Month: January 2015
On my third day in Japan I was lucky enough to be invited to make miso. Never really thinking about what miso was actually made of I thought this would be a good way to learn, so got on the first night bus, and 11 hours later arrived in Fukui, a prefecture west of Kanto, and apparently famous for its crab (according to Wikipedia). After short introductions we met our instructors for the day and got stuck in. Miso is made from boiled soya beans that are crushed, mixed with salt and koji which this time was made from rice. This may sound simple, and quick, but surprisingly it was very labour intensive with a number of different steps. To add to the complication half of the day was spent preparing a different group’s miso. Since the preparation takes upto 5 days, other groups are involved in preparing your miso and you involved in preparing theirs to prevent having to come to the plant on multiple occasions (which would most likely be impossible for most of the working population). There was something a little strange to think that a group we didn’t know had spent half a day massaging our rice for us, but there was also something nice about wondering who would be eating the miso that we were lovingly preparing.
There were a number of steps, some of which I may have forgotten (apologies)
– Drying the rice once it was been par cooked in a huge industrial pressure cooker
– Shovelling the rice (we were making 700 kg of rice so there was a lot of shovelling) into a machine that makes tiny slits in the grain, speeding up the fermentation process.
– Spreading the rice in a heated room and spreading the koji over it, and then creating a mountain with the rice and covering with a blanket
– Revisitng the rice after about 3 hours and re-feeding it into the machine, again to speed up the fermentation process
– Letting it sit to dry out in a room that was over 30 degrees (there was a lot of sweating)
– Shovelling the boiled beans into buckets
This rice is then mixed with cooked soya bean, salt and water in a massive food processor, and the crushed material stored in fermentation bins.
The ingredients we used were all organic – organic rice from Fukui-ken, soya beans from Kokkaido. The salt was from Greece.
I think what was most striking about making miso is how physical it is – it is like spending a whole day gardening. It took 8 of us 7 hours to make 700 kg of miso, apparently quite impressive (they were expecting it to take 9 hours)… While the miso can be eaten in six month, the flavour will peak in three years time!
Looking at the history of miso it was interesting to find out that it was Buddhist monks that originally brought miso over to Japan, together with soy sauce, from China. There are three types of miso currently used across Japan – one type made only from soya beans, one type from wheat and one from rice. Speaking to a shojin ryori (Buddhist cuisine) chef it is the skilled use of miso that makes a good dish into a great dish – the proportion of each type is crucial, and it is with miso that umami can be teased out for vegetables to make the dish feel complete.