Many years ago, I was a line cook at Perry St, a restaurant in New York City’s West Village, where we had a seemingly simple chicken and vegetable soup on our menu. What set it apart from standard recipes of its kind was the hefty dash of salt and bright lime juice we finished the dish with, which always produced a mouth-puckering-yet-can’t-stop-spooning reaction from our guests.
Although I don’t miss the fussy vegetable prep (cutting baby veggies into jewel-like facets and then blanching them in tiny, color-coordinated batches) or the making and straining of restaurant-sized vats of dill-infused chicken broth, I did want to revisit that salty, savory, tongue-twisting flavor at home with a classic, comforting chicken and rice soup.
For this recipe, I managed to recreate the effect without dumping in buckets of salt by using both kosher salt and a high-quality MSG product, which contains two-thirds less sodium than regular salt. While a pinch of salt ties together the flavors of the chicken and vegetables during cooking, adding the MSG at the end with the fresh dill and lemon juice really has a synergistic effect, enhancing the herbaceous notes and highlighting the powerful pop of bright acid, and nailing that balance of savory and tart. But like many good things, you can overdo it. In this case, too much MSG (or too much salt, for that matter) starts to overtake the other big flavors. To make sure you get it right, start with half a teaspoon, which is where I found my perfect ratio. (The general rule of thumb when cooking with MSG: Use about two-thirds of the table salt you'd normally use, and then add one-third MSG back in.)
We've partnered with Ajinomoto Co. Inc. to bring you a series of recipes, stories, and videos that celebrate the fifth taste: umami. You can boost this rich, savory essence in almost any dish (like this soup recipe!) by adding a dash of MSG, a seasoning that's pure umami flavor.
This recipe comes from my aunt from India; she’d always serve it as an appetizer when people came over for dinner, with ketchup, cricket game humming on the TV in the background. It also makes a great afternoon snack, or if you put it in a burger bun, a great sandwich. It relies on a kind of wacky shortcut you don’t often see in traditional Indian recipes: enriched white bread. I don’t know where she got this trick, but I know she lived in Ethiopia for a while, and was inspired by the Italian cuisine she encountered there. But while she dips the bread in water, I dip it in milk—a popular Italian-American nonna trick to get meatballs to stick together. Like aunt, like niece.