There are a handful of pantry items that can be used to transform simple ingredients in just seconds, vastly improving your cooking without any additional work. This month, we consider miso, a Japanese pantry staple prepared from fermented and salted soy beans. Miso comes in a myriad of styles and flavors, largely determined by the length of fermentation (flavor, salinity and color intensify with age). For day-to-day use, we use and recommend white, or shiro, miso, which is the lightest, least salty and sweetest variety. Find it at your local market or try our richly flavored favorite.
Here are some of our favorite ways to use it:
For a dirt-simple, surprisingly flavorful alternative to canned broth, try this quick miso broth.
How to make it: In a large saucepan, combine 4 smashed-and-peeled garlic cloves, a 2-inch smashed-and-peeled chunk of ginger and 1 chopped shallot. Cook over medium heat until beginning to brown, about 2 minutes, then add 4 cups of water and ½ cup white miso. Bring to a simmer, then cook over medium-low for 5 minutes before straining out the solids.
Use this broth anywhere you might use vegetable or chicken broth, in soups, stews, risotto or grains. For a nearly instant soup, add diced chicken or tofu, chopped bok choy, sliced scallions, a drizzle of sesame oil and a sprinkle of our favorite Japanese chili condiment, shichimi togarashi. This version of the spice mix is particularly potent.
Be prepared to use this on everything.
How to make it: This is as simple as blending equal parts miso and softened butter. If you like, boost the flavor with toasted sesame seeds, minced scallions or chives, and a pinch of chili flakes.
Miso butter can be melted over rice, tossed with vegetables, dolloped on broiled salmon or seared steak or used as a sauce for pasta, like our Soba Noodles with Miso Butter and Asparagus, which requires one pot and almost zero effort. You might even find yourself slathering it on your morning toast and topping with a fried egg or sliced avocado.
A handful of walnuts gives the dressing body and a bittersweet edge to balance the salty-rich miso. Beyond salads and slaws, the dressing is terrific on blanched chard or green beans, broccoli and cauliflower or roasted fish or chicken. Try it as a crudités dip or toss with cooled rice or quinoa and a handful of herbs for a quick grain salad (top with an avocado, thin-sliced radishes, and a few toasted nuts for a complete meal).
Miso might be salmon’s greatest ally. In this quick recipe, miso is blended with a little honey, mirin, soy, sesame and cayenne pepper, making for a perfect glaze. It both provides moisture to the fish, preventing overcooking, and works wonders on the flavor.