Sometimes I don’t know how to review a book. You might be thinking “that’s stupid” or “you write reviews often, most of the time positive reviews, so just say something positive.” There is truth to that last statement, but the reality is that I try to review books that I feel fairly certain I am going to instantly like.
My current conundrum is “Flavor Bombs: The Umami Ingredients That Make Taste Explode” by Adam Fleischman, with Tien Nguyen. The premise of the book is to build up an “umami pantry” and cook delicious recipes with those ingredients. The book is broken down into these chapters:
- The Basic Pantry
- The Umami Pantry
- Umami Sidekicks
- Umami Master Recipes
- Basics and Condiments
- Apps and Little Meals
- Soups and Salads
- Drinks and Desserts
The good? The chart with umami ingredients is useful. I hadn’t realized that umami was broken down to glutamate, inosinate, and guanylate. I thought it was just glutamate (hence, monosodium glutamate aka MSG). And I like that the recipes themselves are varied. Here are the recipes that I would love to eat:
- Roasted fingerling potatoes stuffed with smoked trout mousse
- Nontraditional umami-spiked chowder
- Five minute pork-conquered salad
- Koji-porcini resting sauce
- Chicken confit with dirty farro
- Puerto Rican mofongo
- Fancy make-ahead restaurant sauce
- Sweet and savory brisket
- Umami’d fregola sarda
- Matcha magic cake
The bad for me (but not necessarily for you)? A lot of these recipe require making the master recipes ahead of time. There are just three master recipes: umami master dust, umami master sauce, and umami ketchup. But that does mean that I’m either doing some planning or doing a weekend project. I meal prep my meals on the weekend so I am less inclined to throw in a weekend cooking project on top of my regular meal prepping. The other minor gripe I have is sourcing the ingredients, specifically powdered soy sauce, truffles, and truffle honey. I’d probably look for substitutions or skip altogether, which will change the flavor of the end product some.
(Oh, one last issue but this one is purely from an aesthetic standpoint. The pages have a black background. It’s going to look grimy quickly if your hands are not dry and clean. I’ve had this book for less than a week, and I can see fingerprints on a number of pages already. lol!)
As for recipe testing, I settled on making the midnight garlic noodles. I felt that the recipe was a good representation of the book without feeling overwhelming. The two items that needed prep ahead were fairly hands off: burnt miso and garlic confit. Otherwise, it was pretty easy to put together requiring noodles or pasta, shio koji (which I am weird enough to have), butter, black pepper, and Parmigiano-Reggiano if you have it (which I am weird enough to not have).
How did it taste? It was good.
Was it good enough to make the recipe as is again? Eh, no, not really. I think if I make it again, I’ll take the lazy way out with regular ol’ miso and roasted garlic. Or if I insist on the burnt miso, I can pop in a garlic head in the oven at the same time to make roasted garlic without using more effort or resources. The burnt miso smelled fantastic as it baked, so I’m not hating it. (But I do feel bad for the parts of miso that burned as it’s not useable. It seems like such a waste.) And garlic confit can be used for other applications, so I am not necessarily hating on it either. But as I said earlier, I’m mostly cooking to feed myself properly. I’m generally inclined prefer recipes that taste good without too much effort. (P.S. I also served the sauce with some rotisserie chicken and plain asparagus on another night. I think that was more interesting than serving it on noodles/pasta.)
So, in the end, if you’re more of a functional cook like me, you may not want this book. If you’re a cooking enthusiast, I can recommend this book, and I think you’ll find it to be fun and adventurous.
Disclaimer – I received this book from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for this review. I’m not getting paid for this post. The views and opinions expressed are purely my own.