5 Ways to Use Miso, the Home Cook’s Secret Weapon

This delicious ingredient is a multitasker in the kitchen and can help in ways you might not even know.

Published Jan. 25, 2022.

Miso has been an indispensable part of Japanese cuisine for more than 1,000 years. And since becoming available in United States grocery stores in the 1960s, it's become a staple ingredient for home cooks around the country.

Traditionally, miso was not used as an ingredient as it is today, but rather as a snack in its own right: It was nibbled or licked or even spread on other food. Later, miso was recognized for its preserving powers: When it was slathered on fresh seafood catches that made their way back inland, the seafood remained fresh, even without refrigeration.

Today, miso is used to drastically elevate everything from pasta sauce to caramel. (There are also more than 1,300 types! Here are tasting notes on three of the more common ones you’ll find at the grocery store.) If you’re looking for some new ways to use it, here are some of our favorites.

1. Miso marinade

Miso helps make an especially delicious marinade for meats and seafood. While it brings a wonderfully umami quality to the food, it does even more than that. Miso also works to pull moisture from the flesh of the meat or fish, resulting in a firmer, denser texture.

A simple curing technique that utilizes the power of miso is a simple combination of the soybean paste, sugar, and alcohol (often sake or mirin), as seen in ATK’s Miso-Marinated Salmon.

1 cup white miso
¼ cup sugar
3 tablespoons sake
3 tablespoons mirin

  1. Whisk miso, sugar, sake and mirin in bowl until sugar and miso are dissolved.
  2. Pat salmon dry with paper towels, then place in 1-gallon zipper-lock bag and pour marinade over.
  3. Refrigerate, fully sealed, for at least 6 hours or up to 24 hours, flipping bag occasionally to ensure salmon marinates evenly.

2. Sweet-and-salty fruit crisp

Miso is a perfect accompaniment to desserts as well. In Cook’s Country’s Pear Crisp with Miso and Almonds, adding a small amount of miso to the crumble topping animated all the other ingredients in the dish and brought their flavors into focus.

3. Braised potatoes

Miso may make a last-minute appearance in this potato dish, but it makes all the difference to the overall flavor. Simply add a mixture of miso, garlic, and pepper to braised potatoes at the end of the cooking process and enjoy the delicious results.

Sign up for the Notes from the Test Kitchen newsletter

Our favorite tips and recipes, enjoyed by 2 million+ subscribers!

4. Compound butter

Miso butter has become hugely popular in restaurants around the world, and these compound butters can easily be made at home as well. 

If you have red miso, combine 1½ tablespoons with 5 tablespoons of softened butter for a quick two-ingredient flavoring for steak or roasted vegetables. 

Or, if you have white miso, use this formula to add flavor and richness to lean fish fillets, as we do in our Sautéed Tilapia with Chive-Lemon Miso Butter.

2 tablespoons white miso
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest plus 2 teaspoons juice
⅛ teaspoon pepper
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons minced fresh chives

  1. Combine miso, lemon zest and juice, and pepper in small bowl. 
  2. Add butter and stir until fully incorporated. 
  3. Stir in chives.

5. Salad dressing

Ginger and miso are a pair unlike any other, and they shine in Cook’s Illustrated’s Creamless Creamy Ginger-Miso Dressing. That’s right: creamy salad dressing without the cream, but with all the punch of white miso. What’s even better is that this delectable dressing can be used as a dip or, when combined with cold water, can be drizzled over a salad to give your greens that extra punch.

These six seafood recipes are among our all-time favorites. Start a free trial to access all these, plus our other home kitchen–tested, foolproof recipes.

This is a members' feature.