Remember that thing about how I get songs in my head really easily? It happened again. Only this time, it’s not a song, per se … it’s a “crimp” from The Mighty Boosh.
If you’ve never seen The Mighty Boosh, get on it IMMEDIATELY. It is hilarious. And keep your filthy mitts off Vince Noir, played by Noel Fielding, because he is MY pretend boyfriend. I mean, hel-LOOOOO!
Anyway, we’re not here to talk about my undying love for a fictional character. We’re here to talk about miso soup and the making thereof. This recipe might seem a little daunting if you’ve never made it, but it’s really very simple. The hardest part is probably finding the ingredients, which are:
- Kombu (or konbu) seaweed
- Bonito flakes
- Miso paste
- Wakame seaweed (optional)
- Tofu (optional)
- Green onions (optional)
You should be able to find these things in any Asian or Japanese market. You can also find them at large, well-stocked grocery stores, and usually at your hoitier-toitier establishments such as Whole Foods as well.
The first step in making miso soup is making dashi. Dashi is fish stock, and, along with soy sauce, it’s one of the cornerstone flavors of Japanese cuisine. Dashi is a background flavor in a stunningly wide variety of soups and sauces; while you might not be able to tell it’s there, the flavor would be off if it weren’t there, and you’d know something was missing even if you couldn’t pinpoint exactly what.
The dashi I make includes both kombu (seaweed) and bonito flakes (which are basically like fish sawdust). Vegetarians or vegans can leave out the bonito, and I’ve seen vegan dashi recipes that include dried mushrooms, which add a meaty “umami” flavor. This recipe makes about four cups of dashi, enough for two pretty hearty servings of soup.
First off, measure your water (four cups) into a pot and add a piece of kombu. A lot of recipes will tell you to wipe the whitish powder off the outside of the seaweed first, but I usually don’t bother.
(Pardon the filthy yellow pot back there!) Turn the heat up to medium-high. Your goal here is to bring the water juuuuust to a boil in about 10 minutes; this usually requires about medium-high heat, but you’ll have to do some experimenting to figure out the right heat level for your particular stovetop.
Once the water is almost to a boil (again, it will take a little practice to figure out when it’s almost boiling but not quite), remove the seaweed and add your bonito flakes. Bonito flakes are, as I mentioned earlier, like fish sawdust; fish is dried and shaved, and the resulting flakes are used in a variety of recipes (you might have encountered them atop sushi). They come in a bag like this.
I use half a cup of flakes, tightly packed, for this amount of water. Allow the water and the bonito to boil for about ten seconds, then turn off the heat. Let it sit for about two minutes.
Then strain the dashi through a sieve into a bowl.
Press on the bonito flakes with a fork to extract all the fishy goodness.
Voila, dashi! This will form the base of your soup. Easy, eh? You can let it sit around for a little while at this point, while your rice is cooking or whatever. You can also refrigerate it for a couple of days.
Incidentally, this variety of dashi is called ichiban dashi, which means “first fish stock.” You can also make niban dashi, or “second fish stock,” by repeating this process with your used kombu and bonito flakes. Ichiban dashi is clearer than niban dashi and is considered to have a more refined flavor.
The other thing I do at this stage of the proceedings is soak my wakame seaweed. You can get wakame either dried or salted; I prefer the salted kind, which is harder to find, but, in my opinion, has a chewier, more toothsome texture than the dried. I cut it up into little bits with kitchen shears because it expands a LOT while soaking, and if you don’t cut it up ahead of time you’ll end up with massive seaweed noodles that can be chewed by neither man nor beast.
Put your cut-up wakame in a cup or bowl and add fresh water to cover.
Once it’s all expanded (this will take 15-30 minutes or so), drain and rinse it. Voila!
(This seems like as good a place as any to mention that one of the hazards of asking Mister Principessa to document any cooking process is that I end up with a lot of photos like this
on my camera. And he wonders why I ranked Perrier higher than him on my list of things.
Perrier never attempts to take pictures of my boobs while I’m doing dishes.)
When you’re ready to make your soup, add the dashi back to the pot and bring it just to a simmer over about medium heat.
Clean out your sieve, too, because you’re going to need it. And get out your miso.
Now, the miso situation could be its own separate entry. In fact, although I’m too lazy to do the research, I’m going to go out on a limb here and speculate that entire BOOKS have been written about it. There are several kinds, so you’re going to want to do some experimenting until you find one you like. I usually go with either a light (or “white”) shiro miso, or awase miso, which is still fairly light but has a deeper, richer, saltier flavor than shiro. Awase is my favorite, but if you like a lighter flavor, shiro is the way to go. Miso is usually found in plastic tubs or in bags like this.
All right! Now that your dashi has come up to a simmer, turn off the heat and wait for it to stop bubbling. Miso is a living food, not unlike yogurt, and it’s full of all kinds of little probiotic fellas who will react poorly to cooking, which is to say they will die, thus depriving you of all their lovely health-enhancing properties.
Once the dashi has calmed down, put your sieve over the pot so some of the dashi comes up through it. You’re going to use the sieve and hot dashi to “melt” the miso and strain it at the same time. The purpose of the sieve is to catch all the little chunks of grain (barley and/or rice) that are in the miso; you don’t HAVE to strain it, but I personally am not a big fan of finding a bunch of grainy sludge at the bottom of my bowl when I’m done with my soup.
Add enough miso to suit your taste. I use about two big tablespoons for this amount of dashi. You might want to use more or less, depending on how salty you like things and the kind of miso you’re using.
Mix the miso with the dashi in the strainer, and sort of mush it around until it’s melted into the stock.
Then stir in your wakame, cubed tofu (allow this to heat through before eating), and/or green onions, if using. I like all three, but this time we did a very simple soup with just wakame. (Plus, it’s hard to get the tofu past the Mister; he likes it, but it tends to retain heat and become, as he puts it, “heat bricks.”)
And there you have it! Soup! Soup! A tasty soup! Soup!
As usual, I failed to take a picture of this in bowls. So, since that last picture isn’t all that appetizing, I’ll leave you with this one of me in our tiny kitchen. Note Alice in Wonderland Christmas ornament to the left. Yeah, we classy.