We've known for a long time that our region is blessed with talented and dedicated growers. Orange also has a growing community of artisans and craftspeople which is enriching our food culture even further.
One such master of her craft is Nanae Harada who transforms and elevates local produce using traditional methods and techniques of her native Japan.
Amongst several specialties from her homeland, one in particular stands out as a versatile and nutritious ingredient that we can easily include in our cooking with terrific results - miso.
Miso means "fermented beans" in Japanese and can be used in a wide variety of ways to season and add an umami or savoury flavour.
The list of health-giving properties in miso is nearly endless. Rich in protein, vitamins and essential minerals, miso is also a great source of beneficial bacteria and gut-aiding probiotics when naturally fermented. For millennia Japanese people have been starting their day with a bowl of miso soup to stimulate digestion, strengthen immunity and energise the mind and body. People living in the Hiroshima prefecture, where Harada hails from, have been shown to lessen the effects of radiation poisoning through a diet rich in miso. The fact that it tastes delicious doesn't hurt either!
Being vegan and usually gluten free (some miso is made with barley, although most is made using rice instead), miso is a great option for cooks looking to enliven a limited diet.
Harada makes her miso according to time honoured traditions, using only three organic Australian ingredients; rice, salt and soybeans.
This labour of love is a painstaking process beginning with the creation of koji. Harada makes koji by steaming rice to a specific level of cookedness and moisture content. The rice is then salted and inoculated with a bacterial culture and the resulting koji will be the foundation for fermentation. Soybeans are cooked for up to eight hours, mashed to a paste and then mixed with the koji. This paste is then packed into barrels where the magic slowly happens.
Orange's cool winters and low humidity provide the ideal conditions for a controlled and slow fermentation. After anywhere from 12 to 36 months in the barrel the colour will darken and the flavours become more complex and intense.
Most store bought miso is factory made at an accelerated speed which doesn't allow for the natural flavours to develop so MSG and other seasonings are often added. Pasteurization will also kill off any health-giving probiotics.
While Harada's brand, Mountain Miso, is producing on a small scale she is planning to make some publicly available at upcoming farmers markets. Switched on diners can also sample it at a select number of restaurants including The Zin House of Mudgee and the Union Bank Schoolhouse Restaurant where chef Dom Aboud uses it for his funky twist on the Piedmontese classic, bagna cauda.
People can also get an intimate peek inside Harada's miso-making process by buying a ticket for Very Local, an Orange based streaming service that launched this weekend as part of the Orange Winter Fire Festival program.
One of my favourite ways to use miso is to simply mix it with butter. A ratio of one part miso to four parts salted butter packs plenty of punch and will keep well in the fridge. It is a tremendous substitute for any situation in which you might add a knob of butter to your cooking. Spread on toast, stirred into sauces, or rubbed on meat, fish or veges, miso butter will give any food you cook a moreish boost in flavour.
RECIPE OF THE WEEK: Miso Butter Roast Chicken
- 1.5 kg local free range chicken
- 200g miso butter
- 1 lemon, halved
- 4 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 handful fresh oregano
- Mixed vegetables
- Push fingers between the skin and the breast, creating separation extending to the legs as well, but be careful not to tear the skin.
- Rub half the miso butter under the skin. This will keep the meat moist and impart that beautiful flavour.
- Leave the bird uncovered overnight in the fridge. Drying the skin this way will result in extra crispness when roasted
- Stuff the cavity with the lemon, garlic and oregano. I prefer a wet filling as the traditional bread stuffing can draw moisture away from the chicken.
- Arrange the vegetables in a roasting pan under and around the chicken. Fennel, celeriac and brussel sprouts are amazing right now and make a great addition to the usual potatoes, carrots and baby onions.
- Season the chicken and vegetables very lightly as the miso butter is also quite salty. Cover the chicken and vegetables with the remaining miso butter and roast in an oven preheated to 220.
- Baste regularly with the melted butter that gathers in the pan, and after 20 minutes turn the oven down to 160.
- Cook for another 20 minutes or until the temperature is 74 degrees at the densest point, where the thigh bone meets the body.
- Rest for ten minutes before carving and enjoy!
Richard Learmonth is a qualified chef and will be writing a food column for the Central Western Daily every second Saturday
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