Happy New Year! I don't have a designated New Year's post so just sharing another that had been incubating in the works. No new resolutions to announce and haven't had the time to do any reflections except maybe that a question on a Chowhound board recently had forced me to revisit one of my older posts from back in 2008 and it was quite the torture.(!) Haha. While I still have a long way to go, at least feeling my writing skills have improved some over the years isn't such a bad thing I guess. Would like to thank everyone that have supported this nerdy blog by taking the time to comment or email. As much as it's been a mostly personal and selfish endeavor, they all really do mean a lot. So thanks.
I think a current day all-encompassing definition of Okinawan Abura Miso would be a type of seasoned miso, cooked over low heat with some type of rendered fattier meats (or oil with lean protein) and sweetened. The word "abura" in Abura Miso translates to "oil" or "fat." So it sort of means "Fatty Miso" maybe. Traditionally the recipe calls for the island's ubiquitous three-layer pork "san-mai niku," however nowadays, bacon, ground meats and even canned tuna are used. The typical seasonings are Sake, Sugar and Mirin (while further specifying Awamori and Okinawan brown sugar would be a nice authentic touch) but my family had always used honey to sweeten.
Variations aside, they are all the same versatile condiment of sweet/savory/meaty deliciousness. Great from being a dip for your veggie sticks to an awesome sidekick for devouring large quantities of hakumai rice.
Abura Miso is very commonly found on the island as an Onigiri filling (aka Omusubi). So much so it had always been the first to come to mind when I thought of my personal all time favorite. In fact up until only a few years ago I always thought it was odd that none of the Japanese Markets here offered it as an omusubi flavor, ha. There was the salmon, plum, tarako, konbu, but no miso? Scandalous! Funny the things you grow up with only to later realize that it was very locally specific.
[Photo of an Abura Miso filled Onigiri at a Konbini (convenience store) in Okinawa...]
So anyway, I have a rough ballpark recipe below but it's really best to season as you go. Everyone has their sweet spot balance of sweet vs. savory and preferred ratio of meat vs. miso they'd like (though typical recipes call for equal amount protein to miso). It's easy and fairly bulletproof where in fact my sister's recipe for her tuna version only had three ingredients: Miso, canned tuna (in oil) and honey.
Abura Miso "Classic" version:
Notes: Makes approximately 1-Cup. A little goes a long way and the portion shown above is probably a good 2~3 servings. Adjust seasoning to taste.
Three-layer Rib Meat (or pork belly) - small block approximating 1/2-Cup
Awase Miso - 1/2-Cup (This is the standard all-purpose blended miso.)
Sugar - 2-Tbsp (Can be combined with brown sugar, but do not recommend only brown.)
Sake - 2-Tbsp
Mirin - 1-Tbsp
Optional: 1-Tbsp of vegetable oil (in the case meat was leaner than expected).
Very Optional: Pinch of grated ginger. I've seen recipes call for it so just mentioning here.
- Slow boil the pork block in water for 20~30mins. Rinse, dry and let cool. Then dice cut.
- Slowly render the diced pork in a frying pan on low heat. Adding some water in the pan at the start can help. You don't have to render all the fat and be careful not to crisp up the pork since it will become a tough texture in your miso.
- Add Miso and rest of ingredients, saving a portion of the sugar to adjust after tasting. Stir with spatula to incorporate.
- Continue to cook on low / medium-low to burn off alcohol and rid the Miso of its raw flavor.
- Taste and add more sugar or miso to adjust flavor. I personally like it edging on the sweet side.
The results should be a flavorful miso with a nice glaze. If it feels too slushy you might want to simmer longer so to evaporate some of the moisture but not too much since the miso and fat will naturally stiffen as it cools. If too pasty or lacks gloss, you might want to add a little vegetable oil.
The Tuna version I learned can't be any easier. Empty a can of tuna (in oil) into a frying pan on medium-low heat, add approximate same amount of miso. Add honey in increments until you think it tastes delicious!
A bonus photo of a Pork Luncheon Meat (like Spam)/Egg/Abura Miso Musubi...
Some may have noticed but unlike what I refer to as Hawaiian style Spam Musubis where the Spam slice is usually perched atop a rectangular mound of rice and secured with a strip of Nori (like a giant Nigiri), the more prominent Spam Musubi in Okinawa are a style often clamshelled like a sandwich, the ingredients tucked between rice, then wrapped entirely with Nori. Also Okinawan Spam Musubi are usually never dressed with Teriyaki. Either way they're all delicious, and so is Abura Miso!