Nigel Slater's miso recipes (2024)

A bowl of miso soup rights the wrongs. Lift the bowl to your lips, inhale briefly, take a sip of the deeplysavoury liquor, and suddenlyall is good with the world once more.It's the hot broth, of course – hearty, fruity, virtually beefyin its intensity, perfectly clearwhen still then intriguingly cloudy once stirred,but there's moreto it thanthat. The feel of thesmooth lacquer bowl in your hands, hearing the occasional whisper thatemanatesfrom the tight,steam-freckled lid, and thesmell, that is forme the essence ofJapan, bring with them a serenepleasure. Thenthere's thesteam thatrises fromthe surface and thegently swirling patterns of the miso inthe clear stockas you sip.

In Japan, whether you are eatinggrilled eel on sticky rice fromalacquer box, a piece of blistering aubergine tempura hauledout of bubbling oil or chickenhearts cookedon skewers set over hot coals, you can almost guarantee that you will be offered atiny lacquer bowl of miso soup. When there, it is an essential part of my breakfast, along with rice and salty,crunchy pickles. Made fromcrushed soy beans and rice or wheat, left to ferment and mature, miso's variations in colour, from creamy white to a deepest mahogany,will generally signify howsalty it is. The white (shiro) miso,the least salty, is a good place formiso virgins to start.

Miso is often the first thing I make on return from a trip abroad.There is almost always atubof it in the fridge. Sealed and chilled, it will keep for weeks. Youjuststir a couple of tablespoons of it into hot stock – Itend to use chicken or vegetable rather than the traditional seaweed and bonito dashi. Introduce a handful of cookednoodles and you have lunch. Add shredded greens, such as pak choior spinach, and shavings of grilled chicken or tiny shreds ofrawbeef and you have a light yet satisfying dinner.

The pastes are easy to deal with and readily available and will last several weeks in the fridge. Neither will Iturn my nose up at theinstantmiso soups, of which mostwholefood stores have adazzling range. It is just a case ofboiling akettle. But ahomemade version givesyou the option to alter the intensity by adding as much ofthe paste as you wish and, of course,of choosing whether it's alightmiso dayor adark one. The pastemakes a fine marinade for grilled chicken, too, let downtoaspreadable slush with equal amounts of sugar or honey, sake andmirin. Sweet, savoury and strangely peaceful.

Grilled miso chicken

Get the heat right. If you cook thechicken too near the elements or at too high a temperature, your marinade will burn. The chances are that it will darken considerably anyway and char around the edges – adetail that only adds to thecharacter, but you don't want itto burn and becomebitter, so don'tforget to keepchecking as it cooks, moving it away from the elements as necessary.

Ionce saw this cooked on a bed of sliced cucumber. The cucumber stopped the paste burning.A good idea if you have acucumber to get rid of. Serve with steamed greens.

Serves 2
For the sauce:
white miso 4 tbsp
mirin 4 tbsp
honey 4 tbsp

chicken breasts 2
pak choi 200g

Put the miso in a mixing bowl, stir in the mirin, then add the honey and mixwell. Score each of the chicken breasts three or four times, cutting through the skin and about halfway through the flesh. Place the breasts inthe miso marinade, roll over to coatthoroughly, then leave in a cool place for an hour or so.

Put an overhead grill on low to medium. Line a baking sheet or grill tray with tin foil, add a couple of tablespoons of water to it, then place the marinaded chicken breasts on the foil with plenty of the marinade sticking to them. Grillthe breasts for approximately 10 minutes, turning once or twiceas they brown.Inevitably some of the marinade will burn, hence the importance of the foil.

Lift the chicken from its foil andserve it with grilled or steamed pakchoi.

Miso soup, noodles and cabbage

Nigel Slater's miso recipes (1)

At home I don't use lacquer bowls formy soup. Beautiful as they are, theywould lose their sheen after arideor two in the dishwasher – suchare the practicalities of life.

Serves 2, generously
For the soup:
stock 1 litre, vegetable, chicken or dashi
brown miso (mugi) 5 tbsp
sesame oil 2 tsp
dark soy sauce 1 tbsp

cabbage 75g, very finely shredded
noodles 100g, boiled and drained
lime juice of 1
chives 10g
coriander a handful

Bring the stock to the boil in adeep saucepan. Turn down the heat andstir in the miso paste, the sesameoiland soy sauce. Taste, adding moremiso paste for adeeperflavour if you wish.

Pile the cabbage into serving bowls,add the cooked noodles, thenpour over the miso stock. Finishthe soup with lime juice, finelysnipped chives and coriander leaves.

Email Nigel at nigel.slater@observer.co.uk. Follow Nigel on Twitter @NigelSlater

Nigel Slater's miso recipes (2024)

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