Wednesday 18 September 2019

Umami: a game changer

Parmesan Ice-Cream sandwiches with chocolate balsamic strawberries
Parmesan Ice-Cream sandwiches with chocolate balsamic strawberries
Umami steak Tagliata

A Japanese word that translates as ‘savoury deliciousness,’ Umami is the super-savoury fifth basic taste. It is the taste that keeps on giving long after salty, sweet, bitter and sour are spent, writes Laura Santtini in her new book, which would make a great Christmas gift for anyone who loves food.

Umami is both ubiquitous and elusive, present but often unrecognised, and it has the extraordinary ability to enhance individual flavours, writes Laura Santtini who is a restaurateur, author and food entrepreneur.

While umami is a Japanese word, it is not a Far Eastern concept, writes Laura, who was dubbed the 'Umami Queen' after launching Taste#5, the world's first umami paste in 2009.

Since then, Laura is credited with single-handedly pioneering the use of umami at home and furthering the understanding of this intriguing fifth taste.

"Everyone has experienced it - the salted anchovy that melts into the tomato of a pizza, the irresistible marriage of pancetta and Parmesan in a creamy spaghetti carbonara or the rich, caramelised chorizo in a pan-fried calamari and chorizo salad.

"Once understood, umami is your best friend both in and out of the kitchen. It is a total game-changer for cooks of all levels who want to grab life with both hands and lick it.

"Flavours have the power to intensify, sooth, invigorate and inspire different feelings, and in this book, you'll discover how to match your mood with your food. The recipes showcase the wonder and magic of umami, and once bitten, you will forever be smitten," writes Laura.

Parmesan Ice-Cream sandwiches with chocolate balsamic strawberries

Serves 4

You will need

For the Parmesan ice-cream:

500ml whipping cream

115g plus 1 tbsp golden granulated sugar (preferably organic)

115g Parmesan cheese, finely grated

For the chocolate balsamic sauce:

25ml aged balsamic vinegar (Belazu is good)

2.5g 100pc pure cacao or 85pc cacao dark chocolate

To serve:

500g ripe juicy strawberries, sliced into quarters

1 handful basil leaves, shredded

16 of your favourite crackers or plain cookies (digestive biscuits are ideal)

Soft whipped cream

Salted caramel popcorn


Bring the cream to the boil with the sugar, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat and add the grated Parmesan cheese, stirring until it melts. Allow to cool. Scrape the mixture into a suitable lidded container and freeze overnight.

To make the chocolate balsamic sauce, put the balsamic vinegar and cacao in a bowl and stir until well combined.

Toss the strawberries and basil in the chocolate balsamic sauce.

Remove the ice-cream from the freezer. Using a hot knife cut into squares (or rectangles) slightly smaller than the size of a cracker.

Sandwich an ice-cream square (or rectangle) between 2 crackers and serve with a large spoonful of chocolate strawberry mixture, a dollop of whipped cream and a sprinkling of salted caramel popcorn.

Umami Steak Tagliata

This rub is a beautiful thing, but with good quality steak and a drizzle of good green extra virgin olive oil, it is ridiculously sublime. For extra umami add a couple of Portobello mushrooms to the dish - just sprinkle them with a little rub and pan-fry them with the steaks. This rub recipe makes more than you need for 2 steaks but I like to store the excess in a tightly sealed jar and use on other meats and fish.

Serves 2

You will need

2 steaks (rib-eye, sirloin or fillet mignon)

Extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling

For the garlic pesto: 2 large garlic cloves

Leaves from 2 sprigs of rosemary

5 black peppercorns

Good pinch of salt

Extra virgin olive oil

For the umami rub (makes 120g):

1 tbsp dried mushrooms (shiitake, porcini or a mix; you will need about a handful to make a tablespoon)

2 tbsp sea salt

1 tbsp brown sugar

1 tbsp smoked paprika

1 tbsp dried oregano

2 tsp ground cumin

2 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp ground black pepper

½ tsp cayenne pepper (or to taste)


Using a pestle and mortar, pound together the garlic, rosemary, black peppercorns and salt to a chunky pesto consistency. Add just enough oil to form a loose pesto and set aside.

Next make the rub. Start by grinding the dried mushrooms to a powder in either a spice grinder or a coffee grinder. Combine all the rub ingredients in a bowl until well mixed through. Generously rub each steak all over with about a tablespoon of the rub. Once they are well coated, place the steaks on a plate and drizzle with some of the garlic pesto keeping the rest aside. If time permits, cover the steaks in cling film and leave them for about 20-30 minutes to come to room temperature.

Preheat a frying pan on a medium-high heat. Once hot, cook the steaks to your liking. Once cooked, remove the steaks from the pan and leave to rest for a minute or so in a warm place. Slice diagonally with a sharp knife. Serve on warmed plates topped with any pan juices, an extra spoonful of the garlic pesto and a good drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

Irish Independent

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