I have a love-hate relationship with my refrigerator. It’s a big ‘un (love), but despite the space, it’s ridiculously full (hate). As my mother-in-law Dot once noted, you need a map to find your way around the thing. Despite the congestion, it’s frustratingly possible to open it and find…not much to eat. Unless you’re craving schmaltz. Or anchovy paste. Or walnut oil, grated horseradish, chutney, hazelnut meal, tahini, pickled jalapenos, cashew butter, or capers. Cursed condiments! They pile up like tasty, expensive junk mail. But even I have a condiment limit, so today I bit the bullet and executed a HUGE pre-Thanksgiving purge. Ahhh, feels fabulously good. My turkey thanks me. And yet, it’s still less empty than I would prefer (all the aforementioned condiments made the cut). Sorry Tom (Turkey).
Most condiments rock (and over-stay their welcome) because they contribute the delicious “5th taste” to foods – umami. We all learned about sweet, sour, salty, and sour in biology class, but the Japanese have long recognized – and now the rest of the world does too – the 5th taste of umami (pronounced ooooh mommy), or L-glutamate, the taste of “savory.” You love umami without perhaps even realizing it – it’s the “meaty” thang that roasting, smoking, curing, fermenting, aging, and browning gives to foods. We’re going for umami when we add fish sauce, soy sauce, tomato paste, or mushrooms to a dish. It’s the salty, fragrant, “secret ingredient” that puts a dish over the top. The MSG added to Chinese dishes. The nom pla in Thai curry. The truffle in French and Italian sauces. The dark, browned, roasted yumminess in stews. The tomatoey-cheesiness in pizza. The fry in french fries (swoon). You get the picture. Basically, it’s heavenly, and what you pay for when you buy condiments, and it’s damn hard to throw away. For me. Sniff.
Well, I’ll lighten the mood with a few fun links that prove Foodies are just like us:
Moderate it: umami doesn’t have to be “rich,” even though it’s the taste of “rich.” As I noted, finishing a dish with a bit of tomato paste; anchovy paste; fish, soy, or worcestershire sauce; ketchup; grated Parmesan; or a smidge of truffle butter can be the difference between ho hum and deeeelicious. Have fun with it.