Japanese miso paste adds a satisfying umami note to chunky pieces of pork and carrots braised with garlic, fresh ginger and onion. Recipe below.
What’s the traditional sixth anniversary gift? If it’s a food blog anniversary, I’m going with pork. Yes, Blue Kitchen is six years old this month. A lot has changed for me foodwise in that time. For one thing, I feel like I know more about food than when I started—including how ungodly much I don’t know and will never know. But some things have remained the same, like my willingness to borrow ingredients from the global pantry and use them authentically or otherwise. This week, that ingredient is miso paste.
You’ll pretty much always find miso paste in our fridge. It’s a concentrated Japanese seasoning that you’ve most likely encountered in miso soup. Indeed, it sees plenty of action as that in our kitchen, especially if anyone’s under the weather. Marion will make a simple miso broth while cooking some broken noodles separately. She’ll then combine noodles and broth in a bowl and top it all with chopped scallions. It is wonderfully comforting.
But miso paste can do so much more than soup. In Japan, it’s a culinary staple used in sauces, marinades, salad dressings and much more. White miso has a lighter flavor; red miso is earthier, more intense. In March, Mark Bittman wrote about miso and inventive ways to use it. I am totally ready to try the miso mayonnaise. You’ll find his article here.
Most often made from fermented soybeans, miso paste adds a pleasantly savory taste to just about anything—that elusive umami quality that quite literally makes your mouth water. It is what makes meats, mushrooms and cheeses taste so satisfying. Although umami is distinct from saltiness, miso paste packs plenty of salt too. So use a light hand with it and don’t add salt until the very end, if at all. (I used a little soy sauce in this recipe for its own brand of umami and skipped the salt.)
When Marion and I first started discussing what would ultimately become this miso braised pork recipe, my first instinct was to go at least semi-authentically Japanese with it. I considered adding dashi flakes and chopped up daikon radish, then serving it over rice or soba noodles. But as we talked (and as we sampled from the cooking pot), it became less about authentic Japanese and more about chunky, soupy, stewy comfort food for a cold November night. In the end, Marion’s idea for serving it over egg noodles seemed perfect.
Pork shoulder roast (or pork butt roast, also cut from the shoulder) is well suited to slow cooking, taking on the flavors of the braising liquid and becoming reliably tender. Look for a piece that is well marbled with fat and don’t be overzealous in trimming away any of that fat. It equals flavor.
Miso Braised Pork Shoulder
Serves 4 generously (with possible leftovers)
2-1/2 to 3 pounds pork shoulder, cut into large chunks
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 medium onion, chopped
4 carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
3 large cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1 cup rice wine (mirin) or dry white wine—see Kitchen Notes
1 cup water, plus more if needed
3 tablespoons miso paste, preferably red
2 tablespoons soy sauce
noodles or rice
sliced scallions, for garnish (see Kitchen Notes)
Special equipment: piece of parchment paper trimmed to
just fit inside Dutch oven
Preheat oven to 325ºF with rack positioned in lower third of oven. Season pork shoulder chunks generously with black pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons canola oil over medium-high flame in a large nonstick skillet. Working in batches, brown pork on all sides, adding more oil to the pan if needed. As pork is browned, transfer to a large bowl.
Meanwhile, heat 2 more tablespoons of oil over medium flame in a Dutch oven. Add onion and carrots and sweat vegetables about 5 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent burning of onions (reduce heat if necessary). Add garlic and ginger to pot and cook until fragrant, about 45 seconds, stirring constantly. Add half the wine and half the water to the pot along with the miso paste and soy sauce and stir to combine, breaking up the miso paste with the back of a wooden spoon.
When all the pork has been browned, reduce heat to medium and deglaze pan with remaining wine and water. Pour liquid into Dutch oven and add pork and any accumulated juices. Stir to combine. Liquid should nearly cover pork. If not, add a little water. Increase heat and bring to a boil. Remove from heat. Carefully press parchment paper down onto meat mixture in Dutch oven.
Cover pot with lid and transfer to oven. Braise for 1 hour. Remove from oven, check to see if you need to add a little more water (be judicious here). Give it a good stir, return to oven and braise until meat is completely fork tender, about another 1/2 hour.
Meanwhile cook rice or noodles, depending on your choice. Time it to finish when pork is done.
If the remaining liquid is fairly watery, transfer pork and carrots to a large bowl with a slotted spoon and tent with foil. Bring sauce in Dutch oven to a boil over medium-high heat and cook until slightly thickened and reduced, about 5 minutes. Don’t overdo this, though—concentrating it too much will make it overly salty. If the broth/sauce is to your liking, proceed to the next step, using a slotted spoon to plate the meat and carrots and ladling the sauce separately.
Spoon noodles or rice into individual shallow bowls. Top with meat and carrots and ladle sauce over it. Garnish with scallions and serve.
Mirin. It is a rice wine similar to sake, but lower in alcohol content. You can find it in Asian markets and many supermarkets. You can also add white wine instead; either will add a little brightness to the dish.
Curly scallions? Yep. A little trick picked up on the Internet. Slice green tops of 1 or 2 scallions into 2-inch pieces. Slice them very thinly lengthwise and put them in an ice water bath for at least 20 minutes. This will cause them to curl and look pretty cool as a garnish. If that seems like a lot of work, just slice scallions thinly crosswise and use as a garnish.