My mother did not like to cook. That didn't stop her from feeding us perfectly healthy, home cooked meals, and I still use some of her recipes, like her unparalleled mac and cheese, Chicken Divan, and Girl Scout Stew. She didn't experiment and rarely made recipes her own. In college, sharing my first apartment with a roommate who really knew how to cook, I started learning how to experiment.
One of the first things I discovered was that Worcestershire sauce is one of my personal heroes in the kitchen.
Although I didn't know the word "umami" in the early nineties, when I was far more concerned about whether to tell my parents I had gotten my nose pierced or just surprise them when I came home for Thanksgiving, Worcestershire sauce provided just that taste. Growing up, we only had it with steak, when it was served right next to the A1 on our table.
I can't remember the first time I decided to add a dash of Worcestershire sauce to a dish to finish it. Was it in a soup? Meatloaf? Maybe a sautéed vegetable dish? But it's always there for me. Worcestershire sauce is a classic umami addition, adding that extra something that's missing from a flavor profile.
I was mortified to learn, however, some time in the last ten years, that Worcestershire Sauce is not vegetarian. Anchovies impart its umami flavor, like another favorite condiment of mine, nước chấm or Vietnamese fish sauce (which — duh — I knew from the name was not vegetarian, because I'm really smart that way). As someone who takes my friends' food preferences and allergies very seriously, I felt terrible, and personally apologized to the vegetarian friends who had unknowingly eaten the anchovies I had unknowingly served. Thankfully, they were forgiving, and at least one of them copped to not knowing herself and using the sauce liberally in her own cooking.
Though I still keep a bottle of Lea & Perrins, I'm far more likely to reach for a vegan alternative, like our regional store brand or Annie's.
What's your favorite way to add umami to a dish? And how do you like to use Worcestershire sauce?
(Image credits: Faith Durand; Anne Postic)