Mushrooms work umami magic in coq au vin nouveau

Published: Monday, May 1, 2006 at 1:51 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, May 1, 2006 at 1:51 p.m.

"Umami" is well on its way to becoming a household word. In the kitchen, at least.

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This photo provided by the Mushroom Council shows Coq au Vin Nouveau, made with a recipe which illustrates the umami-enhancing power of mushrooms. In this lighter treatment the dish is made with boneless chicken thighs. This quick-cooking "nouveau" version also calls for lean smoked ham in place of bacon, and plenty of umami-rich cremini mushrooms.

AP Photo/Mushroom Council

Loosely translated as "deliciousness," umami is the Japanese word for the hard-to-describe but irresistibly savory effect we experience as a "fifth taste" triggered by some foods. Soy sauce, oysters and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese have it, and so do mushrooms.

"Mushrooms and other fungi are among the finest culinary sources of synergizing umami," David and Anna Kasabian say. This husband-and-wife writing team gathered umami-maximizing tips and recipes from two dozen chefs for their cookbook, "The Fifth Taste: Cooking with Umami" (Universe Publishing, 2005, $27.50).

In other words, that means mushrooms can enhance the flavor of everyday dishes. Used in even the most simple ways - simmered in a soup, added to a stir-fry, scattered on a pizza - they seem to make everything taste better.

Science can explain it in terms of glutamates and ribonucleotides. Cooks can simply try one of the following recipes to enjoy that flavor boost.

The Kasabians' book opens with helpful background information about umami, then follows up with a variety of recipes. These include offerings from some big-name chefs, ranging from Daniel Boulud to Jody Adams and Rick Bayless.

Several recipes illustrate the umami-enhancing power of mushrooms. In one, the classic coq au vin is given a lighter treatment. Made with boneless chicken thighs, this quick-cooking "nouveau" version calls for lean smoked ham in place of bacon, and plenty of umami-rich cremini mushrooms.

Vegetarian muffuletta roll-ups are another good example. Roasted portobellos and red bell peppers mixed with celery and capers make a tangy spread to combine with goat cheese on lavash or another flatbread.

Coq au Vin Nouveau

(Preparation 25 to 30 minutes, cooking time 35 to 40 minutes

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

4 ounces lean smoked ham, diced medium

8 skinless chicken thighs

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 medium onion, diced medium

2 cloves garlic, minced

8 ounces cremini or white mushrooms sliced (about 3 cups)

1 cup fruity white wine such as sauvignon blanc

14-ounce can low-fat chicken broth

2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced 1/2-inch thick

2 stalks celery, sliced 1/2-inch thick

2 sprigs fresh thyme, or 1/2 teaspoon dried

Choose a heavy Dutch oven or skillet with a tight-fitting cover, large enough to fit the chicken in no more than two layers plus the vegetables. In this pan, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil, add the ham and saute until browned all over. Remove and reserve the ham, leaving as much of the oil in the pan as you can.

Liberally season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper and dredge them in the flour. Add the remaining oil to the pan. When the oil is hot, sear the chicken thoroughly on all sides until well browned. Take care not to scorch the flour coating, but do let it get brown. Do this in batches. Reserve the chicken with the ham.

Return pan to the burner set to medium. Add the onion, garlic and mushrooms, and saute for 3 minutes, stirring constantly, until tender and fragrant. Add the wine, chicken broth, carrots, celery and thyme, and let come to a boil. Add the reserved chicken and ham. Cover the pot and bring to a simmer. Cook for 25 minutes, until the chicken is tender. Remove cover; cook until sauce thickens slightly, about 10 minutes. Taste and correct seasoning with salt and pepper.

Arrange chicken pieces and vegetables on a warmed platter, and cover with the sauce. Serve with rice, noodles or roasted potatoes.

Makes 4 servings.

Nutrition information per serving: 366 cal., 41 g pro., 14 g carbo., 15 g total fat, 3 g fiber.


Vegetarian Muffuletta Roll-Ups

(Preparation 20 minutes, roasting 20 minutes, marinating 10 minutes)

12 ounces portobello mushroom caps

Olive oil, for brushing

1/2 small red bell pepper

1/4 cup roughly chopped Kalamata olives

1/4 cup roughly chopped Spanish olives with pimentos

3 tablespoons minced celery

1 1/2 teaspoons minced capers

2 teaspoons minced fresh parsley

1/4 teaspoon minced garlic

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground pepper

4 ounces soft, fresh goat cheese, at room temperature

Two 12-inch lavash roll-up breads

Preheat oven to 450 F. Scrape the gills out of the mushroom caps with a teaspoon; discard. Brush or spray the portobello caps with olive oil. Remove seeds and ribs from the red pepper. Brush or spray with the olive oil.

Put the mushrooms and red pepper on a rack or a sheet pan and roast for 20 minutes, or until the peppers are blistered and the mushrooms begin to toast. Set aside to cool.

In a medium bowl, toss together the olives, celery, capers, parsley, garlic, oregano and olive oil to combine. Roughly chop the mushrooms and red pepper and add to the mixture. Add salt and pepper to taste. Allow to cool at room temperature for 10 minutes so the flavors can meld.

Use a spatula to spread half the goat cheese over each lavash. Spread half the filling over the cheese on each. Roll up, slice in half on the bias, and serve.

Makes 4 servings.

Nutrition information per serving: 325 cal., 12 g pro., 35 g carbo., 16.5 g total fat (5.6 g saturated), 3 g fiber.

(Recipes adapted for AP by the Mushroom Council from "The Fifth Taste: Cooking with Umami" by David and Anna Kasabian, Universe Publishing, 2005, $27.50.)

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