Wednesday, April 22, 2009

"Mi-so" Delicious!

Miso, the traditional ingredient in Japanese cuisine is hardly an obscure curiosity in our world of global cuisine interactivity. Yet, it is not a type of seasoning that gets much attention from most chefs outside of Asia--which is a shame, really. High in protein and rich in vitamins and minerals, miso is a healthy alternative to most sodium-laden seasonings. Produced by fermenting rice and/or soybeans with salt and a type of fungus, miso is available in a thick, pasty form. Most people would most likely recognize miso as the default soup of choice in all Japanese restaurants. However, there are other ways to use miso to flavor other types of ingredients as well.

Here, I created a miso glaze by mixing miso paste, rice wine vinegar, sugar, ponzu (Japanese citrus soy sauce), sake (Japanese rice wine) and water in a sauce pot and bringing these ingredients to a boil. Turn down the heat to continue heating until the resulting sauce is reduced slightly, creating a somewhat thick, glossy glaze. Seafood is a big part of the Japanese diet and miso can be used to coat fish like ahi (yellowfin) tuna and salmon. For this application, I'm using salmon as the protein.

Before you start, you must be aware that the glaze will burn quickly in the oven. So pre-cooking the fish is imperative. Start by seasoning the salmon fillet with salt and pepper and baking it in the oven until it is about 80% cooked. Remove the fish from the oven and slather it generously with the miso glaze. Add water to the cooking pan to reduce the chances of the glaze burning on the pan. Put it back into the oven for a few minutes to cook the salmon further with the glaze on it. Remove the fish from the oven and glaze the fish with the miso one more time before finishing it off again in the oven. Be careful not to overcook the salmon and drying it out. There's nothing worse than dry salmon (a well-done fillet mignon or overcooked calamari comes close).

As an accompaniment to the salmon, I made lemon-lime flavored sushi rice and a refreshing but mild cucumber and wasabi mayonnaise. Add a vegetable (in this case, broccoli) and you have yourself a balanced meal.

As you can see, this dish screams Japanese cuisine very loudly (miso, sushi and wasabi) but there are added minutiae like the mayonnaise-based sauce and the lemon and lime flavor in the sushi rice that provide some extra dimensionality to the overall flavor profile. Also, you can have fun with the types of flavor that you can put on the sushi rice. I've used cilantro, mango and pineapple before. Just be sure to use an ingredient that has a unique and strong taste to obtain that punch that you would need to bowl your diners over.

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