Miso, a very popular Japanese food item that can be “one” of Japan’s many food staples. But do you really know what miso is? How is miso made? Is miso only used in Miso soup? Does miso only exist in Japan? I don’t plan on answering all the questions there is to miso, but I do (for my own records as well) go into detail about miso a bit.
What “is” miso?
First before we can go into “making” miso, we have to know what “is” miso. Although called differently, miso is called differently and made slightly differently in many countries in the east. Miso originated from China in the form of “豆醬” (dou jiang). Dou Jiang simply means “bean paste”, as what miso really is (…bean…paste…). The Chinese have been fermenting all sorts of beans, especially in the peasant class, way before the Spring Autumn Period of Chinese history; Soybeans, mung bean, red (adzuki) bean, black beans (not to be confused with black soy beans), and many other types of beans. Most notable beans that are to be fermented are soy beans and red beans. If you go to a Chinese market salted “black beans”, made from soy beans, and “ground bean paste” are only a few of the extremely popular fermented soybean products sold. You might be more familiar with “Chicken and Black Bean sauce” from your local Chinese restaurant…yep! you guessed it, those black beans that you just ate… fermented soy beans. The spareribs that you just ate from the Chinese restaurant, one of the secret ingredients are the Chinese ground bean sauce (Chinese version of miso). The Chinese version of miso (ground bean paste) is much saltier than miso and the process of making it is also quite different but there are enough similarities where you can say “Ahh, I can see how it evolved”.
I won’t go much into red bean since this article is on “miso” but here’s a little tid-bit. Fermenting red beans are more popular in the south western part of China in the Yun-Nan province. They usually ferment the beans and combine it with hot chili peppers to make hot bean paste. Usually done with red adzuki beans but often enough done with soy beans as well. It’s very tasty so grab a bucket if you get the chance.
Going a bit further in time now, we come across Doenjang; although I said “going a bit further in time”, we’re still in the realm of 700bc-300bc. Korea’s Doenjang is also compared frequently with miso in the west. The taste is distinct and much saltier than the standard Aka (red) or Shiro (white) miso, but not as salty as the Chinese Doujiang (ground bean paste). Although there are different grades of how fine they’re grounded, generally Doenjang is rather course with small chunks of beans still apparent.
Finally we get into Miso, but even before miso, it wasn’t always made with soy beans, it was first called Hishio, made with rice and fish – similar to “fish sauce”, as it was much saltier. As the time progressed, the Japanese started to make miso with rice and soy beans (instead of fish). The most commonly known type of miso to the west is Aka-miso (red miso) and Shiro-miso (white miso). So Miso is another form of “grounded soy beans” fermented with grains. The grains provide the bacteria a source of food (in forms of sugar) which allows the bacteria to leave behind byproducts which makes the fermented bean paste much more pungent and delicious.
How to make miso?
Making miso takes a long time, a very long process in which you’ll have to take care of your soy beans from start to finish. This is “not” a tutorial so I will not go into “how” to actually make miso in this post, it’s another section of its own and I hope to have that post up sometime in the future.
But as a summary, it depends on what kind of “miso” do you want to make. We now have 3 general options 1. Doujiang 2. Doenjang 3. Miso. In making any of the 3, the better your water, soybeans and grain will determine the quality of your bean paste. Soybeans are first washed and soaked overnight. The beans are then taken out and boiled until it is very soft. After boiling, the beans are taken out and pounded, grounded, smashed and pulverized to the consistency that you want. During the grounding process, powdered, whole or processed grains (rice, barley, wheat, etc…), seasoning and salt are added to start the fermentation process. This is where it branches off, in making miso, you would use a yeast called Tane Koji and mix it in with the rice that was steamed before mixing it into the soybeans. Doenjang however, you would then pack the grounded soybeans into blocks and hang it up to dry usually throughout the winter. This block of dried and fermented soybeans is called “meju” which can be used for various types of pastes such as Gochujang as well as Doenjang. The Chinese Doujiang, you would mix everything together as well as starter yeast, stored in terracotta pot and left to ferment for a long period of time, shortest would be about 6 months.
As for Doenjang, there’s an additional step, after creating the blocks called meju (air dried for months), it’s then taken down, shaven and mixed in with the right quantities of water along with more ingredients. Adding more water creates Korean soy sauce instead which is also great.
To finish it off, I’ll list a few recipes for you to try and enjoy 🙂
One thing I do apologize for is that I was taught how to cook in a very traditional Asian way which doesn’t use “measurements” but uses your “5 senses” instead. So despite “my measurements” keep tasting until it’s to your liking. Who says you can’t eat on the job?
Simple Miso Soup (the quick and dirty way) – Miso-shiru! (serving size 3-4 hungry people)
Things you’ll need:
Wakame (Japanese dried seaweed)
Scallions or Leeks (spring onions)
Fill 3/4 of a medium pot with water and toss in a good handful of wakame. If you like more seaweed and a stronger flavor go ahead and add more. No one says you can’t do it!
Wait about 5-10 minutes then turn on the stove to medium high heat.
Meanwhile, grab your tablespoon and scoop out about 2 tablespoons of miso into a small bowl or cup. Add about 1/3 cup of water to the miso and stir until everything is dissolved. When the miso is completely dissolved, add the miso to the pot of water with the wakame. If you have hondashi, add about 1/3 teaspoon into the stock. Cut to tofu into cubes and add that to the soup as well. Finally, finely chop the scallions and garnish on top.
Go ahead and experiment a little, making it traditionally is great but see what your palate is telling you.
Miso Seasoned Grilled Mackerel *spicy*
Ever thought of grilling Mackerel? Next time you do, try this recipe out.
Things you’ll need:
Korean pepper flakes
Korean sea salt (milder salt – you can you regular table salt and adjust to taste)
Sake (rice wine)
One cup of water
One large tablespoon dollop of Gochujang (Korean pepper paste)
One Teaspoon of the pepper flakes
A dash of salt
2 teaspoons of sugar
1.5 tablespoons of miso
1/3 cup of Sake
1/4 cup of soy sauce
One teaspoon of sesame oil.
Mix it well until everything is dissolved, and pour into a ziplock bag and place your fillets of (any fish really…) Mackerel in along with the wet seasoning. Let it sit overnight and grill the next day. When you do, grill the skin side first. A nice crispy Mackerel skin is very delicious.