Episode 74: Miso Magic ft. Bessou
There are countless dishes that you should be adding miso to beyond the omnipresent miso soup. Maiko Kyogoku and Emily Yuen, the dynamic duo behind Bessou, joined us in the studio to tell us about all the different miso varietals and how to use them so you can add more umami magic to your life.
Miso is a fermented-soybean paste that is produced by fermenting soybeans with salt and the fungus koji and sometimes rice, barley, seaweed, or other ingredients. The result is a paste that is high in protein and vitamins and delivers a ton of flavor. At grocery stores, you will typically see options for white (shiro), red (aka), yellow, or blended (awase) miso. The length of the fermentation process that allows the koji to break down the beans and grains, and the varying combinations of ingredients affect the color and taste. Traditionally, the darker the miso, the deeper and saltier the flavor. Modern takes on miso are giving us options for soybean alternatives -- get your taste buds ready for chickpea, red bean, black bean miso, and more.
Maiko and Emily share their typical applications for different misos, such as using white miso for sauces and dressings since it’s more delicate in flavor, and the red miso as a marinade for proteins. The stronger flavor also lends itself well to ice-cream, which you can find on the banana foster Japanese hotcakes at Bessou. We talked about the versatility of adapting miso to your individual palette, like they do in Japan with family and regional preferences. Maiko’s father is from the Miyagi Prefecture known for its Sendai miso, a rich and salty flavor that tastes great in hearty dishes adapted for the Northern climate. Down South, like in Kyoto where Maiko’s mom is from, Saikyo miso is popular for being lighter and faintly sweet from the higher rice content.
Maiko and Emily talk about a special tama miso blend they use at the restaurant, passed down from Maiko’s father. Maiko likens it to a condiment like ketchup or Japanese BBQ sauce that can be put on anything. Get the recipe here and watch it being made in the Bessou kitchen here.
We all agree that miso is more forgiving than many other foods. It can be kept well past the expiration date as long as it’s properly stored, and with the parchment paper left on the surface of the miso so it’s not reacting with the air as much. Miso is a fermented live food product with probiotics so the flavors will change over time. It’s best to always taste the miso before using it in your dish, and taste as you go as that will also prevent you from over salting.
More and more non-Japanese chefs are using miso in their cooking. You might spot it in a pasta, meat, sauce, stew, or even chili recipe. It’s the hidden little something that helps build a more complex flavor while rounding it all out. Maiko and Emily encourage us to explore and have fun with it.