Wednesday, November 25, 2009

UMAMI (Oh Mommy!)

Due to the Thanksgiving holiday we are only open for dinner Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday this week, which lead to some serious thought about this week's special. First and foremost I had to steer clear of any traditional Thanksgiving dishes (which is why the turkey day tribute special was last week) since, again, no would would order it this week. Secondly, with such a short week I felt that I had a chance to do something more challenging and time consuming while also feature a dish that is still conventionally American enough to honor the holiday without being typical.

I finally settled on the idea of pot roast, but not the usual mother's recipe. I wanted to use the classic meat-starch-vegetable combo that you find in most home meals, but compartmentalized - each component is not only separated into the individual cast iron pots that usually adorn our mac 'n' cheeses and side dishes, but also three different instances of umami.

As some of you may know, umami is the recently discovered fifth basic taste (after sweet, sour, salty and bitter) whose name is loosely translated from Japanese as "deliciousness" or "savory". It is that subtle flavor that you can't place your finger on that is found in certain soy products, cheeses, mushrooms and seafood. By emphasizing these components, I knew that my dish would pop as flavorfully as it did visually.

To keep redundancy to a minimum I have marked each umami ingredient used by following it with an appropriate MMM:

The vegetable is simply halved green beans sauteed in ginger, garlic, scallion, soy sauce (mmm) and Szechuan peppercorns - not actually a peppercorn but a tiny fruit with a lemony flavor that slightly numbs the lips and tongue.

For the starch portion I wanted to do a twist on congee, an Asian rice porridge, but using southern grits in place of rice. To cook the grits I used milk, sauteed shitaki mushrooms (mmm) and Parmesan cheese (mmm).

Finally for the meat section I slow braised a whole beef brisket in a stock made with dried shitaki mushrooms (mmm) that, once finished, was tossed in a miso barbecue sauce made with ginger, garlic, scallion, rice vinegar, ketchup, red miso paste (mmm) and sweet soy sauce (an Indonesian version similar to molasses).

I won't say mmm again.... but you will!

For my last installment of the apple drink theme of November I went out on a limb with something different, yet simple.

This week's cocktail has another(!) liquor that is special to me: Jameson Irish Whiskey. Though my heritage is mostly German, my red sideburns tell the tale of a faint Irish bloodline, which is probably why drinking copious amounts of Jameson in my early years as a cook in NYC never ruined my love of the stuff (unlike gin in college...)

So, as a twist of fate, I choose an Irish whiskey over my usual bourbon preference to base this drink, but it is its subtle character that lends itself to this drink so much better.

The recipe is simple, yet effective: two parts Jameson whiskey, two parts cranberry juice (the missing holiday ingredient!) and one part sour apple pucker; shake, strain, pour and sip before the froth disappears!

Happy Thanksgiving!!