I started out old school when it came to stock. My first cooking instructor introduced me to the all-day stockpot, simmered over a low flame, transforming chicken carcasses, parsley stems, onion, carrot and a bouquet garni into a foundation for soups and stews.
Later, I moved to a one-hour stock made with chicken then simmered in water with the usual suspects. Either way, the message was clear: Stock is flavored with meat and bones.
Well, the rest of the world might not agree, as I discovered during a recent visit to Tokyo. The umami-rich seaweed kombu provides a subtle flavoring when steeped in water. Of greater interest was miso, which, when whisked into water, made a great starting point or “stock” for many dishes.
This was a revelation not only in terms of saving time, but also in prompting me to rethink what stock is. It’s not a meat broth—it’s nothing more than flavored water.
Miso is made from soybeans that have been fermented with rice or another grain such as barley. White miso uses rice and is slightly sweet. Red miso has a higher percentage of soybeans and barley, and often undergoes a longer fermentation.
Given our culinary training, it was hard to give up a multi-layered approach to making broth. We tested the addition of garlic, scallions, white peppercorns, carrot, onion, star anise and shallot. Although these more complex recipes were good, we wanted to stay true to a simpler, cleaner palate. So for our red miso broth, we simplified to just garlic and tomato paste, plus a half cup of red miso. The tomato paste is sautéed with the garlic to intensify its flavor, Simmer and cook, then strain. Our white miso broth is much the same, with ginger and chopped shallot instead of tomato paste. It’s good for poaching chicken and making lighter soup. The red miso broth has a stronger, more savory flavor and is better for hearty applications like stews and braises.
Use these broths in recipes that call for chicken broth or stock. Once again, home cooks around the world have a lot to teach us—like water for stock.