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Posts Tagged ‘Umami’

Miso Horny

I’ve been waiting for that joke for so long you guys. Anyway…

The Greek philosopher Democritus claimed that, when chewed, food broke into four distinct shapes, with the size and shape of the pieces determining the taste: Large, round pieces were sweet, while small, round pieces were bitter. Salt was given by small, angular bits, and larger angular chunks were sour.

Until the late 19th century, it was assumed that these were the four basic tastes. Then along came chef Georges Auguste Escoffier. Known as the ‘king of chefs and the chef of kings’ Escoffier developed nearly in its entirety what we now know as classical French cuisine. By developing rich sauces and deeply roasted meat dishes, he made food that didn’t just taste good, but was the best food anyone had tasted; A flavor that wasn’t simply a combination of sweet, sour, salty and bitter. Just a few years after the publication of Escoffier’s Le Guide Culinaire, Japanese chemist Kikunae Ikeda noticed that dashi made with kombu, a type of seaweed, was especially more delicious or ‘yummy’ (in Japanese, umami) that those made without. By studying the chemical makeup of the kombu, Ikeda pinpointed the fifth taste.

Glutamic acid, known now as Umami, create the flavor of savory-ness “common to asparagus, tomatoes, cheese and meat” as Ikeda described. Think about the crust of freshly baked bread. Crispy, roasted mushrooms. Soy sauce. Steak, seared in a ripping-hot cast-iron skillet. It’s why brown food tastes so great. However, it’s difficult to create a dish that’s strictly tastes of umami. As with the other tastes, balance is the key.

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I find that one of the more interesting ways to utilize umami is in largely sweet products. In the same way that salt makes chocolate and caramel taste extraordinary, umami ingredients provide a truly unique contrast.

This week, I wanted to take a page from friend and queen of doughnuts Ren Weiner. Miso, a Japanese seasoning of fermented soy beans or other grains, is jam-packed with umami goodness, and plays quite well with rich, eggy doughnuts. The dough itself carries a smattering of white miso (also called yellow), which has a mild, smooth taste (I swear this isn’t a cigarette ad). Red miso, with a more intense, aggressive flavor gets blended with plain ol’ sugar to make a nice topping. My miso sugar didn’t really dry out like I had hoped it would, but was spectacular tasting nonetheless.

Miso Doughnuts, adapted from Bon Appetit

makes about 10 doughnuts

  • Red Miso, 1 tablespoon
  • Granulated Sugar, 3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon, divided
  • Active Dry Yeast, 1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons)
  • Egg, whole, 1 each
  • Egg Yolk, 1 each
  • Butter, unsalted, melted, 3 tablespoons
  • Whole Milk, 3 tablespoons
  • White or Yellow Miso, 3 tablespoons
  • All-Purpose Flour, 2 cups, plus more as needed
  • Vegetable Oil, for frying

Pulse red miso and 1/2 cup sugar in a food processor until mixture resembles brown sugar. Spread out evenly on a parchment-lined  baking sheet and let sit until dry, 2−2 ½ hours. Pulse in food processor until no clumps remain. Transfer miso sugar to a bowl and set aside.

Combine 1 tablespoon sugar and 1/4 cup warm water in a small bowl. Sprinkle yeast over and let sit until foamy, 5−10 minutes.

Beat egg, egg yolk, butter, milk, white miso, and remaining 1/4 cup sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer with whisk attachment until smooth. Add yeast mixture and flour and mix until a loose ball forms.

Switch to dough hook and mix on medium until dough is smooth,  5−7 minutes. If dough is wet, add more all-purpose flour as needed.

Place dough in a large bowl lightly coated with nonstick spray. Cover and let sit in a warm place until nearly doubled in size, 1−2 hours.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; lightly flour. Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface and pat out to 1″ thick. Punch out rounds with biscuit cutter. Repeat with scraps. Transfer rounds to prepared baking sheet, cover loosely, and let rise in a warm place until almost doubled in size, 45−60 minutes.

Pour 2 inches of oil into a large heavy saucepan. Heat over medium-high until thermometer registers 325°. Working in batches, fry doughnuts until deep golden brown, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer to paper towels and let cool slightly before tossing in miso sugar.

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