Borrowing from Japan, China and Toronto: Maple-Miso Grilled Chicken

by Terry B on May 20, 2009

Maple-Miso Grilled Chicken raids Asian and North American pantries to produce subtle, satisfying depth while claiming no one nationality. Recipe—and some ingredient substitutions—below.


I occasionally talk about the varied places inspiration comes from when I’m cooking. The inspiration for this subtly flavored grilled chicken came from these very pages, sort of. In last week’s Five fresh reasons to check out my blogrolls post, I included Maple and Miso Scallops from Kevin’s Toronto-based Closet Cooking. When Marion saw that recipe, you could almost hear the wheels turning. Soon she was saying, “I bet those flavors would be good with grilled chicken or maybe some pork.” Soon after that, she was emailing me some recipes she’d found. And a dish and a post were born.

We’re great borrowers in the kitchen, appropriating seasonings, spices, sauces and techniques from various cuisines around the globe, mixing them up and using them in unconventional ways. The marinade for this grilled chicken is a perfect example. It uses miso paste, soy sauce, rice vinegar and mirin from Japan. Sesame oil and hot chili oil from China. And maple syrup from America’s Northeast.

Despite the heavy borrowing from Asian pantries, there’s nothing even vaguely pan-Asian about this chicken. Just a subtle, mysterious depth of flavor that makes for a welcome change of pace from straight grilled or barbecued chicken. And there’s no need to get all matchy and go for Chinese or Japanese sides. This chicken will play nicely with just about anything you throw at it.

Maple-Miso Grilled Chicken
Serves 4 with possible leftovers

For marinade
1/4-cup each, maple syrup, soy sauce, white or red miso paste [see Kitchen Notes]
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons mirin or sake [or dry vermouth—see Kitchen Notes]
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 teaspoons hot chili oil [or 1 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper]

10 to 12 pieces chicken [I used drumsticks and thighs]

Combine marinade ingredients in a large bowl, whisking thoroughly to dissolve and incorporate miso paste. Trim excess fat from chicken pieces and place them in heavy, sealable plastic bags [I divided the chicken between 2 1-gallon bags]. Pour marinade over chicken and seal bags, turning them to coat chicken thoroughly. Refrigerate for 1 to 4 hours, turning bags occasionally to make sure all chicken pieces remain coated.

Start coals if you’re using charcoal. For this dish, I use the indirect grilling method to keep the marinade from burning as it would if the chicken were placed directly over the coals. This also made for some very juicy chicken, a bonus when grilling. With a gas grill, set it up however it’s recommended for indirect grilling—I’ve never used one, so I won’t pretend to know what to do here.

When the coals are hot, arrange them on both sides of the kettle, leaving an open space down the center section. If you want to get all uptown, place a disposable aluminum pan in the middle to catch the grease drippings from the chicken. I didn’t. Put the cooking grill in place and lightly oil it—I used grilling tongs to rub a wadded paper towel dipped in oil quickly over the grill surface. Arrange the chicken skin side up over the center so they are not directly over the coals. Put the lid on, with all the vents above and below completely open for maximum airflow and heat.

Now here’s the hard part: Leave it alone. Go have a drink, mingle with your guests, make a salad or whatever. Do not open the grill. You know how when you’re baking or roasting something and you nervously check it every 3.2 minutes and it takes for freaking ever to get done because you’re constantly reducing the oven’s temperature by opening the door? With indirect grilling, it’s like that times a thousand. Pretty much all the built up heat escapes, every time you take a peek.

After 20 minutes, go back out to the grill with your instant read thermometer. Open the grill, take a moment to admire the beautiful burnished skin on the chicken, then stick the thermometer in the center of the biggest thigh without touching bone. It should register at least 165ºF to be done [if you don’t have a thermometer, pierce the biggest thigh with a cake tester or sharp knife point—if the juices run clear, it’s done]. If not, cover the grill and let it cook another 5 minutes or so and check again. But it probably will be done after 20 minutes, unless you didn’t have enough coals or they weren’t completely hot when you started.

Transfer chicken to serving platter, let it rest for a few minutes as you pull everything else together and serve.

Kitchen Notes

Miso. Miso—or miso paste—is a concentrated, savory bean paste made from soybeans. Infinitely versatile, it is a mainstay of Japanese cuisine. It is used in sauces, marinades, salad dressings and—as most of us might recognize it—in miso soup. White miso has a lighter flavor; red miso is earthier, more intense. I used white in this recipe, but either would be fine. This is a key ingredient in this dish, so I unfortunately can’t offer a substitute here. But you should be able to find miso in Asian markets or many larger supermarkets.

Mirin. This is a Japanese cooking wine. Sake will also work, as will dry vermouth.


{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Laura May 20, 2009 at 2:48 pm

Looks absolutely delicious, and as I’ve just made a run to my favorite Japanese grocery store, I’ve got all of the ingredients on hand…sounds like a Friday night dinner calling my name! This is also vaguely reminiscent of Nobo’s miso glazed sea bass…I bet your marinade would be great with fish as well.

Lydia May 20, 2009 at 11:56 pm

When I first saw this recipe, I thought of salmon — but now I’m thinking of chicken. I don’t often have miso on hand, but whenever I make a run to the Asian markets in Boston I buy some. Maple syrup, on the other hand, is something my Canadian husband always keeps in the pantry.

baobabs May 21, 2009 at 4:41 am

Thanks for sharing this. I usually bake chicken drumlets marinated in oyster sauce (Lee Kum Kee brand), ground pepper and honey. Will try this delicious variation!!

From experiments, it’s a nice twist if you use the tongue numbing spicy Sichuan pepper for an additional subtle layer of taste.

Blue Jean Gourmet May 21, 2009 at 2:19 pm

oh yes–I love every flavor you have incorporated here! I’ve been using maple syrup in marinades a lot lately–I love it on salmon with Dijon mustard & scallions.

also, I know you said it’s not necessary to get all matchy-matchy with sides, but I threw together a salad the other day that sounds like it would be perfect with this–grated carrots & halved snap-peas with cilantro, garlic vinaigrette, ginger, sesame oil, & sesame seeds.

I think that’s going to be tomorrow night’s dinner! I’ve been craving the flavor of miso soup but it’s just too hot down here in Texas! Thanks Terry.

Terry B May 21, 2009 at 5:41 pm

Laura and Lydia—Interesting that you both thought of fish with this marinade. I’m guessing it would be delicious. One of the original recipes I consulted suggested painting a whole duck with successive coats of the marinade, letting them dry in between, and then roasting it. I could see this done with salmon fillets.

baobabs—Yep, oyster sauce is another ingredient we always keep on hand—that very brand, in fact. There are so many ways to use it—yours sounds delicious!

Blue Jean Gourmet—Your salad sounds like a perfect match!

zoe May 22, 2009 at 1:36 pm

Looks beautiful and golden. I use a soy based marinade as well, but with pear preserves or some other sweet fruit preserves. Yum!

altadenahiker May 22, 2009 at 8:31 pm

Sometimes I forget I’m reading a famous cooking blog — the writing and stories and pictures are so lovely; I’m engulfed in warmth and security (and, perhaps, implied wealth).

But are you kidding? You’d go through all this — the special ingredients, the preparation, the timing, the precision, the indirect heat (whatever that is) — for a piece of chicken?

I say dump that puppy in cornflakes, give it a deep fry, and go back to those drinks.

(This wasn’t meant for Marion. I’m her fan. She just hangs out with the wrong people.)

Terry B May 23, 2009 at 2:13 am

zoe—Wow, that sounds delicious! Mixing sweet and savory is a favorite technique at our house. I have to say, though, the maple is quite subtle. Interestingly, when I took the chicken from the grill and was carrying it inside, I got a quick flash of bacon because of the combination of maple and smoke. It didn’t taste like that ultimately, but what a strange sensation.

altadenahiker—You know how I read this, don’t you? “Blah, blah, blah famous, blah, blah, blah lovely, blah, blah, blah wealth.” Awwww, thanks, kiddo!

Kim, Ordinary Recipes Made Gourmet May 24, 2009 at 12:49 am

Terry, I could just taste the juiciness of that chicken! AHHHH! I’m like you too in that I borrow ideas from many recipes but I alter them around to make it my own! Now, pass me a LARGE piece please before I die over here!!!

gourmet May 24, 2009 at 12:23 pm

Wow this is a very great Recipe. I will test it the next days, also love the chicken sweet. :)
Greets from Cologne…

Kevin May 26, 2009 at 1:26 am

I really like the sound of the chicken version!

Terry B May 26, 2009 at 3:25 am

Hi, Kim—I find that no matter how recently I’ve eaten, reading food blogs always makes me hungry!

Thanks for stopping by, gourmet!

Thanks, Kevin. And thanks for the scallops recipe that got me started!

Nishta May 27, 2009 at 3:46 am

Terry–we tried this Friday and it was GOOD. you’re right, flavors are really subtle but produced an incredibly juicy, flavorful chicken. nice work, and thank you for sharing!

Leave a Comment

{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post: