How to Make Miso Soup in an Instant Pot

The pandemic continues, and I find myself fighting of unpredictable waves of lethargy. My culinary experiments have plateaued, to a certain degree, so I’m relying on old regulars. Recipes that I can cook without having to think too much about them.

One of these is a miso soup recipe for the Instant Pot which I though I’d share as this month’s post. (I also needed something short and automatic that I could knock out due to said lethargy.)

I found the recipe on Cookpad, which is a fantastic website that you should definitely explore, and the title basically explains everything: 圧力鍋で加圧1分☆根菜の味噌汁

Miso soup in a minute! Obviously it’s not quite this easy. There’s a minute of pressurized cooking time, but it takes maybe 10 minutes to get to pressure, another 15 for the pressure to release, and then 10-15 minutes for prep. But all in all it’s not too much of a fuss. I’ll summarize how I do it:

1. Prep the ingredients.

The base to the soup is:

Water, 1L
Dashi powder, 2 tsp
Miso, 2 tbsp

That’s the basic recipe, and you can really experiment with what you add to it. The recipe at the link calls for:

Daikon, maybe half a small daikon chopped
Carrots, 1-2 chopped
Abura-age, 1 chopped

But you can use sato-imo, enoki mushrooms, regular tofu, konnyaku, all sorts of delicious things! I’d recommend trying out different combos and different misos.

2. Add water, ingredients and dashi to the Instant Pot.

The only ingredient you may not need to add to the pot would be regular tofu, although I’m not sure about this. I don’t think it will hurt, though. Stir up the dashi so that it dissolves, add the carrots and daikon, and then put on the lid.

3. Cook on Manual for 1 minute.

Use the manual setting, and let it cook.

4. Use a natural pressure release.

Wait 15 minutes or so and the pressure will naturally release. You can do a manual release, but it will fire a stream of piping hot, daikon-scented steam into the air, which will fill your house. So I recommend waiting.

5. Add the miso.

Use a ladle to dissolve the miso into the Instant Pot a tablespoon at a time. Hold the ladle in the soup and fill it, but don’t let the miso blob out yet. Stir the miso and hot soup with a spoon or chopsticks until it breaks apart and dissolves into the soup.

6. Eat! This is ready to go.

I’m not sure I ever learned how to make miso soup when I was living in Japan. I know I tried, but I only ever used miso. You really need the dashi to give it that fully realized flavor. And the daikon give it that big (farty) flavor and I’m sure are really healthy. I also love sato-imo, especially in the winter. They’re so hearty.

My only tip with this recipe is to not go overboard with the ingredients. Err on adding too few, otherwise you’ll end up with a miso stew instead of miso soup.

The only other thing of note is that this is the recipe that helped me learn the Japanese for “pressure cooker”: 圧力鍋 (atsuryoku nabe) – literally “pressurized nabe.” Love it.

How to Make Nattō in an Instant Pot

I’m in the Japan Times this week with a lesson about how to make nattō: “One man’s journey to perfect homemade nattō.”

A few weeks back I saw some folks discussing nattō on Twitter, which made me realize that I hadn’t made Japanese breakfast for a while. There was a stretch in 2019 after a business trip to Japan when I ate 和食 breakfast every day for about six months or so.

I had enough to put together miso soup and salmon pretty easily, and I realized that I probably had the equipment to make nattō. I started Googling around a little, and, sure enough, I found Japanese recipes for making nattō using the yogurt setting on an Instant Pot.

Like yogurt, nattō is fermented by bacteria and needs to be held at warm temperatures for enough time for the germs to do their thing. I’ve been brewing beer and making yogurt long enough to have a decent sense of how things work, so I decided to give it a shot. It’s not all that hard!

I found the soybeans pretty easily at one of the Asian market’s near me, but they didn’t have frozen nattō. I put my quest on pause until I saw Hiroko Tabuchi tweet out a picture of 納豆素 from Yuzo Takahashi Laboratory, which was conveniently available on Amazon at the time. The spores are currently sold out but worth looking out for, and there must be somewhere else to purchase them online.

Once you have the soybeans, the spores, and an Instant Pot, you’re just about good to go. Here’s how I did it:

1. Soak the soybeans overnight.

I recommend starting with 100g. Most recipes will recommend 500g, which is far too much. 250g was enough for two weeks’ worth of breakfast. The soybeans will expand and soak up some of the water.

2. Cook the soybeans.

I used a steaming basket with 1.5 cups water in the bottom of the IP, but you could just as easily cook the beans directly in the IP container, in which case you’d need much more water.

If you’re using the steaming basket, you probably should cook on manual for 45-55 minutes, depending on how soft you want your beans. I haven’t perfected the softness yet. The first time I tried, I steamed them for 30 minutes and they were a little firm, so I had to add an additional 10 minutes. I think 55-60 minutes would work. [Update 8/22/20: I did 70 minutes on Manual and they came out perfect.]

If you’re boiling the beans, then I think 30-40 minutes is probably fine in the IP.

3. Transfer cooked beans into a sanitized container.

Everything from this point onward needs to be totally sanitized so that you’re not at risk of growing anything other than the nattō bacteria.

You can rinse everything with a sanitizer of some sort like a diluted bleach solution (or StarSan or Iodophor if you happen to be a homebrewer like me). If you’re using a stainless steel container for the beans, you can alternatively give it a quick steam in the IP to nuke everything on it and make sure it’s totally sanitized.

Pot-in-pot stainless steel pots are useful for this. There are two pots in the picture because I made 250g the first time I made them and had to split them up so that the beans didn’t get too deep.

4. Add spores to sanitized water.

Microwave 10mL of water for a minute or so until it boils, and then let it cool until it’s warm to the touch but not uncomfortably so (around 100F/37C). Then add 0.1g of spores to the water using the special spoon included with the vial of spores. Swirl up the spores in the water.

5. Add the spore water to the soybeans.

Pour the water on the beans and give it a stir with a sanitized spoon.

6. Ferment the soybeans.

Put your container in the IP and set it to the yogurt setting for 24 hours. Now you just wait.

You can look in, but I’d suggest resisting until at least 12 hours in to ensure that the nattō bacteria have a good head start and can outcompete anything else that might sneak in when you’re taking a look.

By 12-16 hours you should see the whitish film developing and notice that pungent nattō aroma. The beans will be ready by 24 hours.

7. Refrigerate the nattō overnight.

Pour the nattō into a food-safe container, and refrigerate it overnight. It’s ready to serve!

S&B Oriental Mustard is relatively easy to find and makes really good karashi. Alternatively you can check out my nattō experiments video from ancient history for some other recipe options. I think I’ll have to try the avocado version again sometime soon…

Cool Phrase – 取れるところから取る

Belated notice, but I was in the Japan Times On Sunday this past week with an article about craft beer in Japan: “Beer Essentials: The craft beer boom in Japan shows no signs of running dry.”

This was a fun piece to research and write. I highly recommend checking out Jeffrey Alexander’s book “Brewed in Japan.” It’s an incredibly interesting read about the history of beer in Japan. I don’t recommend buying the Google Play version of the book, however. I was forced to read it in a very small font on my iPhone. I think I’ll probably get a physical copy of the book and give it another read at some point. There are so many interesting details, and I’d like to be able to enjoy it more leisurely without ruining my vision. Here’s a great passage from the book about Japan’s early encounters with American beer:

When the shogunate then agreed to sign the Convention of Kanagawa [in March 1854]…it held a celebratory reception to mark the occasion. At the event, the US delegation presented gifts to the Japanese officials of innovative American products, including a working telegraph, a one-quarter-scale steam locomotive, and three casks of beer. The beer was described by Japanese observers as being an earthen colour, with a large volume of bubbles on top, but review of its taste were mixed. Some called it “magic water,” while others labelled it “bitter horse-piss wine.”

Ha. Suffice it to say that they’ve warmed up to beer in the interval.

This was also a great excuse to catch up with a lot of old friends in Tokyo, which I was able to do thanks to the Japanese government. They flew me over to Japan the first week of March for a JET conference. I had a few days on the front half of my trip to myself, and I used it going around to bars I frequented when I lived in Tokyo. I got really lucky with the timing. The JT asked me to write the article just a couple weeks after I was invited to the conference. Special thanks to Aoki-san at Popeye in Ryogoku and Sato-san at Beer Brassiere Boulevard (formerly of Dry Dock).

One interesting phrase I heard from several sources in the beer industry was 取れるところから取る (“take [taxes] from where [taxes] can be taken”). A Google search shows that it gets used in reference to many different topics: 10,100 search results are pared down to 2,840 when the term ビール is added to the search. Still, that’s about 28%. A Japanese book I read titled ビールの教科書 suggests that it’s a combination of inertia and the fact that it’s a hard sell for the government to give money back to companies that make booze.

There’s been some small movement on an equalization (一本化) of the beer tax, which would set the tax for any type of alcoholic barley-based beverage at 55 yen/can, but it’s unlikely to happen any time soon, especially if the Japanese economy doesn’t pick up. It would be very interesting to see how that change would affect the beer market, since it would effectively eliminate any competitive advantage for happōshu. It would affect different companies in different ways since their portfolios are so varied. Asahi would likely benefit, since Super Dry is a true beer and already dominates the market. Suntory, on the other hand, sells a ton of Kinmugi, and it would be forced to raise prices.

Sadly the beer tax will likely be a semi-permanent impediment to the development of craft beer in Japan. As long as folks keep drinking, it will be an easy target for politicians.

Collabo-Ramen – ほん田

Brian and I thought we’d covered Tokyo Ramen Street last year when we finished Collabo-Ramen videos for the first four shops, but then they went and expanded this past April, adding four more shops which we felt the need to cover for completion’s sake.

We finally made it to the last shop this past Friday – Honda has slight variations on traditional bowls of shoyu and shio along with shoyu and miso tsukemen. Brian and I had the tsukemen. Afterward we went over to Kanda to have beers at Devil Craft, one of the newest bars on the Tokyo craft beer scene. The store is somewhat small but not uncomfortable – we made a reservation for five and were able to fit six at one of the tables upstairs. They also have a nice beer selection that isn’t monopolized by high ABV beers:

Collabo-Ramen – 本田 Honda from Daniel Morales on Vimeo.

I have to admit I was skeptical when Brian first suggested that we review the restaurants on Tokyo Ramen Street. I’d been reading his blog for a while and knew that he was the Ramen Adventurer: I wanted to trek out into shitamachi neighborhoods in search of Ganko-style secret ramen shops. But he had much more experience recommending ramen to readers of his blog, and he insisted that Tokyo Station is easily accessible for most tourists and that the stores on Tokyo Ramen Street have great bowls.

There’s definitely an extensive selection, and working with Brian has expanded my palette, which I think has enabled me to appreciate some of the bowls more. Definitely check out these stores if you have to be passing through Tokyo, especially Junk Garage, since that brings the Saitama-based mazemen into the heart of the city. Here are links to all the Tokyo Ramen Street Collabo-Ramen episodes:

The first four:

Rokurinsha
Hirugao
Mutsumiya
Keisuke Nidaime (lobster ramen, currently a crab ramen which Brian and I gave a pass)

And the new four:

Shichisai
Junk Garage
Ikaruga
Honda (you’re reading it)

Collabo-Ramen – Junk Garage

There’s never too much Junk in the trunk of a big fat bowl of mazemen. Brian and I checked out Junk Garage on Ramen Street:

Collabo-Ramen – Junk Garage from Daniel Morales on Vimeo.

Six down, two more to go. (Oh, and we also tried the crab ramen over at Keisuke – I’d recommend against it. It comes in a bowl shaped like Hokkaido, and there’s a layer of oil on top about a centimeter deep.)

Collabo-Ramen – 七彩

In April, Tokyo Ramen Street expanded to eight stores. The original four are still there (although Keisuke now serves a crab miso rather than the past lobster miso) along with four new spots. Brian and I checked out 七彩 (Shichisai), which serves a Kitakata style ramen – a light shoyu or shio soup with amazing chashu pork:

CollaboRamen – Shichisai from Daniel Morales on Vimeo.

For three years I lived in Fukushima Prefecture about thirty minutes away from Kitakata. I ate in famous Kitakata shops a number of times, but it never really made an impact on me until I tried Shichisai. Sure, I noticed the pork tasted great, but until Brian showed me what to look for in different bowls, I always erred on the side of miso and went for hearty, savory bowls of Hokkaido style ramen.

I was also intimidated by the huge amount of pork that some chashu-men bowls offer. Shichisai has the perfect amount of pork on its 喜多方肉そば – not too much, not too little – and the soup was light and delicious – I finished the whole bowl, which is a rarety for me.

One of the neat parts about this shop is that there are windows into the kitchen area, so you can watch them cook while you wait.

Brian ran into some guys from the Tōno, Iwate-based Zumona Brewery at the Daimaru department store giving out samples of their German-style beers. After the earthquake, a group of twenty-one Japanese craft breweries created their own relief effort under the title “Re-Fermenting Japan.” Illustrator, author, and overall Japan beer guru Hiroyuki Fujiwara created the slogan and the graphic that’s being used on posters and bottles.

Sasaki-san, the Zumona brewer, will be at Daimaru until Tuesday, June 28th, so be sure to drop by to try some out and pick up a few bottles. We covered the basement of Daimaru in a past Collabo-Ramen video – they’ve got a decent selection.

Collabo-Ramen – naginicai

I was in Japan last December for a whirlwind ten days of drinking, eating, and catching up with folks. I went out to ramen with Brian on my first full day in the country, but it’s taken me nearly six months to finally put together the video footage I took – I’m a lazy bastard (and was a little busy, as well). The worst thing is that in those five months, the shop has closed! Or so Brian told me.

Naginicai is one of the shops in the Nagi chain. It’s on the west side of Shinjuku Station and serves both lunch and dinner. You can check out what the dinner options were like on Brian’s or Keizo’s blog. I took video footage of the lunch, which only offers tsukemen:

Collabo-Ramen – naginicai from Daniel Morales on Vimeo.

I’ll have to double check with Brian to see whether they’ve actually closed or not. I know that he posted about a charity event that was held at naginicai in April, so maybe they are open for a limited number of events during the year.

For those unaware, the name although written in romaji actually means 二階 (にかい, second floor), which is a good name since it’s on the second floor. Within the restaurant, they also have a small loft seating area that you can rent out for nomikai.

号外 – Oyster Season Closing Poem

My love of oysters is well chronicled here at How to Japonese. Last year I got a group together near the end of April and we spent over $1000 on oysters! (゜д゜;) This year I won’t even approach that. The group is smaller and the oysters are much, much cheaper. If you’re in New Orleans today, please feel free to drop by Cooter Brown’s from 7pm onward.

To celebrate, I’ve written a poem about the end of oyster season. Enjoy:

‘Twas the first of September and all through the parish
Not a mollusk was stirring in stomachs a’famished.
But when the long hours of toil ended that day,
Eyes brightened, smiles formed, and the people became gay.

With a jump and a shout the crowds took to the bar
To eat them some oysters from near and afar.
“On the halfshell, on crackers, or charbroiled!” they exclaimed.
“In poboys, in gumbos, or Rockefeller!” they said, unashamed.

Through fall and winter and spring they did eat,
And as summer approached, they realized they were beat.
“My belly is full,” a wee lad cried, holding a shell.
“And I’ve been at this smoky bar for so long that I smell!”

“One last night!” someone screamed, “We haven’t drank all the beer.”
“And once April is over, we’ll have to wait till next year.”
“’Tis true!” another echoed, “This is the most important day thus far.”
“Because we can only eat oysters in months that have R.”

From amidst the hordes of oyster eaters there arose a great cheer,
And they all ordered more dozens and refilled their beer.
The hot summer months are no reason to get down.
Let’s celebrate! You’re invited! to end oyster season on April 29 at Cooter Browns!