Wednesday, February 5, 2014

A Month-of-Appetizers: Umami It

Yesterday I mentioned having an array of tastes if serving several appetizers. One of those tastes may have been unfamiliar to you: umami.

Back in the day, I was taught in science class that there were four flavors: sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. Our tongues supposedly had areas where taste buds specialized in those flavors. Or something like that. It was a looooong time ago!

For generations people, most people, accepted the conventional wisdom. But some sophisticated palates recognized that there was this one taste that didn’t fit. Some scientists argued that if they couldn’t classify it, it just wasn’t real! Are you kidding me??? As far back as Escoffier, the taste was real and realized in his veal stock.

It took a Japanese scientist to unravel the mystery taste which he named “umami” meaning something like, “delicious”. The flavor comes from high levels of glutamate, an amino acid.

Umami is a meaty, savory flavor. It is that taste in seaweed, potatoes, mushrooms, anchovies (below the salt taste), green tea, and tomatoes, for example. Breast milk is an umami taste!

Today, we’re going to get your umami on with baked potato skins and savory grilled mushrooms, so you get a two-fer with this post. Three, if you count the baked potato soup.

Baked Potato Skins (serves 4)
2 potatoes
olive oil
sea salt
2 strips of bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled
4 tablespoons sharp cheddar cheese, grated
4 tablespoons plain Greek yogurt
1 green onion, thinly sliced

Heat oven to 400°. Wash potatoes and dry thoroughly. Make an X on each side of each potato and bake for about an hour, until just tender. Remove from oven and turn heat up to 450°.

Cut potatoes in half long-ways and let cool enough to handle.

Scoop out potato middle leaving about ¼ inch of potato attached to the skin. (Use the scooped out potato in this potato soup recipe

Rub each potato, inside and out with a small amount of olive oil, just to coat the surface lightly. Sprinkle all sides with salt. Put back into oven on baking sheet. Bake for about 10 minutes on each side. Remove from oven.

Fill each potato cavity with cheese and bacon. Return to oven and broil until cheese is bubbly. Top each potato skin with yogurt and onion. Serve immediately.

Savory Grilled Portobello Mushrooms (serves 4)

2 Portobello mushrooms
2 tablespoons savory butter, very soft
(Recipe at:

Heat grill to medium high. Prepare a grilling basket or skillet with non-stick spray.

Clean mushrooms. Place gill side up in the basket or skillet.

Spread one tablespoon of savory butter in each mushroom as evenly as possible. Grill until tender (about 5-10 minutes).

Cut each mushroom into quarters and serve with a fork for squeamish folks who don’t use their fingers!

DH’s Rating: Baked Potato Skins: 5 Tongues Up. What’s not to love about potatoes, cheese, and onions?
DH’s Rating: Savory Grilled Portobello Mushrooms: 5 Tongues Up. This is one of his favorite appetizers. We often serve it at our parties.

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