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Saturday, May 05, 2012

Miso Paste

Excellent Ingredient of the Week
Miso paste! It comes in all colors, lasts in your fridge forever, and smells a little weird. So, what is it? And what the heck do you do with it?

Miso is a traditional Japanese seasoning produced by fermenting rice, barley and/or soybeans, with salt and fungus. The most typical miso being made with soy. The result is a thick paste used for sauces and spreads, pickling vegetables or meats, and mixing with dashi soup stock to serve as miso soup which is a Japanese culinary staple. High in protein and rich in vitamins and minerals, miso played an important nutritional role in feudal Japan. Miso is still very widely used in Japan, both in traditional and modern cooking, and has been gaining world-wide interest. Miso is typically salty, but its flavor and aroma depend on various factors in the ingredients and fermentation process. There is a very wide variety of miso available. Different varieties of miso have been described as salty, sweet, earthy, fruity, and savory.

Other ingredients used to produce miso may include any mix of barley, rice, buckwheat, millet, rye, wheat, hemp seed, among others. Lately, producers in other countries have also begun selling miso made from chickpeas, corn, azuki beans, amaranth, and quinoa. Fermentation time ranges from as little as five days to several years. The wide variety of Japanese miso is difficult to classify, but is commonly done by grain type, color, taste, and background. It is now available almost everywhere from Smith's to Whole Paycheck.

Outside of mixing up basic miso soup, you can use it to deepen any broth. I also like to mix it into my salad dressings, spaghetti sauces and tons of marinades. A simple miso, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil dressing can top soft tofu with a few scallions chopped up as garnish. A great marinade for fish is made with red miso, soy sauce, mirin and honey, let it sit for about 3 hours then sear and roasted it. Sauce reduces down deliciously too. I use it to make a veggie stock taste richer and deeper, I put it in the broth I use to cook Israeli cous cous, Its great when trying to make a vegetarian French onion soup, it almost tastes meaty. I saw a great apricot miso jam recipe in Bon Appetite magazine from Justin Cucci in Denver which he recommends for serving with pork which I hope to try when the local apricots ripen.

green beans with miso butter

1/2 pound trimmed green beans
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons room temp unsalted butter
2 teaspoons miso
2 tablespoons oil
salt and pepper to taste
2 teaspoons minced shallots
1 clove garlic crushed
1/4 cup sake
1/4 cup veggie broth
sesame seeds

Cook beans in large pot of salted boiling water 2-3 minutes, drain and cool in a bucket of ice water (to help retain bright green color). Then drain and set aside. In a small bowl mix the softened butter with the miso paste and set aside. heat the oil in a large skillet and add the green beans-season with salt and pepper, add the shallots and garlic and saute 2 minutes more. Now add the sake and cook till almost evaporated, then add the veggie broth cook until sauce thickens. Now lower the heat and add the miso butter and mix, it should get all creamy and yummy. Toss in some sesame seeds and serve immediately.