In Search of Umami

Recipe: Salmon, Shiitakes, and Peas

Umami, from the Japanese word meaning “pleasant savory taste”, is one of the five basic tastes.  The others are sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. In many cooking styles, the umami is provided by the broth or sauce and acts to enhance all the other flavors of a meal.

When I saw this recipe, I knew I’d make it some day, I just didn’t think it would take me almost three years to get around to it. Part of the problem was the kombu stock. I’ll admit that it intimidated me a little, in spite of Martha’s assurance that it was easy to make. After my initial success with soba noodles, I decided to give this a whirl. I mean really, how hard can stock be?

Kombu stock is made from, among other ingredients, dried kelp. I headed over to Lee Lee’s Oriental Market only to find a full aisle of different kinds of dried seaweed, all distressingly labeled in languages distinctly not English. After wandering back and forth for 15 or 20 minutes, I selected a package based on the following criteria:

  • it contained 2 ounces of dried seaweed, which is how much Martha’s directions said to use
  • if I squinted closely at it, the stuff inside looked vaguely kelp-like
  • a Japanese lady had just finished also selecting this product

Honestly? I made my selection mostly based on the Japanese lady.

I followed Martha’s directions, soaking the kelp (at least I think it was kelp) overnight, then following the rest of the recipe. The resulting stock was ok, but not as flavorful as I’d hoped.

It was only after I’d finished everything and was just getting ready to plate the meal that I found this in our pantry. Turns out, Martha’s instructions notwithstanding, almost nobody makes kombu stock from scratch anymore. They use products like this which produce a much more flavorful result, much more quickly. I’ll use this next time, and I suggest you do the same. It’ll be easier for you, produce a better meal, and you won’t creep out the poor Japanese lady in the store by following her around until she buys something you’re looking for.

Except for my self-induced angst over the stock, this is just about the easiest thing I’ve ever made. You cook the noodles and bring the stock to a simmer, add the vegetables and salmon, then plate the meal. Even my wimpy-stock version was delicious and filling. As advertised, a meal-in-a-bowl.

Here’s how the senior Tolars roll on a Sunday evening with Salmon, Shiitakes, and Peas. Isn’t this a nice presentation? Photos by the lovely and talented Kathleen.

Salmon, Shiitakes, and Peas
Recipe type: Entree
Author: Martha Rose Shulman, NYTimes “Recipes for Health”
Prep time: 40 mins
Cook time: 10 mins
Total time: 50 mins
Serves: 4
Salmon, soba noodles, and peas in a kombu stock.
  • 1 oz. dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 6 cups kombu stock
  • 1 Lb. fresh or frozen (and thawed) peas
  • 6 oz. soba noodles, cooked and tossed with 2 tsp. sesame oil
  • 4, 4 oz. portions of salmon fillet without skin
  • 1 bunch of scallions, thinly sliced, light and dark green parts separated
  1. Place mushrooms in a large bowl. Bring the stock to a simmer, then pour over the mushrooms. Cover and let sit for 30 minutes. Drain the stock through a cheesecloth-lined strainer back into the pot, and squeeze the mushrooms over the strainer. Slice the mushrooms, discard the stems.
  2. Bring the stock back to a simmer and add the peas. Simmer for 5 minutes.
  3. Distribute the noodles evenly among four deep soup bowls.
  4. Add the sliced mushrooms, white and light green sliced onions, and salmon to the stock. Turn off the heat, cover, and allow to sit for five minutes. The salmon should be perfectly cooked.
  5. Place a portion of salmon in each bowl on the noodles. Then ladle the soup into the bowls, taking care to evenly distribute the mushrooms, onions, and peas.


Rating: I give this one a 4 out of 5 cups of sake if you make your own kombu stock from scratch like I did. If you make your own kombu stock from scratch and you know what you’re really doing, or if you use katsuo dashi no moto like I suggested above, I bet this is easily a 5.

This entry was posted in 4 Wine Glasses, Dinner, Pasta, Seafood. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to In Search of Umami

  1. Amanda N says:

    SO weird that you’re talking about Umami. I made this new dish last night and Ryan was trying to identify flavors. He said, “I just don’t know. Maybe it’s umami!”

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