Miso soup, can it help bring world peace? Lift a bowl to your mouth, inhale briefly, take a sip of the deeply flavoured liquid and suddenly you feel calm and at ease.
This flavoursome broth of hearty, fruity, almost beefy intensity is the breakfast of choice all over Japan. Whether you are eating grilled eel or a piece of blistering eggplant tempura, you can almost guarantee you will be offered a tiny bowl of miso soup. Made from crushed soy beans and rice or wheat, left to ferment and mature, miso’s variations in colour, from creamy white to deepest mahogany, generally signify how salty it is. The white (shiro) miso, the least salty, is a good place for a miso newcomer to start.
The miso pork belly is incredibly addictive. Once you have cooked it, try replacing the pork with chicken breast or tofu, and use chicken or vegetable stock instead of the braising liquid. I like to add seaweed to my miso soup, wakame is my favourite, and with some noodles and chopped chicken or tofu, you have a fantastic light dinner.
Miso-braised pork belly
1.5kg pork belly
1 tbsp sea salt
1½ tsp coriander seeds, toasted and ground
1½ tsp black peppercorns, toasted and ground
2 bay leaves
1 large onion, sliced
5 cloves garlic, smashed with flat side of a knife
240 ml freshly squeezed orange juice
1 tbsp minced eschallot
1 tsp minced garlic
120ml pork braising liquid
60ml caramel sauce
2 tbsp shiro miso
30ml red wine vinegar
15ml soy sauce
15ml fish sauce
Preheat the oven to 150°C. Season the pork with salt and crushed spices and place it rind side up in a baking dish. Scatter the bay leaves, onion and garlic over the pork. Add the orange juice and cover the dish tightly with aluminium foil. I also cover the pork belly with baking paper before covering the baking dish. Place it in the oven for 4 hours or until the pork is very tender. When ready, allow it to cool in its juices, then cover and refrigerate it at least overnight.
Remove the pork from the dish, scrape off the seasonings, strain solids from braising liquid and set aside. Cut pork into 12 equal cubes. Put the sugar in a small, heavy bottomed saucepan over medium high heat. Do not stir. When the sugar is dark amber, add 60 grams of butter and water. Stir until the bubbles subside and simmer for a minute. Remove from the heat. In a small saute pan, melt the remaining butter over medium-high heat, add the eschallot and garlic and cook until translucent. Add the pork braising liquid, caramel sauce, miso, red wine vinegar, soy and fish sauce. Bring to a simmer, cook for 30 seconds or so and remove from the heat. Coat the bottom of a non-stick frypan with olive oil, place it over a medium-high heat and sear the pork belly pieces on all sides until golden. Add the miso glaze to the pork and coat well over medium heat, constantly turning. Reduce the sauce for one minute and serve immediately.
Miso and wakame soup
1 litre stock (vegetable, chicken or dashi)
25g dried wakame seaweed
5 tbsp shiro miso
2 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp soy sauce
75g bok choy, very finely shredded
100g udon noodles, boiled and drained
1 lime, juiced
handful of coriander
Bring the stock to the boil in a deep saucepan. Turn down the heat and add the seaweed then stir in the miso paste, the sesame oil and soy sauce. Taste, adding more miso for a deeper flavour if you wish. Place the bok choy into serving bowls, add the cooked noodles, then pour over the miso stock. Finish the soup with lime juice and coriander leaves.
Tip: It is always best to add the miso to the hot stock after you have brought it to the boil, because boiling miso kills a lot of its flavour.