As you might have guessed by this second appearance of asparagus in one week, this is one of my favourite vegetables. Its season is quite short, so I try to profit from its presence as much as I can and cannot promise this will be the last time I talk about it this year. Green variety, especially when not too thick, is in my opinion the most versatile asparagus. Most of my experiments prove it is excellent in both Western and Asian dishes and pairs well even with unexpected products, such as miso (Japanese fermented soybean paste; see below). The stir-fry you see above was a part of one of the quick and simple, improvised “donburi”, or Japanese-style rice bowls dish I prepare quite often (thank you, Nami!). The crunchy blanched asparagus, the creamy miso sauce and tender chicken breast created a pleasant spring topping for rice and will probably be my staple until asparagus is in season. /UPDATE: I have just learnt that a stir-fried dish with miso sauce is called “miso itame”. Thank you, Hiroyuki!/
Miso (味噌), a thick paste made by fermenting soybeans and/or barley or rice, is one of the most important ingredients of the Japanese cuisine (Korean and Chinese cuisines use very similar pastes too). Miso is healthy; it is packed with protein, vitamins and minerals and some people claim it even helps to fight the radiation sickness. In Japan miso has three main colour types: white (shiromiso), red (akamiso), black (kuromiso), and there is also mixed miso (awasemiso). In general, the lighter the colour, the more delicate the taste, but it’s not always the case, so it’s worth asking the shop assistant or reading the label before buying it. The only downside of miso is that is can be very high in sodium, so watch out for special “low sodium” misos (some high quality misos don’t even have this mention, but are less salty). Whatever the salt content, white miso has always a milder taste, so it’s a good idea to start one’s adventure with light coloured miso. Apart from the three basic colours, there are myriads of different misos, depending on the brand or producer, the ingredients, the region…
Miso soup is usually the first dish in which foreigners discover this Japanese staple, but it’s also used in simmered dishes, as a seasoning for grilled fish and meat, in sauces, pickles… Its complex flavour is an excellent taste booster in stir-fries and I love the creaminess it adds to sauces. Miso is, at least for me, highly addictive, probably because it is rich in the umami, or fifth taste, made famous by a Japanese professor.
If you are still hesitating if you should invest in a package of miso, here are some other ways to use it:
TIP: The less you boil/cook miso, the more you preserve its precious nutrients, so it’s best just to heat it at the end.
The garlic’s presence is not obligatory in this sauce, but since I discovered garlic and miso combination thanks to Nami’s Garlic Miso Chicken Wings (Just One Cookbook blog), I have fallen in love with it. I adapted Nami’s recipe in Garlic Miso Chicken Breast and used miso and garlic sauce in Chicken and Aubergine in Garlic Miso Sauce).
Preparation: about 20 minutes
Ingredients (serves two):
12-14 green, medium thick or thin asparagus stalks
1 chicken breast
1 tablespoon sake
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons miso
2 tablespoons sake
1 tablespoon syrup (I used agave syrup) or 2 tablespoons mirin
2 tablespoons soy sauce (or more if using low-sodium soy sauce)
1 clove garlic, grated or crushed (the garlic is not obligatory)
(toasted white sesame seeds)
Bring to a boil one litre of water in a big pan.
Cut up the chicken breast into bite-sized pieces, combine with sake and sprinkle with a bit of salt.
Cut off the toughest part of the the asparagus stalks’ (I usually cut off 1/4 if I use the above-mentioned, medium thick asparagus).
Blanch the asparagus for one minute (or even less if the stalks are very thin) and quickly put into very cold water to stop the cooking process.
Cut into bite-sized pieces.
Combine all the sauce ingredients. Put aside.
Heat two tablespoons oil in a pan or wok.
Drain the chicken, pat it fry.
Stir-fry the chicken until it is cooked.
Than add the asparagus and stir-fry for 30 seconds.
Add add the miso sauce and heat for about 30 seconds, stirring, until everything is well heated.
Serve with rice and, if you wish, sprinkle with sesame seeds.