My Secret Ingredient: White Miso

Secret ingredients are everywhere throughout the culinary world.  While some secrets, such as the contents of Old Bay seasoning and the exact classic Coca-Cola formula, are closely guarded, every so often we're lucky enough to have chefs share what makes their dishes so unique.  In this month's Food Network Magazine, I shared my secret ingredient: white miso, or shiromiso.

Miso, or fermented soybeans, is a millennia-old Asian tradition.  Miso is widely believed to have been preceded by hishio, a Chinese food product invented in the third century BC.  From 600 to the mid-1300's, miso was not ground.  It was strictly prepared with whole fermented soybeans, in a manner similar to modern natto.  Then in the mid-1300's, when monks discovered that soybeans could be ground into a paste, miso evolved from being a simple dish to a culinary foundation.  In its most simple form, miso is enjoyed as a traditional Japanese soup, which is eaten by most Japanese people on a nearly-daily basis.  (In fact, miso soup with a side of steamed rice is considered the "Japanese breakfast.")

Miso is quite easy to make at home, even though it takes a lot of patience and storage space.  At the same time, because miso has been greatly industrialized and commercialized, homemade miso is relatively rare, since every variation of miso can be found in markets.  In the most general of categorizations, there are three basic types of miso: shiromiso (white miso), akamiso (red miso), and awasemiso (a combination of the two).  My secret ingredient, white miso, is mildly sweet and incredibly versatile.  It can be incorporated into salad dressings, sauces, marinades, or almost anything else!  On the other hand, the red version tends to be saltier, with a stronger flavor.

For more facts on miso, click here

Check out my recipe for Miso-Crusted Rack of Lamb here to see how I use miso.

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