Thursday, March 18, 2010

Umami? Oh, Baby!

Umami, the "fifth flavor" in addition to salt, sweet, sour and bitter, is described as "meaty" or "savory" and has been the buzz of the food magazines for a few years now. It is due to the presence of naturally-occurring glutamates, which those of a certain age may remember from a manufactured product called "Accent" (which contained monosodium glutamate or MSG) on their mother's spice shelf. Contributor Jim Dixon is all about umami, and his recipe for this black bean sauce has it in spades. Look for Jim on opening day of this weekend's Portland Farmers' Market with a great selection of Italian olive oils (I highly recommend his Everyday Oil) and imported sea salts, plus a selection of hard-to-get dried beans and grains.

We finally got the kitchen put back together after what seemed like months of painting and related home improvement activities. Judith said she was craving black bean sauce, a dish I learned from David Estes and Tom Calhoun when they ran the late, lamented Eddie Lee’s (in the space now occupied by Mother’s). At Eddie Lee’s the sauce included shrimp and fresh tomatoes, and it was served over pasta. I’ve always left out the shrimp and tomato, but for years served it with spaghetti. This weekend I added squid and catfish and paired the sauce with Kokuho Rose brown rice.

Fish with Black Bean Sauce

The “black beans” are douchi, aka Chinese fermented black beans, made by salting and fermenting soy beans. They look and smell funky, but they have a unique flavor. You’ll have to visit an Asian market to find them; I get Yang Jiang brand in the yellow cardboard container (left).

Chop equal amounts of fresh ginger and garlic, enough so you end up with at least a half cup combined (a chunk of ginger as big as your thumb; 6-8 cloves of garlic). Cook them together for a few minutes in a heavy pot with about a half cup of olive oil.

Add about a cup of the fermented black beans that you’ve run through the food processor briefly, just enough to break them up a bit. Cook for another few minutes, then add about a half cup of flour to make a roux [This makes a very, very thick roux…I'd start with 2-3 Tbsp. with the amount of liquid below and add from there. - KAB]. Cook this for another 5 minutes or so.

Add a splash of white wine and about a cup of water. I usually toss in a little oyster sauce and fish sauce if I have them, but they’re not essential. Cook the sauce for several minutes until it thickens, then add a pound of fresh squid, tubes cut into roughly inch long pieces. Reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook for about 30 minutes.

Cut a couple of catfish fillets into pieces about 2 inches long and add to sauce. Cover and cook about 10 minutes. Add the leaves from a bunch of cilantro and a few sliced green onions, cook another minute, then remove from heat and serve over rice.


Ruth Trowbridge said...

This too is an awesome post. I can't find these anymore. Here I can only get them in a "sauce" with soya that has wheat. I can't have wheat. I used to go through a carton in 2 months. I am going to follow you, ok? Off the read more, peace

Kathleen Bauer said...

I couldn't find them at New Seasons or Whole Foods, so I guess it's Asian markets or nothing. Luckily, there are lots near here!

Anonymous said...

this recepie was boosted verbatim from a site which used squid instead of catfish, I can't remmber which site it was though.

Kathleen Bauer said...

Well, recipes being what they are, the recipe you mention could have been "borrowed" from a book or article, too. It's hard to determine point of origin, but if you find it, let us know!