Everyone fails to do something that may at first glance seem minor, but in practice, proves to handicap them in a rather alarming manner. Casual observers can’t help but notice the dazzling spectacle of omission. The vibrating white space, the shimmering hole in their life.
My wash n’ wear bush of befrizzed, ragged red hair is the most visible mascot of my strict stance of non-embellishment and unfussy-ness, but quieter signs are everywhere. (Hello, half-tucked shirts, unshined shoes, mascara-less eyelashes, handbag that’s needed a replacement for 3.5 years!)
Most of the time, I get away with my carefully cultivated carelessness. But every area of my life occasionally feels the sting of my slap and dash modus operandi. Without a scrupulously annotated calendar, birthdays can be overlooked, appointments occasionally neglected and deadlines elided.
And mis en place? Too often, I fuhgedaboudet, only to find myself diving for the spice cabinet for a dash of nutmeg, while hysterically screeching and demanding that Stephen drop everything to rummage through my disorganized kitchen tool drawer for a whisk, like, pronto.
Aside from the obvious, ubiquitous fallout the Faustian Bargain I struck with Father Time has wrought, I find that sometimes my need for speed even impedes even the simplest recipe — if I only took that extra step, or spent those extra 20 minutes carefully, meticulously, anal-y fussing, my food would taste pretty darn good, instead of just pretty good.
So, I have decided to attempt to embrace my (very) inner accountant, and take all of the time I need to really cook a dish beautifully. To maintain my sanity, I am simultaneously embracing my (much less inner) carni — because cooking should be raucous and fun and if I have to stand over pots and pans with measuring spoons and an egg timer, I may as well also have some taste bud trickery up my sleeve to entertain myself with too.
The trickery, in a word: umami.
Umami was “discovered” in the mid-1800’s, separately by Kikunae Ikeda and Karl Ritthausenm, who identified glutamic acid, the amino acid responsible for the savory, multi-dimensional, mouth-watering sensation and “fifth taste” all the foodie hipsters and indie chefs have been touting with such uncharacteristically unironic, veritably histrionic levels of enthusiasm of late.
David Chang, everyone’s favorite Harvard-lecturer/crazy NYC chef employs umami the way Lady Gaga employs crystal-studded platform pumps — without ’em, their products would still be good, they just wouldn’t assault you with the ol’ razzle dazzle, the ol’ flim flam flummox, you wouldn’t stagger away with sequins in your eyes, sated by their sorcery.
Chang’s go-to umami receptacle is dried shiitake mushrooms, a magical, cheftastic ingredient that automatically imbues everything it is scattered upon with an upgrade of deliciousness. It will never avert catastrophe, and I wouldn’t just throw it in a chocolate chip cookie recipe, but a deft touch here and there — with some added fussing — has helped me karate kick my cooking up a notch.
Below, check out umami-infused recipes for Marco Canora’s Lasagna Verde and Sausage and White Bean “Salad”, with pictures.