Umami. The fifth taste. These are the experiments of the kitchen of Sumo; his continuing mission to explore flavors, to seek out new dishes, to boldly cook what no man has cooked before!
Ok, that last bit isn’t true; I just threw it in for dramatic effect. And yes, I was watching “Star Trek” before I started writing this.
The word “umami” is, not surprisingly, a Japanese term that is yawningly described as “the scientific term to describe the taste of glutamates and nucleotides”.
Yeah, I have no clue what that means, either. The only science stuff I’m any good at relates to the psychological and physiological effects of combat and high stress situations on the human body.
Fortunately, the Japanese have saved us from dreary scientific terminology. The more poetic translation of umami is “pleasant savory taste”, which is a little more interesting to my way of thinking. Then again, I’m not exactly objective in these matters.
Umami can be found in a variety of foods, such as anchovies, parmesan cheese, and soy sauce. Basically, any type of fermented food contains umami. One of my favorite examples of this is miso.
Miso is a Japanese seasoning made from fermented soy beans. It’s rich, thick, and salty, and imparts boatloads of umami into anything it’s combined with. Traditionally, and arguably the most popular use for miso is in (drumroll) miso soup. Don’t misunderstand me; I love miso soup, but when it comes to subjects for me to write about, it doesn’t quite have the flair, the panache, or the style.
A while back, I came across a recipe for miso paste, which was described as a marinade for meat or as a dipping sauce. While both of those sound like good ideas, I like to try to be a little more adventurous with my experimentations, and decided to try it on a variation of yakitori.
I wanted to explore versatility of miso a little more, so a quick Google search led me to this brilliant concoction. Going to be honest here – the chicken was pretty good, but those potatoes, GOOD SWEET ZOMBIE JESUS, THOSE POTATOES!!!!!! I would cheerfully kill a man for a plate of those potatoes.
13 oz awase miso – Awase is essentially a blend of aka (red) and shiro (white) miso. If you can’t find awase, just use equal amounts of aka and shiro.
1/2 cup sake
1 cup mirin
1/3 cup superfine sugar
Mix the ingredients together in a saucepan over medium heat. When it comes to a boil, turn the heat down low. Continue cooking for about 20 minutes, stirring as the liquid reduces so that it doesn’t burn, then remove from the heat. When cool, place in a container and keep in the refrigerator.
1 1/2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs
bamboo skewers, soaked in water for at least 1 hour
1/2 cup miso paste
Cut the chicken into 1/2 inch wide strips, then fold in half and thread onto the skewers. Leave about 1/2 inch at each end of the skewer. Press down lightly on the chicken with the palm of your hand, then sprinkle lightly with salt.
Place the sauce in a small bowl with a pastry or barbecue brush.
Place the skewers onto the grill (or bricks, if using), and turn every 1 minute or so as they brown. Once the meat is lightly browned and you can see it sizzling, brush the miso paste on top. Grill for about 2 minutes more, turning about every 30 seconds and brushing more paste on each time. Transfer the chicken to a platter and drip more paste on top, and serve immediately.