Magical Miso(s)…

March 15, 2012

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.
~Albert Einstein

Salty and complex, a revered Japanese staple — umami laden.

Miso (味噌) is a traditional, thick paste produced by fermenting rice and soybeans, with salt and the fungus kōjikin. White miso (shiromiso) which is preferred in the western Kansai region encompassing Osaka, Kyoto, and Kobe is milder than the red version (akamiso) which finds favor in the eastern Kantō region that includes Tokyo. The lighter hue is often due to the inclusion of white rice during a notably shorter fermentation period. There is also yellow miso which is made from soybeans that have been fermented with barley and a smaller percentage of rice, and black which is crafted entirely from soybean.

Mysteries abound about miso’s Japanese origins. Some posit that miso developed from fermented foods found in China over two millennia ago which arrived on the Japanese shores along with Buddhism in the 6th century. Others trace the origins to the northeastern provinces of Japan where archeological digs suggest an early mastery of fermentation processes. According to Japanese mythology, miso was bestowed by the gods upon mortals to assure longevity and happiness.

Many find it tasking, even enigmatic, to classify the rich flavors of miso — definitely salty, a tad sweet, not quite bitter or sour, yet chocked with that fifth taste: subtle and exquisite umami. From a Nobu inspired cod forward, versatile but often underutilized miso runs the culinary gamut.

COD WITH MISO

1 1/2 lb. fresh black cod fillets

1/2 C sake
1/2 C hon mirin
1/2 C white miso
3 T raw sugar
3 T honey

Peanut oil

In a small saucepan, bring the sake and mirin to a gentle boil. Whisk in the miso until dissolved. Then, add the sugar and honey and cook over moderate heat, whisking, until fully dissolved. Transfer the marinade to a large bowl and allow to cool to room temperature. Reserve some of this marinade for plating.

Gently but thoroughly pat the fillets dry with paper towels, place them into a glass baking dish with a fitted top or a ziploc bag and pour in the marinade. Seal tightly and allow to bathe in the refrigerator overnight or preferably for 2-3 nights. Turn them occasionally to encourage an even coating.

Preheat oven to 400 F

Carefully wipe off any excess marinade clinging to the fillets but do not rinse under water. Place the fish in a lightly oiled heavy skillet over medium high heat and sauté on both sides until just lightly browned, about 2 minutes.

Transfer the fish to the oven on a large, rimmed baking sheet and bake until flaky, about 7-10 minutes.

Arrange over greens of choice on serving plates. Dabble some drops of marinade on the fish and plate, then serve.

Pourboire: black cod is also known as sable fish and has large pin bones, which are curved little bones that run along the fish’s centerline which need be removed with needle nose pliers.

MISO & SESAME VINAIGRETTE

1/2 C white miso
2 T fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
1 plump, fresh garlic clove, peeled and finely minced
2 T unseasoned rice vinegar
4 t white sesame seeds, toasted
2 t sesame oil
2 t honey

6 T grapeseed or canola oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Whisk together miso, ginger, garlic, rice vinegar, sesame seeds, sesame oil and honey in a medium glass bowl. Slowly whisk in grapeseed oil and season with salt and pepper to taste.

MISO COMPOUND BUTTER

8 (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
4 T white or red miso
Freshly ground white pepper

Cream the butter and miso together with a fork, while adding white pepper.

Use immediately, or roll into a log in plastic wrap and refrigerate or freeze for cutting into slices later.

Pourboire: Potential additions to the compound butter could include chopped scallions or chives, minced garlic, ginger or chiles, or citrus zest. Gently melt over freshly grilled or roasted meats, sautéed vegetables, etc. For red meats, choose a red miso which is much more rich and savory.

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