Herbs, Spices, Marinades and Umami

As a youngster, I wasn’t really aware of herbs and spices as such. My dad used to use “Madras Curry Powder” quite a lot when he was doing the cooking and from memory mother used to use things like mint, “Bouquet Garni”, salt & pepper. There was nine of us at home inc mum & dad so “Tasty, Filling and Cheap” meals were on the menu; stews, meat and potato pie but not much meat. Offal was always a plenty – udder, liver, tripe, pigs trotters and occasionally cheap mutton and lamb shanks. I never knew what “steak” was, other than “frying steak” and it was never tender!

Things like mustard, vinegar, salt, pepper and curry powder were just about all that was used to season the food.

It’s only in the past few years that I’ve “got into” using herbs and spices, I’m mainly a “Plain Vanilla” type guy but I now appreciate the extra flavour boost with using herbs and spices. I’m of the opinion that herbs and spices should only “Enhance” the flavour of the food and not “replace” the natural flavours. I’ve also discovered the “fifth taste” called “umami” and this is the WOW factor with any food you serve/taste. Some foods are a natural umami and other foods add umami, which make your recipes have the wow factor.

There seems to be a difference between the herbs and spices you use during cooking or prior to cooking and the herbs and spices you use as “condiments” but many can be used as either or both. It could be said  that you don’t need “condiments”, like ketchup if the food is cooked to your liking! People doing the cooking would hopefully be cooking food the way “they” like it; you wouldn’t expect someone to cook and prepare food they don’t like! I respect other peoples tastes and accept we are all different so if some like a splash of ketchup or extra salt and pepper etc, fine.

MARINADES are worth a look at! A typical marinade can use herbs and/or spices, along with other things. Marinades are used before cooking and are mainly used to add flavour but can be used to tenderise meats; in which case they are not really marinades! Generally, most marinades work best when left overnight or longer but some are good after an hour or so. One of my favourite marinades is Peri Peri (Nandos) or a single or combination of herbs or spices. If you just want to tenderise the meat, you can use Buttermilk and/or Yogurt or even kiwi or papaya

Marinades give meats a different flavour and if used along with “enzymes” can tenderise cheap cuts of meat, before you start cooking. Have a go a marinading, there aren’t any rules, you’re just basically enhancing/altering the flavour of the meat before you cook it. You can use “enzymes” to tenderise meat, Kiwi fruit and Pineapple are very good but best used on thin bits of meat.

There are plenty of “food critics” that seem to influence “commercial cooks”, veg should be cooked this way steak should be cooked that way etc but it is only “their opinion” or the way “They” like the food cooked. We’re all different, we all have different tastes and opinions and we don’t have to accept the opinions of “food critics”. I digress 🙂

Cooking for the family is fairly easy, you’ll know soon enough if they like what you cook; empty plates are a good sign 🙂

HERBS and combinations of Herbs, used in various proportions will boost the flavour of any food (cooked or uncooked) The key is to get the right amount so that the Herbs don’t overpower the flavours of the food you are cooking/serving. Different meats are enhanced by certain herbs and in the “cooking world” there are lots of different ideas /opinions about which herbs “go” with which meat. IMO, it’s whatever floats your boat!

I find that Basil, Parsley and Rosemary go well with beef but horseradish is the king – (see Spices and Umami below). Used carefully horseradish will bring out the flavour in beef and give it a “wow” taste but less is better than more! Various mustards  used in cooking or as a condiment can add that “something”.

Sage, Thyme, Rosemary tend to go well with Pork; as does Apple sauce!

Sage and Tarragon go well with chicken as does lemon!

Mint, coriander and cumin tend to go well with lamb.

Here’s a good read about what goes with what, have a play! Spicesinc lots of lovely stuff to read on there.

Don’t be scared to use herbs but try small amounts first, mix n match

SPICES.

Unlike herbs, which are mainly the leaves of plants, spices are the other bits like the root, seeds, berries etc. Again spices used singularly or in combination with other spices and/or combined with herbs can boost or enhance the flavour of foods but again, you don’t want to replace the flavour of the food; you just want bring out the flavour.

Unfortunately some “recipes”, IMO, destroy or completely replace the original flavour of the food by adding fiery chillis or similar. IMO, if all you can taste is the “spice”; it’s a waste of good food or maybe its a way to consume otherwise inedible food !

Herbs & Spices are basically a love or hate thing. Experiment to find what you like but don’t forget. if you’re cooking for other people; they might not like what you like!  Some people just like “plain” food, some people can’t handle herbs and spices, some people like the challenge of a fiery hot chilli; each to their own. I try to stick to cooking stuff that I like and if others don’t like it, I don’t expect them to eat it; they can always have an omelette 🙂

UMAMI.

Umami is the “wow” factor! Often described as the fifth taste after sweetness, sourness, bitterness and saltiness. One of the best known “flavour enhancers” is MSG (Mono Sodium Glutamate, which is made from the Cassava plant). In places like Thailand, MSG is used copiously, in the same way that “we” use salt & pepper; they add it to just about everything.

Back as far as or before the Romans, fish oil (often from anchovies) and even “oriental” countries used a version of fish oil to give that “wow” factor. In modern times, Worcester sauce and soy sauce or just fish oil are used but even mushrooms get a look in! Celery, spinach, tomatoes, Carrots, cured meats and not forgetting Parmesan cheese are all things that add umami and give your recipes that “wow” factor.

Here’s 13 foods with natural umami to wet your appetite, you might be surprised!

GARLIC deserves a mention, it seems to get in everywhere (like bell peppers) but a little goes a long way! I’ve yet to find out what a “clove” of garlic is! It doesn’t seem to be a “Standard measurement” because the “Bulbs” of fresh garlic I buy seem to have different sized segments (cloves), some are quite thin and others can be quite fat. Some recipes can stand lots of garlic and other only need a hint of it

Here’s another good read, Cooking with Umami, there is loads of Umami related blogs/websites.

Enjoy and don’t forget to have a bit of toast with Marmite or Bovril 🙂

I’m not a “professional cook” but I love cooking and have been doing so for 50+ years. I rarely follow recipes but look at different recipes to get a “feel” and then substitute stuff that I don’t like or just leave it out. Most of the time I see clean plates but do get the occasional “sorry, can’t eat that” or “I don’t really like that”, I don’t take it personally.

Experiment, find out what YOU like. If you cook stuff that you like, you can taste test it to see if it tastes nice; if you’re cooking stuff you don’t like, you won’t be able to test taste it and get an unbiased opinion!

Cooking should be fun, eating should be a pleasure.

bon appétit

Buon appetito