As much as I love experimenting with new foods, there are times when all I want is comfort. If I’ve had a tough day and need a hug, I make a bowl of mashed potatoes with a side of cucumber salad. Or I whip up lacy crepes and eat them with plenty of sour cream and cherry jam. These dishes are old childhood favorites, and they always make me feel better. But over the years, I’ve added a new set of comfort foods to my repertoire. They range from my mother-in-law’s Indian sour lentil soups and vegetable stews to Vietnamese grilled pork on rice. And anything made with miso immediately qualifies as comfort food.
What is it about miso that makes it so comforting? It might be its intensely savory flavor or the velvety, suave aftertaste; I’m not quite sure. All I know is that I love it. Miso paste is made by fermenting soybeans and/or other grains with salt and koji, a special starter. The result is the unique vitamin and protein rich condiment that has been used in Japan for centuries. The proportions of soybeans to other grains in the miso recipe will determine its flavor and color. There are numerous miso types, but the white (shiro) and red (aka) varieties are the most common. White miso, which is really golden yellow in hue, contains more rice than soybeans and has a mild, sweet flavor. By contrast, the soybean rich red miso is meaty, bold and salty.
Although in the West miso tends to be associated with soup, this condiment is much more versatile. You can use it for sauces, marinades, dressings and even as a relish. Stir a spoonful into a cream of vegetable soup and notice how miso enhances the savory flavor. Mix miso with lemon juice and olive oil (no salt is needed) and use this sauce to dress bitter greens or crunchy lettuce. I especially like it with the distinctively non-Japanese Belgian endives and roasted Brussels sprouts.
The marinade recipe I share today is one of the reasons why a tub of miso is a staple in my fridge. It makes for a quick preparation, and the results are invariably delicious. Miso marinated fish is a traditional recipe, but mine is a personal variation. White miso, which I recommend for this recipe, has a delicate fruity sweetness, and I’ve added both citrus and honey to enhance the flavor. I also like the warmth of chili pepper, and depending on your heat cravings, you can vary the amount.
You can serve miso marinated salmon with rice, but I like it with mashed potatoes. It’s the ultimate marriage of old and new favorites.
Miso Grilled Salmon with Honey and Orange
Other citrus varieties can be substituted for orange, such as lemon, grapefruit, tangerine, or the king of citrus, yuzu. You can use other types of fish for this recipe, and I’ve had good results using cod, snapper and monkfish. The marinade works just as well on eggplants, onions and zucchini.
Serve with rice, mashed potatoes or baguette and a sautéed vegetable side dish.
2lb (~1kg) salmon fillets
2 Tablespoons white miso
1 teaspoon honey or brown sugar
1 teaspoon grated ginger
1 Tablespoon sake (optional)
red chili pepper flakes to taste
zest and juice of 1/2 small orange
Mix together miso, honey, ginger, sake (if using), red chili pepper flakes, orange juice and zest.
Pat the fish fillets dry and rub miso marinade on both sides. Place in a ziplock bag and marinate for 2 hours in the refrigerator, or for up to a day.
Preheat the oven to 400F/200C and turn on the broiler. Line a sheet pan with foil and oil the foil lightly. Remove excess marinade from fillets. Place skin side down on the baking sheet.
Broil for 10 minutes, or until the surface turns golden brown and caramelizes. The honey in the glaze burns easily, so watch it carefully. If the top is cooking too fast, while the insides remain raw, turn off the broiler and finish the fish in the oven.
If using a grill, place the fish skin side down on the grill and cook for 3-4 minutes per side, for medium-rare.
Photography by Bois de Jasmin