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Miso offers instant way to brighten flavor

  • NEW YORK TIMES

    A salad of grilled duck breasts with miso, ginger, mango and orange. Diluted or in combination with other ingredients, miso imparts a subtle roundness, in the same way other umami-rich condiments, like anchovy paste or fish sauce, meld unobtrusively into the whole.

Inventive cooks are always looking to push flavor to the maximum.

Here is my advice: When in doubt, add a little miso. It has transformative powers.

In addition to offering a host of nutritional and probiotic benefits, miso imbues everything it touches with a sweet, salty, nutty complexity. Whether you choose mild white miso, medium-bodied yellow miso or the more intense reddish- brown miso, it gives foods instant brightness. Even a very small quantity adds dimension and sparkle to salad dressings, soups and stews.

In combination with other ingredients, miso imparts a subtle roundness, in the same way other umami-rich condiments, like anchovy paste or fish sauce, meld unobtrusively into the whole. Some chefs mix a little miso into softened butter to make a quick sauce for fish. (Miso butter is also good on toast for a snack or with corn on the cob.)

I like to use miso in marinades, thinned with a bit of sake or mirin and punched up with ginger. It’s delicious paired with salmon or mackerel and, of course, black cod (butterfish). Miso- coated broiled eggplant is brilliant. Meat and poultry take well to the miso treatment, too: Consider miso pork chops or miso-basted roast chicken or quail.

With duck breasts — or legs, if you’d prefer — miso does wonders. Leave the meat in the marinade for at least an hour or for as long as two days. Grill it over coals or in cast iron, taking care to keep the meat medium-rare. Even hefty 1-pound Muscovy duck breasts emerge tender, juicy and delightfully savory.

Though miso duck is wonderful in any season, it is pretty spectacular as the star element in a main-course salad. I added orange zest and orange juice to the marinade, which came through beautifully.

Tucked into crisp lettuce leaves and topped with tiny green beans, sliced mango and watercress sprigs, this duck will astonish your guests.

Miso is the reason.

GRILLED DUCK BREAST WITH MISO, GINGER AND ORANGE

  • 4 large duck breasts (about 2 pounds)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 4 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice, divided
  • 6 ounces small green beans, topped and tailed
  • Lettuce leaves, for serving
  • 1 large mango, peeled and sliced
  • Watercress sprigs, for garnish (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons chopped scallions
  • >> Marinade:
  • 4 tablespoons red miso
  • 2 tablespoons light soy sauce or tamari
  • 1 tablespoon sake or mirin
  • 1 tablespoon grated orange zest
  • 1 tablespoon grated ginger
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • Pinch cayenne
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

Trim duck breasts of extraneous fat and score the skin. Season very lightly with salt and generously with coarsely ground pepper.

In a mixing bowl, whisk marinade together.

Remove 1/4 cup of the marinade and combine it with 2 tablespoons orange juice to make a dressing; set aside.

Add remaining 2 tablespoons orange juice to remaining marinade in mixing bowl.

Lay duck in a shallow pan and pour marinade over, making sure meat is well coated. Let sit at room temperature at least 1 hour. If you wish, cover and refrigerate for up to 1 day; bring to room temperature before proceeding.

Prepare a bed of medium-hot coals in a grill, or heat a stovetop grill or cast-iron pan to medium hot. Cook duck breasts skin-side down for 8 to 10 minutes, until fat is rendered and skin is nicely colored. (See note.)

Turn and cook on the other side for 3 or 4 minutes, until internal temperature registers 125 degrees. Remove from heat and let rest at least 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a pot of well-salted water to a boil. Cook green beans 1 to 2 minutes, until firm-tender. Drain and rinse with cool water; blot dry.

Slice duck crosswise about 1/8-inch thick. Line a serving platter with lettuce leaves. Place several slices of duck on each leaf, along with a couple of mango slices. Arrange green beans over the top and garnish with watercress, if using. Drizzle dressing over everything and sprinkle with scallions. Serves 4 to 6.

Note: When grilling duck, keep meat at least 3 inches above coals to prevent scorching, and take care to move meat away from flames if dripping fat ignites. If using stovetop grill or cast-iron pan, regulate heat to keep skin from browning too quickly.

AND TO DRINK

Grilled duck breast will pair beautifully with any number of wines. While the marinade will add sweet and spicy accents, the earthy flavor of the duck will still come through.

The classic match is a good Burgundy, say a premier cru Volnay or Morey-St.-Denis. You could substitute a well-balanced pinot noir from Oregon or the Santa Cruz Mountains, or even a spatburgunder, as pinot noir is known in Germany.

Other options might include a Chinon, made of cabernet franc, or an American cabernet franc from Oregon or the Finger Lakes. You could also try a restrained grenache-based wine, like a Gigondas.

If you prefer a white, I would consider a dry Savennieres from the Loire.

Intrepid drinkers might try an Amontillado sherry or a junmai sake.

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