Abura Miso: Miso Paste with Seasoned Pork

This is a long-overdue post for a recipe request I received by email in December. (Sorry it took so long, Barb!)

And what is this strange-looking paste that someone would actually request a recipe for it? It’s an Okinawan specialty known as Abura miso (AH-boo-rah, which means “fatty”). Why “fatty” — because, Silly Rabbit, it has pork belly. Or to be more precise, it has Rafute, which is the lovely and decadent seasoned pork belly which was featured here last summer (photo below).

So if you can possibly spare a couple of slices of rafute, you can preserve it in miso and create a wonderful condiment in doing so. Miso paste is cooked long and slow over gentle heat with generous doses of sake, grated ginger and ginger juice, and just a touch of sugar. The goal is to concentrate the sake and have it absorbed into the miso paste. In the last 20 minutes, the prepared rafute is added with yet more sake, and cooked together until the sake is again absorbed into the paste. Properly stored, abura miso has kept in our fridge for months (but it usually is eaten lo-o-ong before then).

For grating the ginger for this dish, I recommend using a Japanese ceramic grater, Oroshi, like the one in the photo. Yes, it IS a single-use gadget, but this is one of those tools that just does the job better than anything else and so I do find room for it in the kitchen. In this case, it pulverizes the ginger so it naturally forms a wet paste rather than shreds, which can be unpleasant if left in this condiment. For making ginger juice, too, this oroshi can’t be beat — you can see in the photo that the liquid pools in the “moat” around the teeth of the grater, and that there are marked grooves in the teeth to carry the juice to the “moat” and a spout on one end to pour off the juice.

Whether eaten alone with hot rice, or mixed with a raw egg over REALLY hot rice (the egg will soft-set from the heat of the rice), used to fill savory pancakes, or made into musubi (rice balls), Abura Miso is a genuine Okinawan treat.

For Barb M. in San Antonio, TX.

Makes 3 cups

2 cups (360g) awase miso (blended light and medium misos)
1 and1/2 cups (355ml) sake, plus optional 1/4 cup
2 TBL. aji-mirin (seasoned cooking sake)
1-2 tsp raw sugar (if using granulated white sugar, use less)
2-3 tsp grated ginger and all accumulated juices
2 slices prepared rafute

Combine miso paste, sake, mirin, sugar and ginger in a medium saucepan, and place over medium high heat. Mixture will be very loose, and will drop very easily from a spoon. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture starts to bubble, about 6-8 minutes, then immediately turn heat down to low.

Continue simmering and stirring until the mixture starts to darken in color, and to thicken, about 40-50 minutes depending on how wide the saucepan is. The goal is to concentrate the sake flavor and incorporate it into the miso paste. The longer the process takes, the more intense the sake flavor will be without burning the miso. This process will feel familiar to anyone who has made a brown roux for gumbo or etouffe — stir, stir, watch carefully, stir, fiddle with the heat to get it just right, stir again.

Meanwhile, prepare the rafute.

Remove the rafute from wherever you hid it to hide it from greedy family members, and dice it into 1/4-inch cubes (this is easier to do if the rafute is cold). Bring to room temperature by heating in microwave for 20 seconds at highest temperature. Don’t microwave too long or the skin of the rafute will pop and resemble fried pork rinds — you will lose the silken texture that is so important to abura miso.

When the miso has thickened to the point where it now drops rather reluctantly from a spoon, add the diced rafute, and optional additional 1/4 cup sake, stir well to incorporate new ingredients. Continue the stirring vigil for another 20-30 minutes to heat rafute thoroughly and to remove the raw taste of newly added sake.

Taste. It should have a prominent sake flavor, mellowed by cooking and ginger, and very lightly sweetened. I usually don’t add any salt because the miso paste contains a lot of salt, but depending on the brand and type of miso used, you may wish to add salt too. It will look very similar to canned pumpkin in color. But compared to the plain miso, you will notice the abura miso has a sheen — some might even say, a glow.

We most often use abura miso to season musubi, seen here (it’s hidden in the center, trust me).