right?

So, I added two tablespoons of tomato paste.  Beef soup is always enhanced with tomatoes, although normally I just add a can of chopped tomatoes to it.  But I didn’t want any toothsome bites except the meat and the onion.  Then I added about a half cup of red wine we had sitting around.  I don’t drink a lot of red wine, although a good friend is trying to change my mind about that.  We had bought a bottle of my favorite white wine in a red, but neither of us like it, so it was just taking up space on the counter.  So some of it went into the soup.  (The rest went down the sink, sorry.  It’s a good wine, for those who like reds.)  I added some more garlic and a pinch of salt and let the flavors blend for a while.  It was good, but was missing some of the earthy undertones that I like with beef.  We had ordered Chinese takeaway a couple of weeks earlier and saved the packets of soy sauce, so three of those went into it.  The helped a ton.  The broth was dark, rich, full of subtle flavors.

Then I remembered the mushroom powder.  Weeks before, we had watched a cooking program where they had taken dried mushrooms and put them through a spice grinder making mushroom powder.  The result was supposed to be a good addition to soups and sauces to add the mushroom flavor without adding the mushroom texture.  Partner/Spouse likes the flavor of mushrooms, but despises eating them.  This seemed tailor made for him, so we had made some and put it in the freezer.  We’d used it a couple of times and like the result.  There was about two and a half tablespoons left so I dumped it all into the broth.  I also added a couple of cups of water since it had simmered down quite a bit by now.

Two very neat things happened.  First, as the mushroom powdered cooked into the broth, it thickened.  It was still a broth, but had a consistency bordering on gravy, but not quite as thick.  The flavor was exceptional.  Second, somehow all the onions had disappeared.  The flavor was still there, but it had mellowed and softened with the additions to the point that the flavor was unique but not distinctly onion.  Try as I could, I saw no onion anywhere in the broth.

About an hour before serving, I added one more fresh onion, chopped coarsely to add more onion flavor and visibility.  I also added a cup of pasta that I cooked separately to give the soup some body.  It turned out perfectly.  The meat chunks floating in the rich brown broth with the onion and pasta were perfectly cooked and perfectly flavored.  I served it with fresh bread.  A good time was had by all!  Or at least, both of us.



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