Secrets of Miso Soup

A mediocre miso soup is quite easy. A spectacular miso soup... well that's another story. In the Japanese fashion, doing it well takes attention to detail at each step.

Key points I've learned about making  Spectacular Miso Soup:

  • right kind: white and reds are generally used. Stay away from dark purpl-y miso (like Hatcho)-- save that for nasu no dengaku or broiled salmon.  I like a mixture of white/yellow and red miso.
  • good quality: I've often been disappointed by the "organic" stuff they carry at whole foods or new seasons. Get the real japanese stuff, made in Japanese way. The natural foods store miso is too weak to make excellent miso soup (but works for other stuff).
  • right amount (i.e. enough): don't skimp on the miso! Start with 1/4 C miso when making soup for 2 people (i.e. 2 TB per small bowl/single serving), check and adjust
  • Strained/blended: use a strainer, or blend the miso into dashi so no clumps remain. Blending is a trick to get super silky miso soup.
  • Once you add the miso the soup, do not let it boil again. That means you may need to parboil your toppings so they are cooked through when you add to the miso soup. 
  • You must make "real" dashi for miso soup (also called #1 dashi, or ichiban dashi). Not shortcut, cold brew or second-dashi (which I will admit is excellent for other purposes). 
  • Remember: remove the kombu just before boil (don't let the kombu boil!). Here's my method for good dashi: 
    • Bring pot of filtered water and a strip of konbu (kelp) (this is often called dashi konbu) up to warm. 
    • Right before it boils, remove (and discard) the konbu
    • Now add a generous handful of fish flakes (katsuobushi). 
    • Simmer gently for 3 minutes and then remove and discard fish flakes, strain
  • not too many. For example, wakame grows tremendously in water. Just use half to one teaspoon of dried wakame in a soup for a couple people.
  • It's easier to get the proportion of liquid to toppings right if you use small bowls.  Making miso for two is ironically easier to assemble in two individual serving bowls than trying to do both servings on the stove and then parsing it out. 
  • Don't be afraid to parboil the toppings/chunks before adding to the stock. This is how many kaiseki chefs do it. (see notes about not boiling miso) 

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