Miso is paste made from fermented soybeans. It is a salty-sweet condiment, which comes in different varieties: white miso (shiromiso) is often fermented with rice and is delicate and sweet; yellow miso is often fermented with barley, and is a solid middle-ground in terms of sweetness and potency; red miso (akamiso) is typically fermented for a longer period of time and has a bolder flavour which is best used in a savoury context, alongside other bold ingredients which aren't easily-overwhelmed.
Miso is traditionally a Japanese ingredient, but different variations have crept into neighbouring cuisines. A Korean paste called doenjang is a coarser version of Japanese miso, and Chinese fermented soybean condiments or douchi have a different consistency, but similar earthy flavours.
Traditionally, miso was an artisanal product, fermented by a natural fungus called kojikin. Now there is such global demand, it's easy to get hold of a tub or sachet of mass-produced miso. Supermarkets now starting to stock own-brand miso, but failing that the soybean paste can be found in specialist Japanese cook shops or health food shops on the high street, or online.
Miso has countless savoury and sweet applications. Most commonly, it's stirred into a bowl of hot dashi stock to make a simple miso soup. The fermented bean paste can also be used in as well as a glaze for meat fish and vegetables and also in dips, dressings and sauces.
Traditionally, fish would be coated in a miso-sake/mirin marinade when transported inland. It's still a popular marinade. Needless to say, the longer the meat or fish is in the marinade, the deeper the miso flavour will permeate. The sugar content in the alcohol means that if the meat or fish is pan-fried, then it may caramelise a bit. Don't worry though, this often enhances the flavour.
Miso paste is so thick it has to be flicked off a spoon, so it's often thinned with liquids like mirin, sake or soy. When using miso in a dressing or dip, don't be afraid to loosen it even more with a splash of water.
Miso pairs well with all other sorts of seafood though, from plaice to Geoffrey Smeddle's skate wings poached in miso and ginger. Miso is most often used as a glaze or as poaching liquid for fish, but it also makes a nice dip or sauce, when seasoned with a little soy, mirin or sake.
Of course, miso soup is a classic recipe - combining miso with dashi - and is often enhanced with dried mushrooms or seaweed. Marcus Wareing takes it one step further, with this Fragrant Asian Hotpot where miso provides the backdrop to an exciting selection of other bold ingredients like prawns and star anise.
Miso's saltiness means that it makes an interesting and flavoursome substitute for rock salt. Here, miso is used in a leftover vegetable bake, and in this baked apple recipe, James Ramsden puts a twist on the traditional salted caramel pairing, by serving it with miso butterscotch instead.
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