Mix soya sauce with butter for more umami in your recipes

Polenta with mushrooms, soy and butter, in New York, on Feb 6, 2018.
Polenta with mushrooms, soy and butter, in New York, on Feb 6, 2018.PHOTO: NYTIMES

(NYTIMES) - Who knows who first mixed soya sauce and butter and discovered the pleasures the combination provides?

Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten uses the mixture on thin steaks sauteed with ginger, and it is incredible. Roy Choi, the Los Angeles restaurateur, advises sneaking a pat of butter and a splash of soya into instant ramen. And that is delicious.

Try butter and soya on rice as a snack, put it on sauteed greens or an old sneaker. The resulting taste is a sublime velvet that is stitched with umami, a fifth taste beyond sweet, sour, bitter and salty. Soya butter provides warmth and luxury, elegance without pomp. It raises the food it touches to heights almost indescribable in the telling.

And so it does here, in a recipe The New York Times first published in 2014, with an article about chef Chris Jaeckle, who had just opened All'onda, in Manhattan.

That restaurant has since closed, but Jaeckle's elegant blending of Italian and Asian flavours and techniques lives on in this dish: creamy polenta topped with deeply caramelised mushrooms cut through with butter and soya, a little cream and a lot of black pepper. It makes a dinner of joy and comfort on these long winter nights.

Creamy Polenta with Mushrooms

Time: 1 hour

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

INGREDIENTS

For the polenta:

2 cups minus 3 Tbs whole milk

1 tsp salt, or to taste

1 3/4 cups polenta or cornmeal

4 Tbs unsalted butter, or to taste

1 Tbs grated Parmesan, or to taste

For the mushrooms:

15g dried porcini mushrooms

5 Tbs cold unsalted butter, cut into pats, divided

1 clove garlic, peeled and minced

226g fresh mushrooms, wild or cultivated, sliced thin

1 tsp fresh thyme leaves

1 Tbs soy sauce

1 Tbs heavy cream

1 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil

Freshly ground black pepper

METHOD

1. Make the polenta: Bring 4½ cups water and the milk to a high simmer in a medium-size heavy saucepan set over medium-high heat. Add salt. Pour the cornmeal slowly into the liquid, stirring with a wire whisk to prevent clumping. Continue stirring as the mixture thickens, two to three minutes.

2. Turn heat to low. Cook for about 40 to 45 minutes, stirring every five to 10 minutes. If the polenta becomes quite thick, thin it with ½ cup water, stir well and continue cooking. Add up to one cup more water as necessary, to keep the polenta soft enough to stir.

3. Add the butter to pot, and stir well. Add the parmesan, if using. Taste for seasoning. Set the covered saucepan in a pot of barely simmering water, and keep warm for up to an hour or so.

4. Meanwhile, make the mushrooms: Put the dried mushrooms in a small bowl, and cover with about ½ cup boiling water. Allow to steep for 20 minutes. Remove the mushrooms, and pat dry, then chop roughly. Reserve the mushroom stock.

5. Melt two tablespoons of the butter in a saute pan set over high heat until it has melted. Add the garlic and cook until it starts to sizzle, about 30 seconds. Do not let the garlic brown.

6. Add the fresh and reconstituted mushrooms and thyme to the pan, and saute for three to four minutes, turning until browned. Add about 1/4 cup of the mushroom stock to deglaze the surface, using a wooden spoon to scrape at the browned bits. Allow the stock to reduce by half, then turn the heat to medium-low and add the remaining three tablespoons of butter, whisking to combine, followed by the soya sauce, cream and olive oil. Allow mixture to cook until it thickens a little, then remove from heat. Taste for seasoning, adding black pepper, if desired.

7. Put the polenta in a warmed bowl, then top with mushrooms and the sauce. Serve immediately.