Miso is a thick, peanut butter-like paste made by fermenting cooked soybeans with salt and a mold called koji that is made from either rice, barley or soybeans. Miso is then aged for varying lengths of time and used as a popular flavoring in Japanese cuisine.
Miso is pure umami — the word used to describe one of the five basic tastes (sweet, salty, sour and bitter being the other four). Umami describes a richness, a savoriness, a meatiness that is very much present in miso. It has a deeply complex flavor that is simultaneously sweet and savory.
It turns out that miso is not only full of umami, but also quite good for you. It is high in fiber, protein, and minerals as well as Vitamin K and B12. Miso is said to be good for your immune system and digestive tract.
Ways To Use Miso:
You’ve probably had miso soup in your local Japanese restaurant, but there is so much more you can do with miso. Use it in salad dressings, dips, marinades and glazes. Use it with vegetables: glazed carrots, sautéed spinach and greens, mashed into winter squash and pumpkin. Spread it on fish, poultry or meat to create an umami-rich glaze. Add it to a burger or meatloaf mixture, spread it on a roast chicken, add it to ketchup as a dip for French fries and baked potatoes. Mix miso paste with softened butter and add to soups, eggplant, roasted vegetable dishes, and stews. Whip heavy cream with a touch of miso and serve on apple pie. There are truly endless possibilities.
Shopping And Keeping For Miso:
Look for organic brands of miso. Prices vary from around $5 up to around $35 depending on the length of fermentation and the type of beans and ingredients used. Miso will keep in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator for about 8 to 10 months.
Types Of Miso:
There are dozens of types of miso — ranging from pale yellow to rich, dark red and brown. Generally speaking, the darker the color of the miso the longer it has been fermented and the stronger the flavor will be.
- Awase miso is a cross between red and white miso with a depth of flavor that is rich and strong. It’s less salty than other varieties.
- Barley miso is made using barley koji rather than traditional rice koji. The barley gives the miso a sweet and savory flavor and isn’t as salty as traditional miso. It works well in miso soup, dressings and glazes.
- Chickpea miso is made with chickpeas and not soybeans, creating a sweet paste that can be used in much the same way as traditional miso.
- Hatcho miso, made entirely from soybeans, is quite thick and you tend to need very little as it has an almost concentrated flavor.
- Red miso (aka miso) is dark red/reddish-brown in color fermented for up to three years and contains the highest percentage of soybeans compared with lighter types of miso. It tends to be quite salty and has a full, almost funky (good funky) flavor. Often used in Japanese soups and stews, its potent flavor can also be added sparingly to marinades and braised meat. The flavor of red miso is too strong for delicate fish and mild vegetables. It should be saved for heartier dishes like stews, meat braises, ramen, and more.
- Yellow miso (Shinshu miso) is injected with rice mold (koji) and fermented for far less time than red miso, generally around a year. It’s prized for its sweet, earthy flavor. Yellow miso is considered an all-round, general-purpose miso that can be used in almost any dish
- White miso (Shiro miso) has a pale yellow or beige color and a more delicate, balanced flavor of sweet, savory and salty. This type of miso is made using the smallest percentage of soybeans and is fermented for only a few months. The flavor profile of white miso is light, mild, and sweet and it can be used with virtually any type of cooking—from salad dressings and soups to sauces and stir-fries. If you want to buy only one type of miso to get started this is a great choice.
Roast Miso Salmon With Ginger And Scallions
A simple, full-flavored way to prepare fresh salmon or other types of fish such as swordfish, cod, haddock, etc. White or yellow miso paste is rubbed into the fish flesh with ginger, the skin is seared in a hot skillet, surrounded by scallions and then the fish is finished off in a hot oven. A knob of butter is added at the very end to create the simplest, rich, buttery miso sauce that can be spooned on top.
Serve the fish on its own accompanied by rice or on top of a bed of the Miso Sautéed Spinach below.
Serves 2 to 4.
- 1 pound salmon filet
- 1 tablespoon white or light yellow miso paste
- 1 tablespoon peeled and very thinly sliced ginger
- 1 tablespoon peeled and thinly chopped fresh ginger
- 1 tablespoon canola oil
- 1/4 cup scallions (white and green parts), chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
- 1 1/2 tablespoons butter
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
- Place the salmon on a cutting board or clean work surface. Using a spoon or your fingers, gently rub the miso paste into the flesh of the salmon. Sprinkle half the ginger slices and all the chopped ginger into the flesh of the salmon, pressing it into the miso.
- Heat a heavy skillet (cast iron is ideal) over high heat. Add the oil and heat for 1 minute. Place in the salmon skin side down into the hot skillet, and sear for 1 1/2 minutes. Sprinkle the remaining ginger and the scallions around the salmon and place on the middle shelf of the oven. Roast for 10 minutes. Add half the butter on top of the salmon and place under the broiler for 2 minutes, or until cooked through and golden brown on top. Remove and add the remaining butter to the skillet and swirl it around until melted. Spoon the butter on top of the salmon and serve hot from the oven.
Sautéed Miso Spinach (Or Greens)
This five-minute recipe is full of flavor. Sauté ginger and garlic for a minute, add fresh spinach (or kale or chard) and cook until just wilted. Miso paste and a touch of soy sauce are added at the very end and you’re done.
Serve with the miso salmon above, or grilled or roasted poultry, fish or meat dishes. The greens are also delicious served over rice.
Serves 2 to 4.
- 1 tablespoon canola oil
- 1 tablespoon chopped ginger
- 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
- 1 pound baby spinach, left whole or regular spinach,* coarsely chopped, washed and thoroughly dried
- 1 tablespoon white or light yellow miso paste
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce or tamari
- *You can also use coarsely chopped kale, chard, mustard greens or your favorite greens
- In a wok or heavy skillet heat the oil over high heat. Add the ginger and garlic and cook, stirring, 10 seconds. Add the spinach, adding it in batches, and cook stirring until it is just wilted, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the miso paste and the soy sauce and cook another 1 to 2 minutes, until the miso has full integrated into the greens. Serve hot.
Miso Soup With Tofu
This is a simplified version of the miso soup you find so often in Japanese restaurants with tofu, scallions and ginger. I’ve added a possible list of garnishes (none of them are particularly traditional, but all quite good) that you can add to make the soup more substantive.
Miso is traditionally served as a breakfast soup (better than sugary cereal!) but can also be served as a light first course.
- 8 cups water or Dashi, recipe below
- 6 tablespoons white, yellow, or red miso (depending on how light or strong you want the miso flavor to be)
- One 14-ounce package firm tofu, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 10 scallions, finely chopped, white and green parts
- 3 tablespoons very thinly sliced peeled fresh ginger
- Garnishes: dash of soy sauce or tamari; chopped fresh cilantro; julienned fresh carrot; baby spinach leaves or chopped greens, cooked shrimp, roasted vegetables cut into small pieces.
- In a large stockpot over medium heat, bring the water or Dashi to a simmer. Lower the heat and keep hot.
- In a small bowl combine the miso paste and 1/2 cup of the hot water or Dashi. Using a whisk or the back of a spoon, stir the mixture into a smooth paste. Slowly whisk the miso paste back into the hot water or Dashi and heat for 2 minutes, or until almost simmering. Add the tofu, scallions and ginger and heat another 5 minutes, or until gently simmering and hot.
- Ladle the soup into bowls and serve hot with any of the garnishes.
This is a light, umami-rich stock made from soaking dried seaweed and dried bonito (fish flakes). It’s best if you can let the stock soak overnight, but it will be fine after a few hours. You can find kelp and bonito flakes at natural food and Asian markets.
Makes 10 cups.
- 10 cups water
- 2 1/4 ounces dried kelp, nori, kombu, or any type of dried seaweed
- 3 ounces bonito flakes
- In a tea kettle or saucepan, bring the water to a simmer. In a large bowl, combine the seaweed and bonito flakes, add the hot water, and set aside to soak for at least 4 hours. Strain the stock through a fine-mesh sieve, pressing very gently to release all the liquid. Set aside to cool.
- Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or freeze for up to 4 months.
Miso Caramel Sauce
OK, I know. Making caramel from scratch sounds intimidating. But take a deep breath because this is oh-so-worth-it. You heat butter and cream in a saucepan. In another saucepan heat sugar and a touch of water and let it caramelize (stand by…do nothing but make sure it doesn’t burn) and then you whisk the cream into the burnt sugar. Miso paste and vanilla extract are whisked in and you have the most umami-rich sweet/savory sauce.
The possibilities for this sauce include everything from drizzling it over, or serving alongside, apple pie, or pumpkin pie; serving it over ice cream, pancakes, French toast, butter cookies, on top of roasted winter squash or pumpkin slices or baked sweet potatoes.
You can also dip apple slices into the sauce for a new twist on a caramel-coated apple.
The caramel will thicken as it cools. The sauce will keep, covered and refrigerated, for at least a week.
Makes about 1 cup.
- 3/4 cup heavy cream
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3/4 cup white sugar
- 2 tablespoons water
- 2 tablespoons white or light miso paste
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
- In a medium saucepan heat the cream and butter over moderate heat until just bubbling.
- In another medium saucepan mix the sugar and water with a soft spatula. Place over medium heat and cook, without stirring, for 5 minutes. You want to swirl the pan from side to side every now and then to keep the caramel moving so it doesn’t clump up. Once the mixture turns an amber color remove from the heat.
- Very carefully add the warm butter/cream mixture; it will bubble up. No fear. Whisk the cream into the sugar caramel over a low heat and whisk until smooth. The heat will lift up any caramel that sticks to the bottom or sides of the pan. Whisk the miso and vanilla into the caramel until smooth and cook over low heat for 1 to 2 minutes to make sure the sauce is smooth and warmed through. Serve warm, room temperature, or chilled.
This segment aired on October 16, 2020.