The second time I met Nancy Singleton Hachisu, author of Japanese Farm Food, she tried to convince me to make my own miso. More accurately, she tried to convince me (and a fellow food editor at Food & Wine) to produce a story about making miso. “It’s so easy!” she said. She described the process, saying how you mash soy beans with cultured grain, salt and a starter in February or March so it has at least a month to rest at cold temperatures before fermenting throughout the summer. The process sounded cool, but I knew that a recipe with a six-month-long lead time would never fly. A story about Nancy on her farm, however, would, so that’s what we did.
Last year, Nancy’s second book, the newly James Beard Award nominated (!) Preserving the Japanese Way, was published. I expected a slim follow-up to the farm food book. Nope, this one is just as big. The more time I spend with the book, the more I love it and see how important it is.
You see, for the past few years, chefs and food cognoscenti have been obsessing about fermentation and waxing on about umami this and that. This book showcases how to make many of these fermented, umami-rich ingredients, including soy sauce and miso as well as lesser known koji (which I wrote about here) and Japanese-style fish sauce. The book also covers other types of traditional preserving, including salt-pickling, vinegar making and air-drying.
If you glance at the book, I would excuse you for thinking that it’s a little out there. (Not many cookbook authors would dare to include a recipe for half-dried barracuda, for example.) But even if you never plan to brew your own soy sauce or ferment your own miso, Preserving the Japanese Way is still useful because Nancy shows you intriguing ways to use these Japanese ingredients, which are widely available at supermarkets. Much like Japanese Farm Food, many of the recipes call for only four to six ingredients. For example, a carrot salad with miso vinaigrette is nothing more than julienned carrots, sliced scallions, miso, brown rice vinegar and oil. For another salad, cucumber are marinated with dried chiles, ginger and soy sauce.
After my recent move from Brooklyn to Bucks County, I decided that a fun way to start my new life outside the city would be to make miso. The hardest part of the recipe, really, is tracking down the ingredients and the fermentation vessel. I cheated, a bit, and purchased a kit of sorts from The Brooklyn Kitchen (which recently hosted a miso-making class. Get on the list for next year!) The kit included already-cooked soybeans, so all I had to do was mix everything together and mash. Whether you cook them yourself or not, mashing them is a great way to earn that post-work cocktail.