Saturday, 20 October 2012

The Fifth Flavour of the Piquant Pamperer

                     I mentioned ozmazone yesterday and promised to write more about it, and sooner is better than later, so what is it and where can you get some? The word is spelled variously, as ozmazone, ozmazome, osmazome and osmasome, and was used by the great Brillat-Savarin in his seminal 1825 Physiologie Du Goût (The Physiology of Taste, or The Science of Good Living), in which we find, 
The greatest service which chemistry has rendered alimentary science is the discovery, or exact definition, rather, of osmazome. Osmazome is that specially sapid part of meat which is soluble in cold water, and therefore to be distinguished from the "essence," which is soluble only in boiling water.”

Brillat-Savarin - Physiologie Du Goût (1889 trans.)

He adds that it -
“… forms the crisp brown on roasts, and which yields a flavour to venison and game. Osmazome is derived principally from full grown animals, with reddish or dark flesh.” 
It is the basis of excellent stock, that essential of any decent kitchen, which is made simply by a good chef and with difficulty, if at all, by a bad one. It is one of those things, like plain boiled rice, that is so easy to get wrong but after it has been done properly once, it is never done poorly ever again. 

Mrs Beeton - Soups

There are but three things to remember; first, to put aside any clean off-cuts of vegetables and red meat, second, to start the stock from cold, and lastly, to let the stock pot simmer, or ‘smile’ as it is called, for a long, long time. Now, with these things in mind, start by taking the vegetable scraps that you have saved. It doesn’t really matter what they are, as long as they are clean and raw. To these, add celery (leaves and all), carrots (with the tops) and onion (a combination called the ‘Trinity’), all roughly chopped. In the stock pot put a pound of beef – shin is best, rump is fine, skirt or brisket are OK – wiped but not washed, and loosely diced, together with what other bits you have (raw bones, bacon rinds, trimmings) but NO FAT. And no flour, thickened sauces or anything cooked. Add two or three pints of cold water and very slowly, bring this to a boil and immediately turn down the heat and allow the pot to ‘smile’. A bouquet of fresh pot herbs may be added. Periodically, skim off any fat that rises to the top. And that’s it. 


If you start with hot or boiling water, the meat locks in the osmazome and the flavour will not be imparted to the stock. If you add anything cooked, the stock may become sour (especially in summer); if you add anything floury, the stock will be cloudy. Cooked properly, the stock will have a good, meaty, round taste. That, as Brillat-Savarin thought, came from the osmazome (the word comes from the Greek, meaning ‘meat broth’), although others were of the opinion that it came from the fibrin in the meat, altered by the water. By the by, that red stuff that comes out of red meat which you might think is blood isn’t blood at all, it’s myoglobin. Other writers of the time also wrote about the merits of osmazome – Mrs Beeton, Eliza Acton, Escoffier, William Kitchiner and Charles Selby amongst them. 

In fact, it is glutamate, one of the twentieth most common amino acids – a substance that you may have heard of from that headache-inducing additive to Chinese takeaways, monosodium glutamate (MSG). This is just a delivery system for the glutamate (which binds readily to sodium), which occurs naturally in red meat, mushrooms, human breastmilk, shellfish, tomatoes and blue cheeses, amongst other things. 

Cheese - rich in umami

These days we call it umami, a loanword from Japanese meaning ‘delicious savoury taste’, and now recognised as one of the five principle tastes (along with sweet, sour, bitter and salty). Umami is that savoury, meaty, brothy flavour, hard to describe but delicious when experienced, a sort of warm, ‘furry’, moreish taste that professional restaurants strive for. It works best when combined with other flavours, as it enhances them and make them more intense and flavoursome. Good examples are chicken, leeks and prunes (as with Scottish Cock-a-Leekie soup) or the Italian pairing of tomato and Parmesan cheese. 

Kikunae Ikeda

Umami was first identified as such by Kikunae Ikeda, a chemistry professor at Tokyo University, in 1908, but its roots stretch back to antiquity – see here for some fish sauces (all rich in umami). If you don’t already do so, try adding a splash of a fish based sauce to meat stews – put a dash of Worcestershire sauce into chilli con carne or ragu sauce, or stir a little Gentleman’s Relish into your Steak and Kidney pud mix (a variation is hark back to an old-fashioned recipe, and pop in a few oysters. It’s what the Victorians did). Grate a little Parmesan into a plain tomato sauce, or just add a few mushrooms to it. One of my favourites in to spread some mango chutney onto a slice of wholemeal toast, crumble some blue Stilton on, dribble with a little Worcestershire sauce   and brown it under the grill. Don’t forget to treat yourself to a glass of stout or brown ale to help wash it down. Lovely!

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