MSG, China’s True Dash of Flavor
Fuchsia Dunlop, on China’s True Dash of Flavor: "Chinese chefs talk often of “xian wei” — their term for umami. They use many ingredients that are naturally rich in it — Yunnan ham, dried scallops and shiitake mushrooms — to enhance the flavors of their stocks and sauces (just as an Italian cook might use grated Parmigiano or truffles to enhance the umami taste of a dish of pasta). They talk of “ti xian wei” (“bringing out the umami”) in their cooking through the judicious application of salt, sugar, chicken fat and, nowadays, MSG. (...) There may be no need to add MSG to a delicate soup made from chicken, ham and dried scallops. But in some culinary contexts, it works wonders: a little MSG mixed with salt and sesame oil can lift the flavor of a simple bamboo shoot salad, or add a dash of ecstasy to a stir-fry of pea shoots and garlic. If you didn’t know it was MSG, you would simply find it delicious."
(It's kind of been Fuchsia Dunlop week here at Serious Eats, as we 've taken her to lunch and gotten her to make us some General Tso's chicken. Her new book is out now: Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook: Recipes from Hunan Province.)
Previously on MSG: MSG and Chinese Restaurant Syndrome.