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Kinzanji miso, Wakayama style

Over the hot, humid summer we made a huge batch of Kinzanji miso with a local grandmother who organized a group to make well over 100 pounds of the stuff. We took home our 25 pounds and it’s been sitting for a month. I think it’s time for a first tasting … tomorrow.

So to get ready for that, here’s a little backstory.

The difference between Kinzanji and regular miso

Kinzanji miso is a young miso that features its ingredients in the whole, rather than smashed or blended, as miso intended for soup does. Most miso is aged for at least 9 months and up to three years, which must include at least one full summer. Kinzanji is aged for one to 18 months maximum. Importantly, most miso for soup is based on one ingedient such as rice, barley, or soybeans; Kinzanji includes all three—and the koji mold fermentation of all three is stopped by massaging in salt after a few hours. However, the addition of lacto-fermented vegetables to Kinzanji before aging adds bacteria to the mix that wouldn’t have been there otherwise.

A possible history of Kinzanji miso

Although miso generally means soup to all of us now, the chunky Kinzanji was actually the predecessor of the modern smooth version. It was supposedly brought back from China in the 1200s to a temple in Wakayama, where its preparation was taught and where the liquid that formed on the top of the aging mixture was first tasted and then produced as soy sauce. This is just one of the variations of the story, which can vary by almost a thousand years, but I’ll take it since it’s in Wakayama!

How to eat Kinzanji miso

The most popular way of enjoying this nameh-miso (lit. lickable; that is, to be eaten as-is) is to dip cucumber spears in it. That’s called moro-kyu, and is a great way to eat a light meal without cooking in the hot summer. Kinzanji is also a popular topping for rice and many other dishes.

Kinzanji is actually a ‘highly recommended local gift product’ (和歌山県推薦優良土産品) in Wakayama. It’s also produced in Chiba and Shizuoka and other places in Kansai but on the whole is a little unusual and rare. It’ll always be available in gift shops around here, but having a big crock we’ve made ourselves to enjoy and give away is an experience that fewer and fewer people have these days; maybe it’ll be us teaching the next generation how to do it in a few years.

Up soon — tasting and the production process!

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Bamboo shoot recipe: Japanese style

Following up on my previous post on how to gather wild Japanese young bamboo shoots, here is how to prepare them.  Or, as we say in the local dialect, Let’s Cookingu! Please also check out KitchengardenJapan’s interesting post on ‘hatsumono’, or the first foods of the season.

Since you’re working with a plant that grows as much as 2 feet every day, you can be sure that it’s not going to wait around for you.  Bamboo shoots spoil more quickly than most foods, in raw or cooked form.  Get your shoots prepped and cooked as soon as you get home, and enjoy them within a few days.

If you have the sprout as it came out of the ground, hold it firmly in one hand and cut as shown.  You’ll cut 30-50% of the way through the sprout, or as far as the center at most.

Peel the layers back and remove the tough ones.  When you get to the soft core stop peeling, and cut the top off.  To cut the top, start at the tip with your knife–you’ll probably notice that it’s hard to cut through.  Don’t force it.  Continue toward the wide end until you can easily remove the tip.

If you got your shoots at Uwajimaya or another local store (Vietnamese and Thai groceries also often have raw shoots), then you’re at this point already.  Take your shoot and cut it into halves or quarters radially, depending on how big it is.

Add these to a pot of cold water, and add rice bran (what’s left after making brown rice into white rice) in an equal weight to the shoots to remove ‘aku’, or the natural bitterness.  Bring to a boil, simmer for 2 hours, and let cool to room temperature, covered.  Check the hardness of the shoots and boil longer if necessary.

Rinse and then soak in cold water for half a day or longer.  You can keep the shoots in this manner for up to a week, refrigerated, but you must change the water every day.

To flavor your bamboo shoots, use this recipe:

Add a kelp sheet to cold water and heat; just before it boils remove the sheet.  When it boils add a handful of dried bonito flakes and turn off the heat.  Remove the flakes or strain them out after they sink; don’t squeeze them or your broth will be bitter.  If you don’t have these ingredients you can buy ‘hondashi‘ powder and it will work just fine.

Add the bamboo shoots, and for every kilogram of shoots add 2 tablespoons each of sake, mirin, brown sugar, and soy sauce.  Salt to taste.  Simmer until the flavor is as rich as you like.  Before the bamboo gets too soft, add seaweed if you like and season to finish.

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