Who gets to decide that there’s suddenly a “fifth taste”? Weren’t we all  perfectly satisfied with sweet, sour, bitter, and salty?  (Though I have wondered if somebody hadn’t left out spicy).

Umami, the fifth taste, was discovered by a Japanese chemist about 100 years ago. He identified a single molecule, glutamate, as being the source of a rich/savory quality in certain foods, such as cured meats, seafood, pork, soy foods, mushrooms, aged cheeses, and fermented foods. The truth is, it’s taken me a while to grasp umami. It’s a quality you come to know almost by osmosis…a lip smacking reaction to something savory and “close your eyes” yummy.

This chicken is all about umami. It’s the word that popped into my head when I took my first bite. Chicken, still on the bone (umami) gets gently simmered in a generous amount of soy sauce (an umami superpower) along with tangy vinegar (more umami) and loads of garlic (flavor bomb). It’s an umami triple threat.

The recipe comes to me by way of my friend Spring, who learned it from her friend Maria Benton, who learned it from her mom Purita and her Grandma “Nanay”. It’s called Adobo, a traditional Filipino dish that Maria says, “Growing up we ate this a few times a week.  Sometimes with chicken wings or drumsticks, sometimes whole chicken cut up, or with pork spareribs cut up into thirds. Something with bone always comes out the tastiest.”

Umami indeed.

Print

Umami Chicken

This recipe comes to me by way of Maria Benton, who learned it from her mom and grandma. It's a traditional Filipino dish called Adobo that is tangy, salty, and tender all at once. Serve it over steamed rice with a hefty serving of a favorite green vegetable on the side. This chicken is excellent as a leftover.
Servings 10 pieces of chicken; 5 to 7 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 5 chicken legs and thighs , bone-in, skin-on, separated (about 3 pounds)
  • 10 large cloves garlic , roughly chopped
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce (or gluten-free Tamari)
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • Steamed brown rice

Instructions

  1. Set a large, heavy pot over low heat and coat the bottom with olive oil. Set the chicken legs and thighs skin-side-down in the pot and scatter the garlic over the top. Put on the lid and cook until the chicken turns opaque in color, about 15 minutes, turning the pieces over halfway through. A spatula may help if the chicken sticks to the bottom.
  2. Add the soy sauce, vinegar, and water, tip the pot to mix the liquids, put on the lid, and simmer on low until the chicken is very tender, about 45 minutes, turning the pieces over halfway through.
  3. Serve with rice.

Recipe adapted and used with permission by Maria Benton.