Hey Chef, What Can I Do With Miso Paste?

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[Photograph: Shutterstock]

For most of us, miso automatically means Japanese, but chefs everywhere know just how versatile this sweet-salty-savory-nutty paste can be. Here, our panel shares their favorite uses specifically for sweet, delicate white miso, finding uses for it in every corner of the kitchen.

Make Crave-Worthy Vegetables

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[Photograph: Courtesy of Saxon and Parole]

Brad Farmerie is the executive chef behind beloved New York spots such as Michelin-starred PUBLIC, neighborhood gem Saxon + Parole, and cocktail dens The Daily and Madam Geneva, as well as The Thomas and Fagiani's Bar in Napa Valley, CA, Saxon + Parole in Moscow, and the GENUINE restaurants.

I'm pretty fanatical about miso—my style of cooking uses very little cream or butter, so adding miso to something gives it that body or texture that you might be missing without it, while upping the salt content a little bit.

We really love using miso in vegetable dishes at Saxon and Parole, and are sort of famous for our chili caramel Brussels sprouts. We burn sugar until it's a dark caramel, then throw in chilies, cilantro stems, and lime juice so we have sweet, bitter, and sour elements. Then we throw in some fish sauce for salt and miso for richness. When you roast Brussels sprouts they can be bitter, so the salty miso helps.

We also have a dish of mashed sweet potatoes where make a browned butter, throw in some rosemary until the butter foams, throw in some miso, and then pour that over boiled sweet potatoes. You get a woodsy flavor and sweet saltiness that's so good we can't take it off the menu. You don't need a recipe; just taste and adjust as you go.

Simple Glazes for Fish

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[Photograph: Courtesy of Duet Brasserie]

Dmitry Rodov inherited his love for the culinary arts from his father before attending the Ukrainian Culinary College, then moving to New York and continuing at the French Culinary Institute. As the Executive Chef of Duet Brasserie, Rodov focuses on "home cooking, beautifully presented."

I use miso most often as a glaze for fish. I cook the miso paste with mirin (sweet rice wine) and rice vinegar for a few hours, reducing the mixture down until it's sweet and almost syrupy. Then I braise sea bass in a thin paper pouch made of cedar soaked in water so it doesn't burn out in the oven. Right before the end, I brush the fish with the miso glaze. So when you get the dish, you have the aroma of cedar paper and the miso glaze, and the sea bass is just delicious.

Ice Cream It

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[Photograph: Antoinette Bruno]

Pastry chef Katie Meddis started her culinary career as a teenager, finding work in the kitchens of Aurora, Magnolia and Blossom, and Chez Panisse before opening Rose's Meat Market and Sweet Shop in Durham, NC with her butcher-chef-husband Justin. There she makes innovative but comforting pastries and confections for Durham's bubbling food community.

Miso is one of my favorite things to use in pastry, and my favorite ice cream is a white miso ice cream. I make a plain ice cream base and don't add anything to it—it's sugar, cream, and half and half. When it's finished I whisk in some white miso and a splash of kirsch, since the cherry helps bring out the miso flavor. Then I make gingersnaps and swirl them into the churned ice cream, for a sweet and salty dessert. I love the umami flavor miso brings to it.

...Or a Salty Dairy Base for Other Desserts

[Photograph: Courtesy of Bara]

Formerly of Momofuku Noodle Bar and French Louie, Ian Alvarez recently opened Bara in New York City's East Village, where he blends the culinary and atmospheric influences of a French wine bar with a Japanese izakaya.

Using miso in sweet applications is nothing new, but it's completely delicious, especially now since people are leaning towards less-sweet sweets, and salt in sweets is big. White miso is inherently sweet in some ways, plus a funky, fermented, salty kick, and it's hard to fold too much of it into something—add a tablespoon or so and it won't affect the baking process.

If you make a dairy base flavored with miso, you can use it anywhere you want a sweet-funky taste to wake up the sugar. And since it's smooth and thin, you can fold it into batter, whip it into buttercream, or mix it into milk and then make panna cotta. You can't put your finger on what the difference is with the panna cottta, but the flavor's interesting.

Sweet and Salty Butterscotch

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[Photograph: Tivolie and Lee]

Born in Bayou Goula, Louisiana, chef Marcus Woodham is no stranger to Southern cuisine. At Tivoli & Lee, his cooking centers on approachable, modern preparations of classic Southern dishes, with an emphasis on local ingredients.

We do a burnt miso butterscotch, which is pretty fun. You take your miso, lay it out on parchment or Silpat, spread it pretty thin, then pop it in the oven and pretty much burn it. It's hard to burn the shit outta it, so don't worry. From there let it cool, and then when you go make your butterscotch, fold the miso in at the very end. We use it as a garnish on fresh seafood salad—it's sweet and salty, and it works well with really acidic flavors and seafood like crab, ahi tuna, and pickled shrimp. The lemons' and limes' acidity balances out the salt.

And Basically In Everything...

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[Photograph: Billy Delfs]

Proud Clevelander Jonathon Sawyer has improved the city's dining culture with restaurants like Trentina, The Greenhouse Tavern, and Noodlecat and stadium restaurants Sawyer's Street Frites, Sausage & Peppers, and SeeSaw Pretzel Shoppe. A Food & Wine "Best New Chef" recipient and 2015 James Beard Award winner for Best Chef of the Great Lakes, Sawyer has appeared on Bizarre Foods America with Andrew Zimmern, Iron Chef America, Dinner Impossible, Unique Eats, The Best Thing I Ever Ate, and most recently The Chew.

I love miso and use it in everything. I have four different kinds of miso in my fridge. I mix equal parts miso and mayonnaise, and it's the perfect topping for any sandwich you can imagine—salty and rich with umami—and it goes really well with vegetables, too. To make a white miso vinaigrette, water down miso paste so that it's more like a mustard consistency, and then add orange juice and sugar.

Barbecue sauce tastes better with miso in it, so take any sauce recipe you have and blend miso in. Every once in a while we'll sneak some miso into peanut butter for a snack with pretzels. And super-Japanese happy hour crudité is the rage now. So if you have a hoppy, hoppy beer, make a crudité with raw miso—there's something about juicy, fresh vegetables and miso that taste so good together.

And my favorite restorative recipe at home is a matzo miso soup with tons of garlic (since I'm German-Hungarian and it's our penicillin), matzo balls, and miso. It'll bring anybody back to life.