Biwa's Miso Maestro

Gabe Rosen takes a fermented favorite beyond the soup bowl with three new ways to use the umami-packed ingredient.

By Benjamin Tepler March 3, 2014 Published in the March 2014 issue of Portland Monthly

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Image: Nomad

The miso in Gabe Rosen’s home refrigerator just celebrated its fifth birthday. “It gets better and better,” says Rosen, owner of Southeast Portland’s Japanese izakaya Biwa, where the fermented soybean paste glazes plump, grilled scallops and swirls like storm clouds in the eponymous soup. 

At the restaurant, Rosen and his team make miso from scratch, mashing together soybeans and koji, an unglamorous but remarkable little mold that also ignites the umami-rich flavors of sake and soy sauce. At home, Rosen’s aged miso—now dark brown with salty, complex intensity—is an everyday staple.

He reaches beyond the token soup, incorporating the deeply flavored paste into edgy salad dressings, marinades that transform meat and fish with sweet pineapple notes, and a flavored butter that tastes like butterscotch when melted atop roasted vegetables.

Here, Rosen offers his three best miso mash-ups for the home kitchen. Each, he promises, packs enough palate-expanding punch to earn a permanent spot in your fridge. 


In a small bowl, whisk together 6 tbsp white/yellow miso, 2 tbsp canola oil, 2 tbsp honey, 2 tsp rice vinegar, and ¼ cup sake or water until smooth. This 6- to 12-hour fridge marinade lends itself to most white meat, from chicken to pork tenderloin, and works beautifully on fish like halibut, black cod, or salmon. 

Salad Dressing

Pound 1 small garlic clove using a mortar and pestle (or mince very finely and mash with the side of a knife). In a small bowl, mix garlic with 1 tbsp olive oil, 1 tbsp orange juice, 2 tsp rice vinegar, 1 tbsp white/yellow miso, 1 pinch black pepper, and salt to taste until well blended. This punchy dressing does wonders for any salad, but Rosen likes to use it on thinly sliced daikon radish and mizuna lettuce.  


In a small bowl, use a fork to cream 1 stick unsalted butter (softened at room temperature) with 6 tbsp white/yellow miso, 1 tsp lemon zest, and ½ tsp togarashi (a Japanese spice mix, available at Asian markets like Anzen Hiroshi’s). Scoop onto a piece of plastic wrap, form into a 2-inch thick log, and freeze. Apply liberally to just-roasted or -steamed vegetables like snow peas or asparagus, or melt over grilled corn or steak. Miso butter will keep indefinitely in the freezer. 

Rosen says any miso from your local grocer will work well in his recipes. He’s fond of PDX-based Jorinji Miso, available at Sheridan Fruit Company.

DIY alert! Learn to make your own miso with step-by-step instructions
from the Biwa crew.

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