Umami Black Beans

Lately, I have been on a black bean mission with my cooking experiments. I have tried a more vegetarian version by substituting gelatin or pectin as the thickening agent instead of beef bones (I never got around to trying Lieber’s Unflavored Jel). But it just doesn’t work as well. So, for this attempt, I went back to my old standby oxtails. However, I did try adding smoked paprika. This did not make the beans better in my opinion. You couldn’t really notice the paprika note and I did not like the bright red tint either.

Back to umami though which is the real point of this recipe. The first interesting blog mention of umami that I came across was umami salt. However, I didn’t act immediately upon it. It percolated in the far recesses of my mind for a while.

I started to research lists of foods high in umami. One version lists bonito and kombu among others. This made me think of the fundamental Japanese soup stock, dashi. Since it is a mild broth, I thought it would be perfect as a base for cooking the black beans. The next easy umami thing to add is shiitake mushrooms that are ground into a fine powder.

When one of my cooking blogs that I read posted about extracting the best flavor of kombu here, the tipping point was finally reached! I researched the kombu highest in glutamic acid. However, you need good luck in finding specialized types in Austin. I did find Hidaka Kombu in Asahi Imports. Also, here is an interesting article on kombu.

I made another discovery about cooking beans as well! Soaking and cooking them in hard water will not soften them fully. Here is an article which talks about the problem. I suggest using distilled water to both soak and cook in.

So, the recipe follows:

Dissolve 3 heaping tablespoons of Kosher salt in 7 cups of distilled water. Sort one pound of black beans for any rocks, broken or discolored beans. Soak the beans overnight.

Cook 14 grams of Hidaka Kombu and 14 grams of dried bonito shavings (Katsuobushi) in 6 cups of distilled water simmering at 65 degrees Celsius (149 degrees Fahrenheit) for one hour. Strain.

Rinse hydrated beans well and put into the dashi stock. Grind 15 grams of shiitake mushrooms into a fine powder with a clean coffee grinder. Add two bay leaves, 5 cloves of minced garlic, 1 tablespoon of onion powder, tablespoon ground black peppercorns, 1/2 teaspoon of Wright’s Liquid Hickory Smoke, and 2 pounds of beef oxtails. Cook, covered, in an oven set to 275 degrees for 1:30:00. Remove oxtails and bay leaves. Add smoked salt to taste.