Even though the taste of umami was identified relatively recently, great chefs have been instinctively working with it almost forever. More potent than your common, ordinary food tastes, 'umami' definitely pushes the boundaries of everyday taste sensations.
When I started working on my pork chop rub/paste, I didn't set out to produce an 'umami bomb." Just so happens, that's exactly what resulted! What's an umami bomb? A dish that's built of almost (or completely) umami ingredients.
Let's back up here. I guess your first question is, "What IS umami anyway?" In addition to the tastes of sweet, salty, bitter and sour, it's a savory flavor. Think of the taste sensation you get from meats, especially pork and beef. To take it a step further, especially the flavor of cured or smoked meats. Not just meats, however...fish and seafood are rich in umami, the earthy taste of mushrooms, cheeses - particularly Parmesan, feta and blue veined varieties and even vegetables such as asparagus and garlic come into play, too.
Fermentation produces vinegars, soy sauce and fish sauce that have double the wham with more than one umami trigger - fish sauce has both fish AND is fermented, Worcestershire sauce is also fermented and contains anchovies. Enough background. Just how did umami favors result in a totally delightful dish?
As I said above, I started with pork chops - umami already. There were dried porcini mushrooms in the cabinet so I put those in my spice grinder with black peppercorns and a few Szechuan peppercorns - whirrrr whirrrrr - porcini peppercorn dust. Next I added tamari, balsamic vinegar and garlic, mixed them into a paste, rubbed the chops and let them marinate overnight.
Once grilled the next day, the flavors were deep, dark, rich, mysterious and intense. Total umami success!
Uber Umami Porcini Pork Chops
- 1/4 C dried porcini mushrooms
- 12 black peppercorns
- 5 Szechuan peppercorns
- 1 T granulated garlic
- 2 large garlic cloves, pressed or minced finely
- 1 T wheat-free Tamari or soy sauce (I use wheat-free Tamari to make this gluten free)
- 1 T balsamic vinegar
- 2 T roasted peanut oil
- 1 T agave
- a sprinkling of Porcini & Salt - a finishing salt that's mixture of sea salt, porcini mushrooms and herbs (I get mine at Gourmet Delights) to finish!
- 4 nice, thick bone-in pork chops - I like center cut loin chops
Start martinating these the night before for maximum umami-ness or 4 hours in a pinch.
In a spice grinder, buzz the dried mushrooms and the black and Szechuan peppercorns together to a dust. Transfer to a medium bowl.
Add the rest of the ingredients (except for the pork chops) to the porcini peppercorn dust and mix to a well-combined paste, then evenly coat both sides of the pork chops with ALL of the paste. Put the chops into a zip top plastic bag, squeeze out all the air, seal and refrigerate overnight.
The next day, grill the chops and serve with a sprinkle of Porcini & Salt for extra porcini - AND umami - emphasis!
NOTE: This was one of the last dishes I got to make for Mark, who gave it a highly enthusiastic thumbs up and a request for me to make them again SOON. We both thought they'd be pretty amazing smoked!