Friday, February 22, 2013

Making Miso

Miso making supplies

 Quite Simply, I love Miso!

Anyone who knows me will eventually have to endure my obsession with miso.

I eat a simple version of miso soup for breakfast - miso stirred into nearly boiling water. I fancy it up with vegetables, rice, tofu, sea veggies, eggs, or anything else around. I make gravy out of it, or mix it with tomato juice for a refreshing but weird beverage.

It was only a matter of time before some strange mental compulsion led me to make my own. I reasoned, falsely, that it would save money. Or that it would be healthier than the miso I can buy. At least I can buy soy beans that say they are GMO free.

Since I had never made miso before, I didn't have very high expectations. In my experience, it takes a little practice to learn new fermentation projects, even if you think you're doing everything right. In this case, round one was a clear failure.

Miso Fail

My first miso attempt. I began it in March 2012, opened it Feb 2013.

The surface of the aged miso was coated with white, powdery looking mold, which was easily skimmed off. All the books mentioned mold like it was no big deal, so I didn't let that scare me.

I had opted for 'chunky'.Ugh. The very word should have warned me.I found the texture of cold, salty, fermented whole soy beans repulsive.  In future I will thoroughly mash the beans.

Far worse, the miso was rendered inedible by a strong aroma and taste of nail polish. This means it fermented wrong and produced acetone. It fermented badly. It can't be fixed.

I used precisely the proportion of ingredients specified, so it must have been my production methods that led to failure. I think I either let in too much oxygen or didn't press the solids down firmly enough.

Miso's byproduct is tamari (as in soy sauce) which is supposed to float to the surface.In my batch, it didn't, instead remaining mixed in with the miso. I think it was the failure of the tamari to separate that killed the miso, diluting its saltiness and causing a bad fermentation.

Plus, I have to be honest, it tasted like cheap soy sauce you might buy once and make a mental note not to get it next time.

But it's all mine! I was excited to have produced some kind of useful product from this whole fiasco.

Starting Over

When I made the first batch, I used a food grade white plastic bucket. This time I have an actual fermenting crock, which should make a more airtight seal, as well as allowing me to weigh down the miso better.
Hallelujah. I love this fermenting crock!

I was understandably shy of my second try at miso. Before I started, I wanted a quick success, so I made a batch of Amazaki.This is a sweet, mildly fermented rice beverage that turns out to be drop dead easy.I cooked some rice, cooled it to the warm end of lukewarm, mixed in the Koji starter that is also used in miso, and put it in a warm oven overnight. By morning it was so sweet, my husband thought I'd added honey. It will be good mixed 1:4 with our oatmeal instead of honey or sugar. I might see if I can make oat Amazaki, which would be delicious.

With a clear win under my belt, it was time to make some miso. The Koji came with instructions, which I am following. I recommend reading through The Book of Miso by Shurtleff and Aoyagi, for much more in depth information.But in some ways they gave so much information a first time user can get paralysed by it, so a one sheet recipe was helpful.

I increased the recipe because you are supposed to make multiple batches and combine them.I cooked and mixed them all at once, in my giant pressure cooker. Hopefully this won't be a problem.

Unsoaked soy beans are almost spherical
Soaked beans, look like any other bean
First I soaked 8 cups of soy beans overnight.

I discarded the soaking water and the huge quantity of hulls that floated off the beans.

I cooked the beans in a pressure cooker for 20 minutes. I assembled the cooker wrong so it did not raise its pressure. After 20 minutes of trying I gave up and simply cooked the beans the old fashioned way, boiling them for 4 hours until they could be, in the fine words to the Book, "crushed easily between the tips of the thumb and the ring finger".

A small sampling of my gigantic hull collection
Once I the beans were done and slightly cooled, I removed yet more hulls. The hulls were endless.Whenever I thought I was done - presto - more!

I then cooled the beans to 110 degrees, pulverized them and mixed them with 6 cups of their cooking liquid,  koji, and salt. 2 1/2 cups of salt. I made the mistake of tasting the mixture last time and it was salty enough to give me an upset tummy and cause a temporary weight gain. At the time I described the recipe as using enough salt to "kill an elephant". To each 2 cups of beans, I also added 1 1/2 T of "seed" miso.

I then salted the inside of my crock, packed it with the miso-ingredients, covered it with more salt, and sealed it under a sheet of plastic wrap. On top of that were the weights and then the lid with its water seal. No air could get through all those layers, I hoped.


Is it worth trying again?

Salt - the not so secret miso ingredient

The time and resources invested were pretty minimal. Prep time was a couple of hours. The aging time was long (I left it for nine months) but aside from checking on it, there was no work involved in that part. Both salt and soybeans, even certified GMO free, are cheap. The bucket was free. The new crock was expensive but I will use it in other projects too.

If this second batch is a success I will continue making miso. If it fails, I admit I will be discouraged. We'll know next spring.

I find I don't particularly mind initial failure. Failure can help me assess how important something is to me. If I want to succeed, I don't begrudge the time, thought and energy to do a postmortem, recheck my equipment and try again. If I feel like quitting, it's likely this wasn't that important to begin with.

I'm not thrilled with trying to dispose of half a gallon of stinky miso, either into the waste bin or into myself, but if I can learn to make a good product in a couple of tries I'll have a lifetime of useful miso in exchange for a few questionable batches. My only real reservation is there's no way to make a small "test" batch, so whatever results I get, I'll have a lot of them.

Oh well. As the old riddle goes:

Q: Which is better, good food, or bad food?

Answer: Bad food. Because bad food is still better than nothing. And nothing is better than good food.

Inspiring, isn't it?

Although in this case, the round one miso may be worse than nothing.

Shared on: homestead barn hop

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