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Demystifying Miso

Demystifying Miso

Miso has been used in Japan for thousands of years but has only recently been introduced into western cookery. If you’re unsure about which miso to use and how to use it, read our guide to cooking with this intensely savoury soya bean paste.

Miso is a thick fermented paste made predominantly of soya beans, sometimes also rice, barley, wheat or rye. It has been used in Japan for thousands of years (in some form since the eighty century) but has only recently been introduced into western cookery. Its best known use is mixed with dashi stock in miso soup, but its many applications include dressings, sauces, marinades, stews, and sweet preparations such as miso caramel. It is valued above all for the rich, savoury umami flavour it imparts to dishes.

It is an ingredient you’ll see in various dishes such as miso-pickled mushrooms in our Nutrition in Culinary Practice course, as it is a good source of vitamins B2 and B6 and includes minerals zinc, iron, and phosphorus.

You might also encounter it on our Plant-Based Eating course. We use it to boost the flavour of our chestnut and mushroom (sausage) roll, as comfort food favourite. It’s also used alongside cashew nuts and nutritional yeast in our vegan ‘Parmesan’ served with tagliatelle and basil pesto.

Experiment by adding it to ingredients you’re already familiar with. For example, a mayonnaise (whether plant-based or otherwise) gains a whole new complexity with the addition of a tablespoon of white miso.

For a sweet miso sauce to add to homemade mayonnaise, mix 1 tbsp white miso, 2 tsp wasabi paste, 2 tbsp lime juice, 2 tbsp water, and 1 tsp soft light brown sugar, to form a smooth paste. Delicious with grilled fish.

To make a delicious Asian-inspired dressing, whisk 3-4 tbsp of sunflower oil with 1 tbsp rice wine vinegar. Whisk in 2 tsp white miso, 1 tbsp mirin, and 1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil. Add 1 tsp finely grated ginger and a very finely chopped spring onion.

A miso marinade lends rump steak a rich, deep flavour. For four steaks, mix 200ml mirin, 2 tbsp soft light brown sugar, 6 tbsp miso, and some pepper, with 4 chopped garlic cloves and 6 coarsely chopped spring onions. Leave overnight or at least 12 hours ahead and remove from the marinade before browning the steaks, 1-2 minutes per side. Add the reserved marinade to the pan and bring to a simmer. Cook the steaks to your preferred doneness. Rest for five minutes, then slice thinly to serve.

A classic recipe that is widely served in Japanese restaurants is nasu dengaku, or miso-glazed aubergine, which we teach on our Cooking with Confidence course. Served with a simple Asian rice noodle salad, it’s an excellent plant-based main course that will please vegans and non-vegans alike.

There are many different types of miso but the most common ones you’ll find are white, brown and red. White miso is made of rice and is gluten-free. It has a shorter fermentation time so has a lighter taste making it good for salads. Red miso is fermented for longer and has a deeper, richer flavour; it’s good for stews, soups, and braises. Brown miso is a very balanced, versatile option.

When cooking with miso, add it towards the end of cooking over a gentle heat. Boiling it affects its flavour and nutritional benefits.

Miso is a thick paste, so when adding it to liquids, for example in a dressing, use a whisk to break it up.

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