Thursday, May 10, 2007

misophobe to misophile

ミソ ラメン were the first words i asked my japanese language tutor teach me in my language lessons before my secondment to tokyo. for the hiragana/katakana illiterate - those five words mean miso ramen and was to prove essential knowledge in our post-partying all nighters as we stumbled into ramen bars, pushing the buttons on the ubiquitous ramen vending machines which eliminated the need to speak any japanese at all.

miso was one of the foods i had an irrational fear of as a child. i have memories of eating meals off an airplane shaped plate at the japanese association in singapore, and staring at the cloud of miso confusion which was served in the lacquered bowl. it seemed to move. and if you're a child, any food which moves is potentially scary. besides, if you think about what miso actually is, it's not that pleasant a thought: miso is a brown paste produced by fermenting soybeans, salt and mould. MOULD. this mould, they claim is good for you. you also get other variants involving fermented rice or barley, and i've seen miso pastes made from fermented chickpeas. This variance is compounded by the myriad of fermenting processes that have developed since japanese monks started making miso in the 7th century.

i suppose i truly got over my miso-phobia while ensconced in tokyo. i was confronted with miso every day and became enamoured with its diverse forms as i ate my way through elaborate keiseki courses in ryokans involving rather intense but intricate tasting miso glazes, Nobu's miso black cod, miso flavoured yakitori skewers in izakayas, chanko nabe in sumo-town, uncountable bowls of miso ramen and miso soup with clams at the sushi bars in tsukiji. it soon also became a comfort food as i made up a dish involving pasta shells, miso paste, eggs and whatever was lurking in the fridge - a dish which convinced my mom when she was visiting to doubt the prospects of ever marrying me off as no man in his right mind would want to eat what i had just cooked.

having worked rather unsociable hours over the bank holiday and the consequence of very little sleep, i was in search of comfort, and i sought the earthy depth of miso. having moved past the pasta shell phase in the year since i left tokyo, i decided to use the chicken legs i had defrosted in the optimistic hope of being able to eat my meals in the comfort of my home rather than at my desk at slavedrivers inc. optimism indeed.

i took the meat off the bone and marinated it in miso paste, sugar and sesame oil before pan frying it, skin side down till crisp. on hindsight, i would probably have been better off broiling the chicken under the grill which would have avoided the splatter that ensued. pan frying though did have its advantages, as i was immediately left with a pan full of chicken juices which i deglazed with a splash of water, stirred in some of the remaining marinade, an extra spoonful of sugar and brought to a bubble till it was caramelly and thick. a handful each of sesame seeds and chopped chives, and a little water was added to finish the sauce. the extra spoonful of sugar added a welcome roundness to the sauce and i must say it was very comforting to eat as i drizzled it over the chicken and a bed of rice noodles.
*if you're wondering what the dark shape at the top left of the picture is, it's curious george.


Blogger Lyndis said...

Ooh i didn't notice george till you mentioned. so did he get his ashy paws on your food?

What do you do actually, if he touches your food? Still eat it with no adverse effects?

8:35 PM  
Blogger the guvnor said...

yell and spray water at him. but usually he just sniffs without actually touching it so it's okay.

except butter. he lick my butter knife after i've buttered my toast and it can't be good for him. so breakfast now involves a lot of stealth and him being shut out of the kitchen.

4:14 PM  

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