Monday, April 20, 2015

How to Make Miso

We eat a lot of fermented and pickled foods in Japan. Various pickles, umeboshi, miso, natto, and so on. Of course, with most such foods, you prepare them and then wait a long time until they're ready to eat. Good things come to those who wait. A lot of what we do in our line of work is waiting and praying, so pickles are a good (and tasty, not to mention healthy) reminder to be patient.

I posted a year and a half ago about making lasagna--both my recipe and pictures of a lasagna class I did. I mentioned to some of the ladies at that church that I am interested in pickles of all sorts, which resulted in an invitation to join them in their annual miso-making event. Awesome!

Mrs. Minamie, grinding the soybeans
The following is the result of the notes and pictures I took at the miso-making event. I had to wait a year to see if it turned out to post anything... but I'll just say I will be doing this again. Once you have tasted homemade miso, it's hard to go back to the store-bought kind.

However, big disclaimer: If you are squeamish about mold, don't bother.

How to make miso

  • 1 kg (2.2 lb) soy beans
  • 1.2 kg (2.6 lb) kome-koji (rice mixed with a fungus that ferments the beans)
  • 400 g (14 oz) salt (天塩--amajio if you can get it; it has some minerals which improve the taste, I'm told.)


Soak soy beans overnight. Transfer the beans to a large cooking pot with plenty of water; bring to a boil. (Watch out, they get very frothy.) Skim off the foam about 2 times, then cook at a gentle simmer for about an hour. (Cooking time depends on how old your beans are, so test them periodically.) Let stand for another 15 minutes if necessary--you want the beans fully cooked but not falling apart. Drain, reserving some of the cooking liquid in case the miso is too dry.

In a large bowl, break up clumps in the kome-koji between the palms of your hands. Mix in the salt.

This is kome-koji.
Crush the beans with a food processor or meat grinder. Allow the beans to cool until you can handle them. This is important; you don't want to kill the bacteria in the kome-koji! You may find, however, that the beans cool off plenty during grinding.

Combine koji mixture and crushed beans together with your hands. After things are pretty well blended, press and squeeze the mixture, forming fist size balls. Press these firmly into a clean pickling crock or bucket one at a time; make sure no air can get in below the surface.

Wipe around the edge of the crock with a liquor-soaked paper towel. (We use White Liquor, which is 35%. Basically, it's to kill the germs while still being safe if it gets into the miso.)

Press a layer of plastic wrap onto the surface of the miso and sprinkle with salt.

Store in a cool place… for a long time. About a year. You need at least one summer to mature the miso. (We made our miso in February 2014, and it was ready to eat at Christmas time.)

I can't wait... but I'll be waiting a long time!
When you get your miso out of storage, there will probably be mold on top. Do not be (too) alarmed, as long as the mold is only growing on the surface.

Looks pretty freaky, but it's only on the surface.
Carefully scrape off the top layer, wipe any mold off the sides of the crock with a liquor-soaked paper towel, and remove the nice miso below to a clean container; store in the refrigerator. Or, you can leave some of the miso in the crock, topped with plastic wrap and salt, and store it in a cool place to age for another year or so.

See? It looks pretty good... and tastes even better!
Now go try it! Easy! If you live in Seattle, I'm pretty sure you can get all the ingredients at Uwajimaya.

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