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All About Miso

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Inspired by conversations on the Food52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun.

Today: Tips and tricks on how to differentiate, use, and store miso.

Not too long ago, you couldn't find miso at your local grocery store. Now it's practically everywhere, hanging out in the tofu section and snuggling up in your cheese drawer. You might be a miso expert -- or you might know nothing about it other than the fact that it's dense, brownish, and not really edible with a carrot stick or cracker.  Either way, here's where you can start:  

Miso Basics

Miso paste is essentially a mixture of cooked soybeans, a fermenting agent, some salt, and water. Think of miso as similar to beer; ranging from ivory to a deep chesnut, the taste can vary from mild to full-bodied and rich. There are many kinds of miso out there. A general rule of thumb: richness intensifies as the color gets darker. 

White miso, one of the more familiar types of miso, has rice as its main ingredient and a small percentage of soybeans. Its fermentation time is also the shortest, making it a mild and slightly-sweet miso -- perfect for tasty dressings and light marinades

Yellow miso is the middle ground miso -- not too strong and not too mild, this type is fermented with mostly barley and a small amount of rice, and does well with almost everything, including soups, marinades and glazes. 

Red miso has been fermented the longest, and can range from a red to a deep brown color. The flavor is concentrated and intense -- a little goes a long way. Use this miso with heartier dishes and meaty, sturdy vegetables like eggplant and asparagus

How to Use It

Miso can be whisked into dressing, made into soupdrizzled on kale, blended into butter, and even incorporated into caramel sauce -- the options are endless. 

How to Cook with Miso

Very rarely will you use miso alone because of its high salt content and potent flavor. Think of it as a piece rather than a whole, and keep in mind -- miso doesn't blend seamlessly into oil, so a blender is your best friend if you prefer an extra smooth consistency. 

Avoid boiling miso directly, which is said to "spoil" it, killing some of the aroma and flavor (this goes with melting it, too). If you are adding miso to a simmering liquid, gradually add the paste a little at a time and continue stirring, keeping the heat at a low temperature.  

How to Store it

Like cheese, miso does best when stored properly. After opening, the surface should be covered with plastic wrap, or the seal from the package should be touching the surface.  

For dinner tonight: Start with a no-frills miso dressing.  

Do you have any tips or tricks for using miso? What's your favorite kind? Let us know in the comments!

Tags: kitchen confidence, miso, how to, tips on miso, asian dressing

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