Spices & Seasonings/Beef Flavor

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Question
Hi Adam,

I have a lot of good recipes for Beef stew, Beef Vegetable Soup, etc. The problem is, they never seem to have a real 'beefy' taste.

I follow the recipes, and even add a little more broth and reduce it down, but it never seems to have the rich, strong flavor of beef, like some canned foods do. Mine tastes more like beef gravy.

What can I add to get this taste, is there a sprinkle-on product like pepper to enrich the beef flavor, or what?

Thank you for taking my question, Regards, Ken.

Answer
Good question Ken, unfortunately there's not really one easy answer.  There are a few different things you can try, but first I'll give you the ideal situation:

Ideally a soup, sauce, or gravy would start with a stock as the base.  Stock is made by simmering bones with aromatic vegetables and herbs for an extended period of time, usually more than the home cook wants to deal with.  During this process, the bones will give up gelatin to the liquid, which will give it a luscious body and a rich base flavor.  If you choose to use meat instead of bones you would be making a broth instead of a stock.  Broth has more pronounced flavor, but less body and backbone than stock.  If you make a stock, then make a broth with this stock, you get the best of both worlds, though it takes the better part of a day to do it.  This is how many gourmet restaurants start their sauces.  

Ok, that's not something you want to do everyday, but stay with me here...

Your tongue has five types of taste receptors (or 6 or 7 depending on who you ask).  These receptors each recognize one specific taste and nothing else.  These are:  salty, bitter, sour, sweet, and 'umami' or savory.  Umami is the Japanese word which roughly translates to 'savory' or 'meaty'.  Umami is present in ripe tomatoes, aged cheeses, fermented foods, dried mushrooms, and in relatively small quantities - beef.  Umami is the flavor of glutamic acid, which is one of the basic amino acids that form proteins, proteins such as would be found on beef meat and bones that are used in stocks and broths...

So long story short:  Great beefy flavor is, if not made by, then enhanced by glutamic acid.  You could use off the shelf MSG powder to do this, though this personally strikes me as a bit unnatural.  A few things you might try separately or in combination may be:

>Soy Sauce, Mushroom Sauce, or Fish Sauce - very high in umami, and in small concentrations is not a strong flavor.  It does contain salt, so take that into account.
>Dried Mushrooms -  You could use these in a stew or even chopped fine for a sauce.  When you rehydrate them, do it in your broth or stock.
>Ripe Tomatoes - Maybe diced in a stew.
>Worcestershire Sauce - Has a rich smokey sort of flavor, very distinct, yet surprisingly versatile.

There's one angle from which to attack this problem.  Here's another:


You had a great idea reducing the canned broth to get a richer flavor.  The one drawback here is that while you are concentrating the beefiness, you are also concentrating the saltiness.  Be careful not to reduce your liquid too much, or it will be unpalatable.  I general use low sodium broths and stocks so that I have the ability to reduce them a bit more if needed.  Try this - make your soup but don't add any salt at all.  If you think it should be saltier, just add more broth and keep reducing.  It may take a while, and a good deal of broth, but it's worth a shot.

Also, the type of broth you use can make a difference.  I generally use the cartons, as I find the flavor to be a bit fresher than canned.  They are not all created equal though, so make sure what you are using is something you like.

Hope this helps, I'd love to hear how things turn out for you.  

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Adam Price

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I can answer general and specific questions related to all manner of food preparation, food cookery, and peripheral disciplines such as applied food science, nutrition, or sanitation. I am knowledgeable in meat, poultry and seafood fabrication, recipe development, world cuisines including 'fusion' styles, and all of the primary cooking methods (grilling, steaming, etc.). I can assist you with developing or redesigning recipes, planning for events (from a caterers point of view), troubleshooting recipes, identifying and working with unfamiliar ingredients or cooking methods, or (most importantly in my opinion) figuring out exactly why things happen the way they do. If we understand the science and reasoning behind our craft, then we can start learning how to cook instead of learning to recreate recipes. If for some reason I cannot answer a question, I will do my best to point you toward a source that can.

Experience

I have nearly two decades of experience as a professional in the field, and I enjoy experimenting with new ideas on my own time. I have worked in restaurants ranging from quick service to fine dining, bakeries, butcher shops and institutions. I have done event planning and execution for large and small scale catered events. I have managed several kitchens and developed menus ranging from simple buffets to elaborate multi-course meals. I have an extensive library of recipe books as well as books on cooking techniques, food science, food safety, and nutrition.

Education/Credentials
I graduated with high honors from the Culinary Institute of America (Hyde Park). I am ServSafe certified for food safety and sanitation, and I take this very seriously.

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