Making and using umami powder


The Splendid Table podcast had a guest caller who shared her recipe for umami powder, in October 2017. She’d grown up in Japan, and after returning to the U.S. as an adult, experimented and came up with this flavor-enhancing powder that you can add to American favorites as well as East Asian ones.

Here’s the episode (the umami power segment starts at 41:30 and ends at 46:30), and here’s the recipe. I thought I’d share my experience making it, as well as ways to use it.

Ingredients:

  • 1-oz. package of bonito flakes (makes 6 tablespoons)
  • 1 oz. bulk dried shiitake mushrooms (or if not available in bulk, a small package — use the rest in soups)
  • small package of kombu (with what you don’t use for umami powder, add half a sheet when cooking dried legumes — it takes the gas out, and you can fish it out before serving )

Tools:

  • coffee/spice grinder
  • medium-size bowl
  • kitchen scale
  • scissors
  • small whisk

Instructions:

  1. Fill the coffee/spice grinder with bonito flakes and pulverize into a fine powder. Empty the grinder into the bowl. Repeat until all the bonito flakes are ground up.
  2. Do the same with the shiitakes. You may need to manually break large ones up to fit into the grinder. Repeat as needed. Add the shiitake powder to the bonito flake powder.
  3. Place sheets of kombu on the scale and add/subtract to get one ounce. Use scissors to cut 1/4″ strips of kombu lengthwise, and then cut across the strips to make 1/4″ squares. 
  4. Put these into the grinder and grind to a fine powder. Add to the bonito and shiitake powder.
  5. Whisk the three powders gently to mix well. 
  6. Makes 1 cup of light, fluffy powder. I stored it in a jar, and you could also put some in a spice container for sprinkling on food.

The originator of this recipe, Erica from Seattle, recommends adding the powder to burgers, meatloaf, and “a savory oatmeal that was phenomenal”.

She also mentions adding it to seafood soups to make them taste like they’ve simmered for hours.

Other ideas:

  • Sprinkle it on food as a seasoning.
  • Use it to add flavor to sauces and broths.
  • Add it to savory porridges like congee.
  • Sprinkle it on a piece of fish before cooking. 
  • Sprinkle on chicken before baking.
  • Add to ricotta with herbs to make spread for toast or crackers.

Have you made umami powder? How have you used it?

Jazzy InstantPot Wild Rice Pilaf

I got myself an InstantPot (deeply discounted during Amazon Prime days in August), and I’ve been experimenting with it. I’ve added wild rice and legumes back into my diet after eating Paleo (grain- and legume-free) for years, because my body functions better with the extra fiber. My doctor says they act as prebiotics, feeding healthy gut microbes. I feel good!

I’m loving wild rice! It’s got a nutty taste, a pleasing chewy texture, and is a native American food full of fiber.

I’m also loving InstantPot cooking. Even people who “can’t cook” can just follow the many recipes now available and come out with good food in not much time.

I’m a jazzy cook — I like to improvise from a master recipe, which this is. A pilaf is perfect for that: it’s a traditional Middle Eastern/Indian rice dish cooked in a broth, to which you add whatever you’ve got on hand that “goes with”.

fullsizeoutput_480I use the InstantPot’s Sauté function to soften a chopped onion (and/or shallots) and a couple of stalks of celery in olive oil or butter or ghee. You can add chopped garlic if you like, right before adding a cup of wild rice — garlic scorches easily. Mix well, sauté for another minute, and add 3 cups of mushroom, vegetable, or chicken broth.

I switch to Pressure Cook (high) and set the timer for 15 minutes, with the vent closed. When the timer goes off, I let it sit for 10 minutes and open the vent.

Then I stir the additions in while it’s hot! I like to add 1 cup of cubed cooked chicken, 1/2 cup pecan pieces, 1/2 cup dried cranberries, 1-2 cups roughly chopped baby spinach, 1 cup thinly sliced baby Portobella mushrooms, and 2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley.

Mix well. The mushrooms and spinach should wilt from the hot wild rice. If not, put the lid back on the InstantPot and set it to Keep Warm.

Here’s the creative part:

  • Instead of chicken, add turkey or duck.
  • Instead of pecans, try walnuts or almond slivers or pistachios.
  • Instead of cranberries, add raisins — or sprinkle fresh pomegranate seeds just before serving for their gorgeous color, texture, and flavor.
  • Substitute chopped kale or chard (minus thick stems) or another mild green for the spinach.
  • Add any herbs you like. Sage, thyme, and rosemary would definitely work, in my opinion.
  • Adding green onions at the end adds flavor and color and texture.
  • To balance the sweet savoriness of the pilaf with cranberries, add a bit of a good tasty vinegar, lemon juice, or dry wine (not cooking wine, usually too salty). Add by the teaspoon and taste often to avoid adding too much.

Mix well. The mushrooms and spinach should wilt from the hot wild rice. If not, put the lid back on the InstantPot and set it to Keep Warm.

If there’s extra liquid, you can pour it off, add a tablespoon of chia seeds to thicken, or leave it soupy. To make it creamy, add cream cheese or sour cream to taste and stir well to melt and blend.

Season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

I invite you to see what you have on hand, sense if it would fit well with the other ingredients, and experiment! Share in the comments what worked for you!