Patrick O'Connell works with umami the way a great composer works with instruments in an orchestra. "I know umami instinctively," he says. In fact, Patrick often uses analogies to music when describing his food. "When I taste something I like, my hand slowly stretches outward, indicating long, lingering notes, "which, more often than not, means umami is at work. "For me, umami triggers a chord that goes on and on, like it's never over."
Patrick proves his point in his delectably unassuming Green Bean Tempura with Asian Dipping Sauce, a testament to the virtues of simplicity. The nuoc mam fish sauce delivers synergizing umami, exposing, the otherwise subtle basic umami in the green beans. "We use the long, thin, French green beans and present them in a silver cup, lined with a parchment paper cone," he says. You needn't be as formal. In fact, these quick and easy finger foods, cooked in small batches and served immediately, are the perfect way to keep guests gathered around in the kitchen munching happily until dinner is ready to go on the table.
2 quarts vegetable or peanut oil, for deep frying
1/2 pound French green beans
Tempura Batter (recipe below)
Salt to taste
Clear Fish Sauce with Lime and Cilantro (recipe below)
1. In a deep fryer or heavy pot, heat the oil to 350 degrees F.
2. Cut off the tips of the green beans.
3. Dip each green bean into the Tempura Batter and shake off any excess. Carefully drop each bean into the hot oil and fry for about 90 seconds, turning them with a slotted spoon until they are just golden and crisp.
4. Remove the beans from the fryer and drain them on paper towels. Season with salt and serve immediately, with the Clear Fish Sauce on the side.
Chef O'Connell notes, "After years of experimenting with every tempura batter imaginable, we finally discovered that, often times, simpler is better. This recipe uses only soda water, flour, salt, and pepper. Fine-textured soft-wheat flour, packaged as cake flour, makes a more delicate tempura, but regular flour will suffice."
1 cup cake flour
7 fluid ounces (1 cup less 2 tablespoons) very cold club soda
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Using a fork, gently combine the flour and club soda in a small bowl. (The batter will appear slightly lumpy and should have the consistency of heavy cream.)
2. Season with salt and pepper to taste. (The bubbles in the soda water help keep the tempura light and crispy; therefore it is important to make the batter just before using it.)
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
7 tablespoons nuoc mam (Vietnamese fish sauce)
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup cold water
Juice of 1 lime
2 tablespoons finely julienned carrot
1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro
2 large cloves garlic, minced
2 jalapeño peppers, ribs and seeds removed, finely chopped
Mix all the ingredients together in a medium bowl, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Store in the refrigerator until ready to use.
The Fifth Taste: Cooking with Umami
by Anna and David Kasabian
Hardcover; $27.50; CAN $39.95
Recipe reprinted by permission
This page created February 2006
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