I admired Japanese cuisine for years, but my knowledge and skills were never structured until my last trip and 5-day intensive culinary program at Cooking Sun in Kyoto. Now, I have a better understanding of Japanese foods, and it became much easier to incorporate more healthy meals from this amazing culture into my everyday routine. The question is why bother in Texas? Central Texas and the Kyoto region have somewhat similar climate conditions. Realizing that made me curious what foods and drinks help Japanese people to survive hot and humid summer, for example.
Besides the school, renting an apartment with a kitchen in Kyoto was another thing that helped to peek into Japanese home cooking. One of the most interesting devices I discovered in the kitchen was a tiny built-in broiler right under the gas stove. The button to turn it on had a fish icon on it. Later at school, our chef-instructor Yoriko mentioned a fish roaster as one of the most missing devices for many Japanese abroad. Fish button became symbolical for me.
Many Shades of Miso
Little did I know, when believed Eastern Europeans historically were the most devoted consumers of fermented foods. Fermetation is one of the fundamental principles of Japanese cookery. Look at the 5 essential seasonings: SA-SHI-SU-SE-SO — Sa is sato, (sugar or mirin), shi is shio (salt), su is su (vinegar), se is seu (the old reading of shoyu, soy sauce), and so is miso. Except for salt, they are fermented products incorporated into almost every meal. Miso is one of them and plays an important nutritional role.
There are many types of miso. Different sources make attempts to simplify and categorize miso by ingredients, flavor, and color. But then there are regional and special types that make you stare in confusion at the variety of miso pastes in a good Asian supermarket. Where to start? My method is drastic — side-by-side tasting. That’s what we do during the Miso Experience cooking class. Get all the most common miso pastes, observe their characteristics and be courageous to experiment with them in your kitchen. That’s how miso butter, miso mayo, and miso caramel sauce have appeared.
The Spotlight on Saikyo Miso
“Saikyo Miso originated in Kyoto — a city that has been a center of politics, economics, and culture for more than a thousand years—and has been cultivated by the elegance of royalty. (Saikyo means “west city,” the former name for Kyoto.) Saikyo Miso has been a valuable part of the Imperial Palace’s hare (soul rejuvenation) ceremonies and has developed along with the food culture of the capital city. It is known for its generous amount of rice malt, its sweetness due to its low sodium content, and its beautiful light beige color.”
The fermentation period for this miso is relatively short which contributes to the color and the buttery, smooth consistency. Compared with other miso, saikyo has the least amount of salt (5 percent to 10 percent) which minimizes the intense flavor to a naturally sweet, mild taste. Fish fillets are marinated in sweet miso for at least 2-3 days or up to 5-7 days for thicker slices before being grilled.
To my taste, mackerel fillets are a great choice if marinated in miso for no longer than 1-2 days. My favorite choices are halibut, black cod, and pompano 1″ thick steaks in that order of preference. Experiment with what fish is available, you might find more interesting variations. Make sure your fish fillets or steaks are thick enough to marinate them for a few days.