Tuesday, April 19, 2011

BBQ/Picnic Sides Tip #3: Find the Umami

There has been a lot of emphasis lately on bringing savoriness, or umami, to a dish.  However, by its very nature, umami is often associated with meatiness and so seems a challenge to bring to picnic salads.  I've played around with a couple of things and have had luck with these two additions. 
  • Anchovies: Although you could just throw anchovies in, I like to hide them a little by breaking them down over heat.  To do this, you sauté onions with anchovy fillets, let that cool, and then add that to whatever dressing I'm using.  This worked best with macaroni salad where I added this anchovy mixture to oil, vinegar, mustard, and yogurt.  Don't use too many anchovies (two is a good number), because you may end up with fishy macaroni salad.  But, a little anchovy goes a long way to providing salt and meatiness.
  • Parmesan Rinds: The second tip is something I do mainly with macaroni salad, but it could work with any side that involves boiling in water.  What I do is cook my macaroni in a parmesan broth.  This sounds complicated, but isn't.  Most grocery stores that grate their own parmesan are stuck with the rinds that are often thrown away.  I just ask that a couple be set aside, take them home, and I leave them in a bag in the freezer.  Then, when I go to boil macaroni, I put one of the rinds and some salt in the water, bring it to a boil, and then let it simmer for about 45 minutes.  Then, I take a sieve and get out the rind and the bigger chunks of cheese and boil the macaroni in that water.  It gives the macaroni a really toothsome and savory quality that is a great flavor base for the macaroni salad. 
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