A few months ago my friends Kenny and Brendan told me they discovered a new food item that would change my life and the way I cook. While it turns out they were exaggerating a tiny bit, they have turned me onto a pretty amazing new thing.
Have you heard of "umami?" Wikipedia defines umami as "a pleasant 'brothy' or 'meaty' taste with a long lasting, mouthwatering and coating sensation over the tongue." Most people are just calling it "the fifth taste." I bought a tube a few weeks ago at one of my favorite stores in NYC, The Brooklyn Kitchen, and have been slowly starting to incorporate it into my cooking (not into my baking yet, but who knows - umami cupcakes, anyone?)
It adds a punch of flavor, or as it says all over the box, a "flavor bomb." The ingredients are all savory and salty. Just reading them will probably make your mouth react. Here, try it:
"Rich, deep and intensely savory, umami exists in a number of foods, many of which are blended into this mouthwatering puree of tomato, garlic, anchovy paste, black olives, balsamic vinegar, porcini mushrooms, parmesan cheese, olive oil and just a touch of sugar and salt."
Is your mouth watering? Mine is.
That's the description on Dean and Deluca's website, where you can purchase it for shipping. If you live in NYC, though, I'd definitely recommend a trip to The Brooklyn Kitchen and their in-house butcher shop, The Meat Hook. If nothing else, the space is incredible and the products they carry are specially chosen to provide inspiration in the kitchen (at least, I always get inspired when I'm there).
Use the stuff sparingly - the first time I used it was in a beef stew and I think I put too much in. My mouth felt "burnt" afterward. But I made mushroom risotto last night and just dropped in a dab, like a tiny squirt, and it definitely made a difference. Best. Risotto. Ever.
On another non-baking or -candymaking note, I went to MoMa yesterday to check out this exhibit called Counter Space. It's a century-spanning retrospective of the aesthetic and technological innovation found in kitchens, as well as the cultural importance. It's a really cool show. They have tons of old pots and pans (including glass frying pans manufactured when steel was rationed for the war) and the history of the modern kitchen which, as it turns out, was started by the female German architect. Anyway, all good stuff, and if you have an interest in food, cooking, and kitchen culture, totally worth the $20 to get it. While you're there, check out the 6th floor where they're screening tons of Warhol's films all at once.