Ingredient of the Week: Taste Number Five – Umami Paste

6 Dec

Drop the flavour bomb

Hurrah hurrah! It’s that time again, that wonderful moment that comes around once every few months when I publish a post on my ingredient of the “week”… ummmm, yeah, we’ll gloss over that shall we… anyway this time, wow, what an ingredient. Little tubes, almost Alice in Wonderland-like in appearance,  that promise to contain a “powerful natural flavour bomb” to satisfy our innate lust for savoury delicousness.

You see, over 100 years ago a new taste was discovered – umami (which I grant you sounds a bit Vic and Bob) – which is that sort of meaty, powerful lipsmackingly tasty savouriness that gives certain food a depth and punchiness.  It’s found often in bacon and certain cheeses and also breast-milk, strangely enough, which may explain why it’s a taste that feels so familiar.

Laura Santtini has squeezed a number of flavours (tomato purée, garlic, anchovy paste, porcini mushrooms, black olives, balsamic vinegar, parmesan and olive oil) into a teeny tube of umami-ness, which I managed to pick up for about £3 in Waitrose and which, squirted, in modest amounts, promises to add deep new depths to stir-fries, soups and stews.

On Sunday night I slowly cooked a beef  and potato stew – with sage and butter, garlic and shallots, huge glugs of red wine, stock  and a smidgen of tomato purée – to which I added a dinky squeeze of this umami paste.  I was sceptical, could it really make much of a difference? Would it overpower the meal? Do I like anchovies in anything? Well, well well well.

Beef and tatty stew

What was I worried about? After a few hours bubbling on the stove, I served up the stew with buttery, crusty baguettes and watched as my fiancé (who my lovely father-in-law-to-be helpfully pointed out I foolishly referred to as my mere “boyfriend” in my last blog, tsk tsk) tucked in.  At the same time I got to scoffing, naturally, and was impressed. The meat was tender and gravy had a savoury “brothiness” which very nearly knocked my socks off. Him-indoors declared it delicious and our plates were polished clean (mine with my tongue, whoops) in minutes.  I had been considering buying this for yonks and am glad I have. I can’t wait to experiment more with it and see when it does and doesn’t work. Does anyone have any cool ideas of what I should try?

Have you tried this and found it wanting? Are you hooked on these teeny tubes? Let me know if so..


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