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This Pantry Ingredient Will Change How You Cook Salmon


Every week in Genius Recipes—often with your help!—Food52 Founding Editor and lifelong Genius-hunter Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that will change the way you cook.

If there was a cooking trick that could, as if by waving a magic wand, make your food instantly more delicious, using one common tool and one pantry ingredient, you would want that trick, right?

Me too—and I have good news. That trick has been sitting on one of the longest-running food blogs since the early aughts, and it’s changed how I will cook salmon and season anything that needs a boost, forever.

In 2009, the year Gourmet magazine folded and Food52 was born, Marc Matsumoto shared a post on his blog No Recipes in which he tried to recreate the pull of the Season-All blend—a mix of celery, garlic, onion, and other flavor-enhancers—his mom had used on salmon. “I really loved this stuff growing up,” he wrote. “And would even sneak into the spice cabinet on occasion and sprinkle some on my hand to eat.”

My new forever salmon.

Photo by Rocky Luten. Food Stylist: Anna Billingskog. Prop Stylist: Fiona Campbell.

After considering a dash of MSG, he writes, “I started thinking of other ingredients that are filled with umami enhancing glutamates,” he wrote. “I remembered a few recent successes using shiitake powder in chicken sausage as well as a ragù and wondered what it would taste like encrusted on the salmon. Problem solved!” (1)

But while there are plenty of recipes out there calling for soaking dried mushrooms, or blending them into a powder with a spice grinder, or buying them pre-ground from a specialty shop (ahem), what Marc did instead took no planning, no small machine (or small machine clean-up), and, yes, no recipe. He grabbed a Microplane and grated the dried shiitake over the salmon till it looked like a fuzzy chenille blanket.

Like so many of the best Genius Recipes, I was able to try Marc’s trick immediately, with a hunk of Arctic char from the freezer and two lonely dried shiitakes I had leftover from some long-ago recipe. I was certain the mushrooms would crumble or fight against the grater, but they yielded obediently, curling away in Parmesan-like tufts.

One-ingredient magic.

Photo by Rocky Luten. Food Stylist: Anna Billingskog. Prop Stylist: Fiona Campbell.

The fish turned out delicious, but not perceptibly mushroomy, so I thought I might have just seasoned and cooked it perfectly for once. So I tried again, covering only half of the fish in shiitake fuzz. The difference was profound.

The no-shiitake half tasted perfectly fine, if a little one-note, politely asking for sauce. The shiitake half tasted like it had been made by a very intuitive and talented cook. This is the half we all deserve in our lives.

The meaty umami in mushrooms is well-known, from plenty of naturally-occurring glutamates to umami-boosting guanosine monophosphate (GMP). Combining these “is kind of like 1+1=10,” as Marc explains. Drying the mushrooms further intensifies the glutamates—by as much as 15 times. (2)

With Marc’s trick, the power locked away in those dried mushrooms is accessible, obvious, immediate. After you try this magic wand on salmon, what will you use it on next?

(1) Marc also has a fantastically educational No Recipes YouTube channel, breaking down why recipes work.

(2) Hear much more on the magic (or, more accurately, science) of dried mushrooms from Marc himself in this week’s episode of The Genius Recipe Tapes. You will be ready to drop so many fun facts, now that dinner parties don’t feel quite so far away anymore.

Got a Genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what’s so smart about it) at [email protected].

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