Miso is one of my favourite ingredients I discovered this year, and not just because the amount of Jar-Jar Binks sounding puns I can create using it are absolutely staggering. Its salty funkiness is downright intoxicating, and I’ve been obsessed with trying it ever since the Soy episode of The Mind of a Chef.
What is The Mind of a Chef you might ask? Oh, it’s just my favourite cooking show of all time. Structured like a documentary mini-series, the first season follows David Chang, exploring his past, present, and making us all look forward to what is no doubt going to be his incredible future. Creator of the hugely successful Momofuku Noodle Bar, Lucky Peach and all of its many offshoots, Dave Chang is serious about his food, but also knows how to have a good time.
When I say that I devoured this show, I mean it (although I did also jump on the chance for a good food vocab pun). I’m fairly certain I’ve watched the first season at least 4 times, if not more, and the later seasons 2 or 3 times each. I love Dave’s use of exotic and common ingredients, the way he effortlessly throws amazing dishes together with a genuine casualness. He’s not putting on a show, he’s just making really really really good food.
When I hear enough about an ingredient that I’ve never tried before, I start to imagine what it tastes like. I think my brain tries to convince itself that it has, in fact, experienced the flavour of something it’s never even come close to trying. Did I mention I have a massively over-active imagination? Miso is a prime example of this. I had never tried the fermented soybean paste before outside of poor renditions of the ubiquitous soup in a few sushi places, but somehow I was convinced that it was the most delicious thing in the world. Happily, I was not wrong when I finally got my hands on a tub of the stuff.
On the show, Dave visits a miso factory in Japan, where he and his friend are treated to small spoonfuls of miso right out of the barrel. Their exclamations were so enthusiastic, that upon bringing my own container of miso home, I immediately got out a spoon and dug in for a taste. I was surprised, but not in a bad way. Somehow, despite expecting a much more soft, rich flavour (think really good chicken noodle soup?) I fell in love with the weird, salty fermented flavour of the grainy paste. I was worried though. I’m not a huge salt person, unless it’s in a bag of chips, so surely this would completely throw off the seasoning of whatever I made with it?
I decided that my first venture into the world of cooking with miso should be guided by the expert himself: Dave Chang. I watched the Soy episode 4 or 5 times, making notes and carefully studying his technique. Finally, after settling on a fairly simple sounding pan-roasted corn recipe, I gathered all the ingredients and got to work. Had I used a chicken stock or some other broth, this recipe would be a lot simpler, but I decided (of course) that it had to be authentic, and even made his bacon dashi, carefully stewing together kombu and the smokiest bacon I could find, just so I could properly deglaze the pan. I hate to say it, but it probably does make a difference. I will include a link to the dashi here .
Holy cow. This is, at its most basic, corn and bacon. Very southern sounding, very delicious. Except that this dish is so, so much more than the sum of its parts. There’s just enough of a funky flavour from the kombu in the dashi, and the miso along with the smokiness of the bacon that it comes together in the most heart-warming, amazing creation I think I’ve ever made. Please, please, please, if you get the chance, catch an episode or two of The Mind of a Chef on Netflix. And thank you David Chang. Miso happy.
- Miso butter (equal parts miso and butter; you should make enough that for each serving you have a generous tablespoon, or more if you’re so inclined, I am)
- 1-2 strips smoky bacon, cut into lardons
- 1 large cob’s worth of corn kernels
- bacon dashi
- handful of sliced scallions (for garnish)
- a poached egg (or fried, if you’re still working on that whole poaching nonsense, cough cough)
- black pepper
- Fry up the bacon until not quite crispy, you just want to render out some fat
- Add the corn and get some colour on it, pan roasting it until you get a tiny bit of golden-browniness
- Add a large dollop of miso butter to the pan and melt, stirring to combine
- Deglaze with a ladleful of dashi (this will make a loud hissing noise and create a dramatic puff of steam. Relax, it’s supposed to do that, plus you’ll look like such a pro)
- Get every kernel coated and glossy with this delicious glaze you’ve just made
- Plate and serve with an egg on top and a sprinkling of very finely sliced scallions and a dash of freshly ground black pepper.