Rich, savoury and endlessly versatile, miso is a powerhouse ingredient that should be found in every fridge. Give your dishes some depth with these flavour-packed recipes.
Fermented soybean paste, aka miso, has been a central ingredient in Japanese cuisine for over 1,000 years. But if you’ve only ever tried it in soup form, you’re missing out. Intensely savoury and silky, miso adds depth, texture and umami – the so-called fifth taste after sweet, salty, bitter and sour – to any recipe.
“Miso holds endless possibilities in both traditional and modern dishes,” says food writer, entrepreneur and former chef Bonnie Chung, who founded the brand Miso Tasty in 2014 after struggling to find good miso in the UK. “It is the ancient cupboard staple I can’t live without.”
Chung suggests mixing miso with “a drop of olive oil and a spoon of mustard for a deeply satisfying salad dressing”, or basting it onto steaks “for a quick but deeply flavoured barbecue marinade”. It works in sweet recipes, too, in much the same way that salt brings out the best in caramel – in other words, by adding “a much deeper dimension and a slightly savoury profile to puddings,” Chung explains.
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Miso is also a nutritional powerhouse. Packed with essential vitamins to support the body’s detoxing abilities, antioxidants which strengthen the immune system, and live bacteria that are brilliant for gut health, miso is widely regarded as a health food, and has been linked to the famously long average lifespan in Japan.
Below, Chung shares four recipes from her cookbook Miso Tasty. If you’re on the lookout for plant-based inspiration, her whole roasted spicy miso cauliflower with ginger and lime is a great way of reinventing the winter vegetable as a knockout vegan centrepiece. Roasting the miso creates an even deeper, smoky dimension that truly addictive.
The lemon miso chicken hot pot with parsley is also perfect for bitingly cold days, and is wonderfully simple. Much like all your favourite one-pot recipes, the ingredients can be left alone to do their thing while the flavours develop in half an hour flat.
And if you’re sceptical of the sound of miso in desserts, prepare to upend your expectations. Chung’s miso tartlets are a salty-sweet delight that can be made ahead of time, while her stem ginger and barley miso cheesecake balances the richness of the cream cheese with a savoury profile. Miso really can do it all.
Whole roasted spicy miso cauliflower with ginger and lime
Bonnie says: “I love to serve this at dinner; it looks impressive and cooking the whole head creates a wonderful smoky dark outer and sweetly steamed inner. For veg lovers, it makes the perfect memorable centrepiece. As miso can burn quickly, take care to add only a thin layer to the cauliflower.”
Serves 4 as a main, 6 as a side dish
- 1 head of cauliflower, about 700g
- 2 tbsp sesame oil
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp red miso
- ½ tbsp Chinese chilli-garlic sauce
- 1 tbsp peeled and finely grated root ginger
- 1 tsp finely grated lime zest, plus 1 tsp lime juice
- 2 spring onions, finely sliced
- 2 tsp toasted white and black sesame seeds
Cut the leaves and stem off the cauliflower so that it sits flat, and wash the head.
In a small bowl, mix together the sesame and olive oils, the miso, chilli-garlic sauce, ginger and lime zest and juice until fully combined. Using your hands, rub the mix over the cauliflower, making sure you get it everywhere, even the base. Leave for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 160°C/gas mark 3. Put the cauliflower on a lined baking tray and roast for 1 hour.
Remove the cauliflower from the oven and sprinkle the spring onions and toasted sesame seeds over.
Slice the cauliflower at the table into wedges, as if cutting a cake.
Lemon miso chicken hot pot with parsley
Bonnie says: “This is so incredibly quick and easy, that it has become one of my favourite after-work meals. The lemon and herbs cut through the juicy chicken thighs and savoury miso, while the rich, creamy sauce is irresistible poured over warm rice.
“Sweet root vegetables work a treat here as the supportive bed for the chicken to steam on inside the casserole pot. Stir-fried savoy cabbage with olive oil and a few drops of soy sauce is fantastic on the side.”
For the chicken and marinade:
- 6 skin-on bone-in chicken thighs and 4 chicken drumsticks
- 2 tbsp sake
- 1 tbsp sesame oil
- 3 tbsp white miso
- 2 tbsp red miso
- 3 tbsp lemon juice (keep the squeezed lemon)
- 1 tbsp finely grated unwaxed lemon zest
- 1 tbsp mirin
- 1 tsp yuzu
For the rest:
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 2 parsnips, peeled and sliced into wedges
- 2 small carrots, peeled and chopped into wedges
- a little olive oil
- 2 tbsp chopped parsley leaves
Put the chicken in a medium bowl. Pour the sake and sesame oil over with a pinch of salt. Rub it all over the chicken, then leave for 15 minutes.
In a small mixing bowl, combine all the other ingredients to make a smooth marinade, then pour over the chicken and rub again.
In a heavy-based casserole pan, cook the garlic, onion, parsnips and carrots for 5 minutes in the olive oil until golden.
In a frying pan, sear the chicken pieces for 3–4 minutes so the skin becomes golden brown, charred in places and crispy on each side. Add the chicken to the casserole, sitting it on top of the vegetables.
Keep all the leftover marinade from the bowl the chicken was marinating in and swirl 200ml around in it until the bowl is clean of miso. Add it to the pot.
Slice the lemon that had been squeezed in half and throw into the pot with the parsley.
Reduce the heat, cover and cook for 25 minutes.
Salty miso caramel tartlets
Bonnie says: “Salty caramels are a great love of mine: that sweetness followed by deep saltiness is a wonderful experience for the palate that is close to the flavour of long-fermented, darker miso. These tartlets are a quick and easy make-ahead dessert. Serve with freshly whipped cream for maximum indulgence.”
Makes 6 x 10cm tartlets
For the pastry:
- 125g plain flour, plus more to dust
- pinch of salt
- 55g cold unsalted butter
- 2–3 tbsp ice cold water
For the caramel filling:
- 200g caster sugar
- 100g unsalted butter
- 50g white miso
- 200ml double cream, plus more to serve
Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl and add the salt. Cut the cold butter into small cubes and add to the flour. Using your fingertips, rub the butter into the flour, lifting it in the bowl to keep it light and cool. Continue until it resembles crumbs.
Sprinkle with some of the ice-cold water and start to bring the pastry together, picking up any stray pieces and bringing them into the dough. Sprinkle in more water if required.
Place the dough onto a work surface sprinkled lightly with flour and knead lightly to form a smooth ball. Divide into 6 even balls.
Roll out each ball using a few short strokes to avoid stretching. Give the dough a quarter turn each time you roll to keep the round shape. Stop when each piece is 12cm in diameter.
Place the tart tins on a baking sheet, then lift each piece of pastry over a rolling pin and across each tin. Press the dough into the edges of the tin using your fingers; don’t trim the edges yet. Chill for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 190°C/gas mark 5.
Fill each pastry case with rounds of baking parchment and add baking beans or raw rice to weigh it down. Bake for 10 minutes.
Remove the paper and beans/rice and cook the pastry for a further 5 minutes. Trim the excess pastry on each tart tin using a small sharp knife and leave to cool on a wire cooling rack.
Reduce the oven temperature to 160°C/gas mark 3.
Make the filling: put the sugar and 2 tbsp of cold water into a large pan and heat gently, stirring.
When the sugar has completely dissolved, increase the heat until it turns a rich caramel colour. It will bubble and spit if it is too hot, so keep an eye on the heat.
Remove from the heat and stir in the butter and miso, followed by the cream. Return to the heat and boil until the sauce is thick enough to leave a gap on the base of the pan when you draw a spoon across it.
Fill the pastry with the caramel and return to the oven for 8–10 minutes until the filling is bubbling.
Cool for 10 minutes before removing carefully from the tin. Serve with fresh cream.
Stem ginger and barley miso cheesecake
Bonnie says: “Much as I love cheesecake, its flavour can sometimes be a bit one-dimensional or, more often, I find it too sweet. In this recipe, there are many new flavours: barley miso adds a deep, malty taste, while sweet ginger cuts through the creamy heaviness. You will need a 24cm springform tin.”
- 200g digestive biscuits
- 150g unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
- 115g caster sugar
- 500g cream cheese
- 2 1⁄2 tbsp barley miso
- 3 large eggs
- 50g stem ginger, sliced finely into small matchsticks
- a little of the stem ginger syrup, to serve
Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas mark 4.
To make the base, pulse the biscuits in a food processor into fine crumbs, then transfer to a medium bowl. Stir in the melted butter and mix until evenly distributed.
Press the mixture into a 24cm springform cake tin. Bake for 10 minutes, then remove from the oven and allow to cool.
Reduce the oven temperature to 160°C/gas mark 3.
Next, make the filling. In a large mixing bowl, beat the sugar and cream cheese using a wooden spoon or spatula, scraping down the sides of the bowl frequently, for 3–5 minutes until light and fluffy.
Add the miso slowly, 1 tbsp at a time, until evenly distributed, then beat in each egg separately, then, finally, the stem ginger pieces. Pour on to the base and bake for 1 hour.
Turn off the heat, open the oven door slightly and allow the cheesecake to cool slowly inside, to prevent cracking, for a further hour.
Chill in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours before serving drizzled with stem ginger syrup.
Miso Tasty: The Cookbook by Bonnie Chung (£14.99, Pavilion) is out now
Photography: Yuki Sugiura