Breakaway Cook

Come Get Your Umami Salt

Want to make your family and friends drool? Literally? Give them some umami salt. There’s a lot to be said about umami, and we’ll be saying plenty of i tright here, but let’s just jump right in and make some flavor-walloping salt and ask questions later. Here’s what you need:

  • a few shavings of parmesan
  • a dried mushroom (shiitake work well, as do porcini)
  • some kelp (kelp granules make this easy)

Whir the shroom in the spice grinder first and get it all powdery. Then add the cheese and the kelp, whir a litle more, and finally pulse in a few tablespoons of sel gris, always the salt of choice for breakaway salts because of its high moisture content and incredible oceany taste.

This salt is, essentially, pure MSG. Except is a billion times better than the reviled white powder — “gourmet powder” in Chinese — that so many people have come to dread (some are even allergic to it). Why do so many Chinese cooks, in restaurans and in homes, use so much MSG? Because it makes food taste GREAT!

Evolution has made sure our tonges and palates come equipped to easily detect naturally occuring glutamates, which make us involuntarily salivate — an excellent mechanism for getting food down (and, it turns out, for really enjoying it). Umami — that “fifth taste sensation” along with sweet, sour, bitter, and salty — has really come a long way in establishing its legitimacy. Umami is realy ALL about glutamates and our ability to detect them. Sometimes umami is translated from the Japanese as “savory,” and this strikes me as sort of accurate, but I’d add something like, “foods that make you drool.” Things like parmasan, bacon, sardines, miso, konbu (kelp), dried mushroooms, oysters, mackerel, even green tea. Want to know more about umami?

So what’s this salt good for? Everything! Try it on a piece of steak, or your morning eggs. Saute onions with it. For the drooliest corn on the cob ever, sprinkle some on a hot ear that’s been freshly buttered. Stir-frys, salads, salad dressings, roast chicken, baked tofu. Or, have fun with the kids — sprinkle some on their tongues, and watch them drool!