Friday, September 12, 2008

Dictionary Friday: Miso

Also called bean paste, this Japanese culinary mainstay has the consistency of peanut butter and comes in a wide variety of flavors and colors. This fermented soybean paste has three basic categories — barley miso, rice miso and soybean miso — all of which are developed by injecting cooked soybeans with a mold (koji ) cultivated in either a barley, rice or soybean base.

Additionally, the miso's color, flavor and texture are affected by the amounts of soybeans, koji and salt used. It's further influenced by the length of time it is aged, which can range from 6 months to 3 years.

Miso is a basic flavoring in much of Japanese cooking. The lighter-colored versions are used in more delicate soups and sauces, and the darker colored in heavier dishes. There are also low-salt varieties available. Shinshu miso is a golden yellow, all-purpose variety with a mellow flavor and rather high salt content.

There are regional favorites such as sendai miso, a fragrant, reddish-brown variety found in northern Japan, and the dark brown hatcho miso, popular in central Japan. Miso is used in sauces, soups, marinades, dips, main dishes, salad dressings and as a table condiment. It's easily digested and extremely nutritious, having rich amounts of B vitamins and protein. Miso can be found in Japanese markets and health-food stores. It should be refrigerated in an airtight container.

© Copyright Barron's Educational Services, Inc. 1995 based on THE FOOD LOVER'S COMPANION, 2nd edition, by Sharon Tyler Herbst.

The new Food & Wine arrived a couple of days ago, and I got a chance to flip through it last night. This issue includes TC4 superstar Stephanie Izard's profile and a couple of recipes she developed to pair with Gewurtztraminer (a wine I pretty much never drink because I worry that I'll accidentally buy one that's off-dry).

I loved Stephanie during the season. Partly because she's good natured, professional and she consistently delivered. But also partly because she's really creative, but never gimmicky. (Sorry, Blais. I loved you, too, but sometimes your creative thinking did cross the line into gimmick. Ah...banana scallops.)

The F&W recipe that most intrigues me is for a seared duck breast topped with miso-almond butter. It sounds delicious and it's a complete departure from our usual weeknight dinners, but it also doesn't sound terribly difficult.

It did get me thinking, though. So many young chefs exhibit at least a bit of Asian influence. While I love Asian food, something about it intimidates me - I think I'm just unfamiliar with the base flavors, so I'm not able to confidently combine them.

So I'm going to make a pointof experimenting more with Asian flavors, and I'm going to start with miso. It seems like a good thing to have around anyway.

Of course, all of this is after this weekend. We're throwing an engagement party for Missy and Seth tomorrow night, and today I will be finishing as much prep work as possible. I'll have a whole day in the kitchen, and I'm looking forward to it.

Just hoping for no rain!

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