Genius Recipes

This Pantry Ingredient Will Change How You Cook Salmon

A Genius trick from Marc Matsumoto for making fish—and just about anything else—more delicious (even ice cream).

June 16, 2021

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)

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Top Comment:
“It's wonderful for so many uses, most where, as here, you don't want actually to taste mushrooms, you just want a perceptible umami boost. And the powder is ever so convenient. Try it. ;o)”
— AntoniaJames
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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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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Karen Kushner
    Karen Kushner
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    Yirgach
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    FrugalCat
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    sara
  • Susan Baroncini-Moe
    Susan Baroncini-Moe
I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."

20 Comments

Karen K. June 24, 2021
Sorry for the auto corrections of mushrooms!
 
Karen K. June 24, 2021
How about other dried must? Would oyster mushy also provide umami?
 
Yirgach June 23, 2021
If you're buying dried mushrooms (or any food product for that matter), always check for the source. If you can't do that, then don't buy it. That's a basic rule at a minimum. For example, buying dried Porcini from anyplace other than Italy is asking for trouble. It can go further from there, the next thing to do is educate yourself as to what is allowed in "Organic" products. Nuf said.
 
Lisr June 25, 2021
This is true! Legitimate and mindful sources are a must. And some organic chemicals and farming methods are toxic too! A lot of the time better than "conventional" but still poisoning our soil and killing pollinators.

However, I forage Porcini (Boletus Edulis) in Oregon and while they may not be exactly the same varietal as is found in Italy, it's an excellent and fine mushroom. Ours are sought after for sure
 
Yirgach June 23, 2021
Wonderful idea! I typically marinate salmon or tuna in Tamari sauce overnight, but now I'm going to to use re-hydrated mushroom broth instead. We buy dried Porcini, Shitake and Black Trumpet, then re-hydrate a mix for cooking soups, stews etc.
 
FrugalCat June 22, 2021
You can get dried mushrooms cheap at any Asian supermarket.
 
sara June 20, 2021
Love this idea Kristen (and Marc!!!) -- a tip, I buy my dried mushrooms at the asian grocery/markets as they are typically MUCH cheaper and usually have many varieties to choose from :).

Grated dried shiitakes on avocado toast is a total winner (and using sliced roasted sweet potato slabs as the "toast" is even better!).
 
Marie June 24, 2021
Wow, I never thought of that!!
 
Susan B. June 16, 2021
I read an article awhile back about how mushrooms (particularly shiitake) are a good source of Vitamin D, and if you dry them under the sun or a UV light, they actually generate and hold even more Vitamin D for up to 6 months. In the summer, I put them on a tray and dry them outside, and I bought a UV lamp to dry them inside in the winter. This recipe could just be a superfood recipe!
 
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Kristen M. June 18, 2021
Great tips—thanks so much, Susan.
 
Arthur June 16, 2021
Is there any recommendations on how to dry the shiitakes? Any minimum time to leave them out? Thanks!
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. June 18, 2021
Hi Arthur, I've always bought mine pre-dried, but see Susan B.'s helpful tips above.
 
Sam1148 June 16, 2021
Just a comment about Shiitake mushrooms in general. They can be a tricky allergen for some people. I love them, but discovered they make me break out in a rash on my torso and arms. The difficulty is that it can take up to 3 days from eating them for the rash to appear. Other mushrooms are just fine (except baby Shiitakes, black buttons mushrooms)
 
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Kristen M. June 18, 2021
Great to know, Sam. Another reminder that secret ingredients shouldn't actually be a secret.
 
witloof June 16, 2021
Ooooh, my office is a couple of blocks from Hmart! I'll head over there later and get some shiitakes!
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. June 18, 2021
Nice! Hope you love it, witloof.
 
AntoniaJames June 16, 2021
Have you tried using mushroom powder? I get it from nuts.com - it comes in what seems like an enormous quantity, given how little one needs for any particular purpose, but it keeps forever, and once you start using it, you'll be glad to have a good supply. It's wonderful for so many uses, most where, as here, you don't want actually to taste mushrooms, you just want a perceptible umami boost. And the powder is ever so convenient. Try it. ;o)
 
eirroc June 16, 2021
I’ve been using the mushroom power from Trader Joe’s as my fave spice for a while now; it’s great on so many things. I sometimes mix it with Solgar brewer’s yeast for even extra umami punch.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. June 18, 2021
I had only seen it in small quantities, so it felt like a real luxury product—so glad to know it's on Nuts.com in generous quantities!
 
durun99 June 18, 2021
You can just buy dried shiitakes and grind them up yourself in a spice/coffee grinder. Store in a glass spice jar out of direct sunlight for months. Great source of umami in all sorts of things, including vegetarian chili and stews.