Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Making Miso Paste

Miso Paste
I've been lucky to make cooking friends here in Japan. Today, we made miso paste, as we did last year, and so I thought to ask, "Why do you make miso paste in February?" "So you can eat it in winter," was the reply. You mix together the miso paste in a few hours, but it has to sit in a cool, dark place for months before it is ready to eat. In Japan, my friends eat miso soup almost daily so a miso stash is steadily used up in winter. My family eats miso soup maybe once a week, but still, once I leave Japan, good miso is hard to come by. Making the miso paste with a group also means that there are many hands to make light work plus we had pot luck and fun conversation.

Miso is made from dried soy beans daizu, koji (for the bacteria), natural salt, and water. The ingredients and storage buckets were purchased as a kit on the internet so that we could use organic soy beans and a good quality koji. The website is only in Japanese, but if you have a friend to help, you can purchase the necessary items from them as they will ship internationally. 

Koji is a steamed rice with aspergillus oryzae spores in it. This essential bacteria, fungus, or mold, if you will, is what delivers the distinctive taste to sake, soy sauce, and miso. Think of it like a yeast for beer or a mold for cheese.

The work of miso paste is mainly in the soaking, boiling, and crushing of the beans. Today we used a food grinder which made the crushing phase go fast. You can also use a food processor or do it by hand. Save some of the bean water from the boiling process to mix into the crushed beans. However, use only the minimum necessary moisture to mix together the paste. Too much moisture makes the paste prone to further bacteria. This paste will sit for up to two years so growing mold is part of the process, but to control this process you need to minimize the moisture and maximize the cleanliness.

The miso paste storage container must be aseptically clean. We made twenty kilograms of miso paste and so used large plastic buckets which were new and cleaned out with alcohol. Once you mix up the paste and press out all of the air, use a spatula to scrap down the sides and flatten out the top of the miso paste.  Sprinkle salt over the top as this salt layer acts as a bacteria barrier. The paste is stored in a cool, dark place with a weight on the top until June, four months time.  At that time, open the lid, remove all of the spots and mold along the sides and top,  and then mix the miso paste together once more being sure to bring the bottom to the top.  Wait another two months and repeat this step in August, the sixth month after making the paste. Await a cold day or use it in a marinade for a bar-b-que, the miso paste is ready. Miso paste can be stored for up to two years. The taste mellows with time. Do take care to monitor how you store and keep the miso.

My friends have promised to mail my miso portion to me once I return to the States.

Idatakimasu I humbly receive,

Miso Soybean Paste
Daizu Dried Soybeans, 850 g
Koji Fermented Rice, 850 g
Natural Salt, 400 g + sprinkles
Boiled Soybean soup (save from boiling Daizu above)
Taru or some kind of plastic Container for miso with a lid
Plastic bag to line taru & one to cover container
Heavy weight or stone 
Distilled spirits (at leaset 35% alcohol) sush as Umeshu or vodka, 1-2 Tbsp

1. Wash beans. Soak overnight in water. Beans should double in size.

2. Prep Container: Wipe inside of taru miso paste storage container out with distilled spirits. Set aside. Rinse plastic liner with 1-2 Tbsp of distilled spirits and drain. Line container with the bag.

3. Prepare beans: Drain beans and rinse. Fill pot with fresh water and beans. Water should be twice as much as the beans. Boil beans gently about 1 hour until the beans are soft enough to the bite or can mash with your fingers. Skim foam off of the beans while cooking. For quicker results cook beans with a pressure cooker. When soft, drain the beans but reserve about 200 cc of the boiled soybean soup for making miso.

4. Mash beans while still warm with a food mill, food processor, or by hand with a masher. May need to adjust moisture by adding a bit of the reserved soup water- mixture should stay together like a paste.

5. Form paste: Mix together salt and koji in a large bowl. Add mashed beans to this mixture. Form mixture into rounded hamburger balls- throw each ball into your hands to remove all of the air to insure no space for bacteria or mold. Place each ball into the lined taru

6. Store Paste: When finished making all of the balls, fold the plastic bag over the top and press mixture firmly & evenly  to remove all of the air. Sprinkle top of paste with salt and close bag. Place lid on taru and place in a plastic bag- this partly depends on amount and storage items you are using. Place heavy weight or stones on the top and store in a cool, dark place.

7. Check top of miso monthly for blue or black spots- remove BLUE or BLACK spots, white ones are ok so leave them. On the 4th month, mix the mixture so that the top goes to the bottom one time. Continue to check for spots monthly. Taste will be mild, but you may eat it after 6 months. Miso will be good for about 2 years.
Natural Salt and 2 kinds of Koji- white and muji or barley for making miso
Daizu or dried soy beans that soaked overnight and are weighed and separated in bags for making miso paste
Washed, soaked, and ready to cook organic soy beans daizu
Skim off the foam as it appears. Cook beans until soft.
We used a food grinder to mash the beans- we made 20 kg very quickly!
Storage bucket with the mixture of mashed beans, koji, and salt.
Add a bit of the bean water to get the paste to JUST stick together and form into balls
Forming balls of miso paste mixture
Place the balls into the storage container and press down to remove as much air as possible
Use a spatula to scrap down the sides and get the paste away from the edges so that the salt can act as a barrier to the wrong kind of bacteria.
Sprinkle salt on the top
Cover with plastic wrap
Cover with inner lid
Place weight on for storage
Store miso paste covered in a cool, dark place

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