If you think miso is just for brothy soups served in Japanese restaurants, think again! It’s an ingredient with huge potential in your kitchen, a veritable secret weapon for adding flavor to a variety of dishes that span far beyond Japan’s borders.
Take this salad for instance: Just one little tablespoon of miso makes an ordinary dressing pop with bright flavor.
WHAT IS MISO?
Miso is fermented soybean paste. The soybeans are inoculated with a type of mold. That might sound creepy until you consider that so many favorite foods are fermented, including yogurt, cheese, wine, and sourdough bread.
Over time, the soybeans transform into a salty, funky, flavorful paste that lasts indefinitely in the refrigerator. Miso is widely available and typically sold in plastic tubs in the refrigerated section of supermarkets.
WHY FERMENTED FOODS ARE GOOD FOR YOU
Interest in fermented foods has definitely been on the rise in recent years. That’s in part because research suggests that our gut bacteria may play an important role in overall health.
As such, there’s a lot of talk about “feeding the gut,” which means helping the good bacteria in the gut thrive. Fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, and miso are a source of good bacteria, which is why some nutrition experts advise eating fermented foods on a regular basis. Adding miso to dressing is an easy way to do that.
WHAT KIND OF MISO TO BUY
There are many different types of miso, but the most common are white (or mellow) miso and red (or dark) miso.
I use white miso for this dressing. White miso is fermented for a shorter period of time than red, so it’s milder in flavor and not as salty. White miso gives this dressing flavor and a little bit of body, so it coats the greens nicely. Because miso is naturally salty, no additional salt is needed in the dressing.
THE BEST WAY TO COOK THE CHICKEN
The recipe calls for boneless, skinless chicken breasts, the leanest cut of chicken available. With so little fat, chicken breasts can be dreadfully dry when overcooked. If done properly, they’re juicy and tender.
I recommend pounding the thicker end of the chicken with a mallet or the side of a rolling pin so that it’s about the same thickness along the length of the breast. Then, cook the chicken on the stove in a heavy skillet just until the center is no longer pink and the outside pleasingly browned.
If you’re short on time, you can pick up a rotisserie chicken to use for this salad instead.
WHAT VEGGIES TO PUT IN THE SALAD?
This salad lends itself to lots of different variations. The recipe calls for fennel, mandarin oranges, and avocado, but depending on your mood and what’s in season, endless combinations will work such as:
- Sliced apples, chopped pecans, and crumbled goat cheese
- Cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, and olives
- Halved grapes, toasted walnuts, and thinly sliced celery
- Thinly sliced radishes, carrots, and toasted pepitas
MAKE-AHEAD TIPS FOR CHOPPED CHICKEN SALAD
If you do a bit of work ahead of time, it will be a snap to pull this salad together come dinnertime. Here are a few steps to do in advance:
- Make the dressing. Take it out of the refrigerator about a half-hour before you’re ready to dress the salad and be sure to whisk it once it comes to room temperature. Tip: make a double batch and use the extras later in the week.
- Cook the chicken breasts. They can be added to the salad cold, room temperature, or gently warmed in the oven. Wait to slice until just before serving.
- Wash and dry the lettuce and stash in your produce drawer.
- Shave the fennel and store it in a covered container in the fridge.
MORE RECIPES THAT USE MISO
Chicken Salad with Miso Dressing Recipe
For the salad
- 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 head butter lettuce, washed and dried
- 1 large handful arugula or watercress, washed and dried
- 1 small or 1/2 large bulb fennel, very thinly sliced
- 3 seedless mandarins, peeled, cut into wheels, and pulled into pieces
- 1 small avocado, diced
For the miso dressing
- 1/4 cup plus 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon white miso paste
- 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 2 scallions, white and light green parts only, finely chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- Meat pounder or rolling pin
1 Pound the chicken: Lay the chicken breasts on a cutting board. Use a mallet or the side of a rolling pin to pound the thicker end of the breasts, so they’re about the same thickness along the whole breast. Season on both sides with salt and freshly ground pepper.
2 Cook the chicken: Heat 2 teaspoons of the olive oil over medium in a large cast-iron or non-stick skillet. Cook the chicken until nicely browned on one side and opaque halfway up the side, about 8 minutes.
Flip and cook on the second side until no longer pink in the center, another 8 minutes or so. Transfer to a cutting board to rest for at least 5 minutes. Cut across the grain in 1/3-inch-thick slices.
3 Make the miso dressing: In a small bowl, whisk together the miso, apple cider vinegar, honey, scallions, and cumin until smooth. Continue to whisk as you drizzle in the remaining olive oil.
4 Assemble the salad: Toss the lettuce, arugula, and fennel in a large bowl with just enough dressing to lightly coat. Transfer to 4 serving bowls. Tuck the avocado, mandarins, and chicken slices into the bowls and dribble a little more dressing over them. Serve immediately.
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