My sweetheart doesn’t cook all that often, but when he does, he means it. Whereas I’m more prone to throwing random things we have in the fridge together in a huge pot and calling it stew, Shawn does his research. He studies the best way to season a cast iron, the best way to brine chicken for frying and the exact goal temperature for the inside of a perfectly cooked burger.
He recently read an article in Food and Wine about smash burgers (burgers formed by forming ground beef into balls and then smashing them to a patty shape during the grilling process) and decided to set about making them for dinner that night. The recipe called for umami powder, which the recipe said could be made by grinding dried shitake mushrooms, kobu (dried seaweed) and bonito flakes (dried fish flakes). After trips to three different Asian grocery stores, we were able to obtain these. The recipe said the umami power was optional, and we almost gave up on it after the second unsuccessful grocery store visit, but I’m glad we put forth the effort because this stuff is delicious. I’ve seriously considered (and often followed through on) sprinkling the stuff on virtually everything I’ve eaten since making it.
According to Wikipedia:
Umami, popularly referred to as savoriness, is one of the five basic tastes together with sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. Umami is a loanword from the Japanese umami (うま味) meaning “pleasant savory taste”] This particular writing was chosen by Professor Kikunae Ikeda from umai (うまい) “delicious” and mi (味) “taste”. The Chinese characters 旨味 are used for a more general meaning, when a particular food is delicious.”
You wouldn’t necessary think ground up shitake mushrooms, seaweed and dried fish would be exceedingly delicious, but this stuff is heavenly. I’m still not entirely sure what umami should taste like– I certainly wouldn’t be able to identify it from a line-up of tastes the way I would sweet or salty, but if this is it, I’m on board.
The smash burgers, with their cooked onions, sharp cheddar cheese and sprinkling of umami powder, were the best I’ve ever encountered. I could have eaten five of them. Kudos to Shawn and his culinary dramaturgy. Sometimes it really pays off.
Use a spice grinder to pulse 3 tablespoons bonito flakes, 1/2 ounce crumbled dried kombu, and 1/2 ounce dried shitake mushrooms into a powder.
Cheddar and Onion Smash Burgers (makes 4)
- 16 thin bread-and-butter pickle slices, patted dry
- Four 4-inch potato buns, buttered and toasted
- 1 1/4 pounds ground beef chuck (30 percent fat)
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 2 small onions, sliced paper thin
- 4 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, sliced
- Umami powder
- Heat a cast-iron griddle until very hot. Layer the pickle slices on the bottom buns.
- Without overworking the meat, loosely form it into 4 balls and place them on the griddle. Cook the meatballs over moderately high heat for 30 seconds. Using a sturdy large spatula, flatten each ball into a 5-inch round patty. Season the patties with salt and pepper and cook for 2 minutes, until well seared. Press a handful of sliced onions onto each patty. Using the spatula, carefully flip each burger so the onions are on the bottom. Top with the cheese and cook for 2 minutes. Cover with a roasting pan and cook just until the cheese is melted, 1 minute more. Transfer the burgers with the onions to the buns and sprinkle with umami dust. Top with the buns and serve.
For more recipes like this one, check out the Domesticity page.