I am a huge fan of miso. I am also a huge fan of Instagram. I find it to be a massive gateway to a whole universe of inspiration. I've connected with so many like minded individuals over the past couple of years and Rich Shih is one of them. After months of watching his waterfall of cooking and fermentation ideas on social media, he coincidentally reached out for a meet up. At that time, I was running a restaurant on a 200 acre farm in the Seacoast of NH and we were looking to learn as many preservation methods as possible in order to keep up with the harvest. It only made sense to have Rich come in and help us learn how to make koji, a key ingredient for a multitude of Japanese preservation techniques. We ended up using the koji he brought to make miso out of as many things as we could. We used chestnuts, black walnuts, peanut butter, smoked acorn squash seeds, crab apples & dehydrated milk for the protein, heirloom beans, you name it. We also made a "fish sauce" or "garum" by feeding equal parts koji to wild Maine mussels with 33% salt. After a few months, it was really frigging weird and mysteriously delicious. It smelled like grass & ocean air and it was packed with umami.
After a year went by, Rich and I reconnected to taste some of the aged miso we made together. We also agreed to do a koji making session. The first key step to making koji is to properly steam the rice. When you cook the rice, you want to make it "al dente", for lack of a better term. This is to maintain the structural integrity of the rice so it will have space between the grains for the aspergillus oryzae to grow. It's the point when the rice is cooked enough to make the carbohydrates accessible to the mold for consumption and before the grains start to stick together.
Once the rice cooled down to about body temperature (must be less than 110 degrees F), we sprinkled on the aspergillus oryzae and tossed to combine with the rice.
Rich had the idea of creating a stable environment between 80-95 degrees F using an immersion circulator. We rigged it up so that the water came only half way up the side of the 9x13 pan and covered the inoculated rice with a clean damp towel. The top of the circulator was covered with plastic wrap to keep the humidity in.
The water was around 84.5 F and only had to be "topped off" once. This temperature gave us great results. The total time was 36 hours.
The aroma and flavor of the koji was floral and sweet. It was great on its own. I've dehydrated this at a slightly high temperature in the past and made "koji crisp" for a white chia pudding with kefir & lacto-boocha cherries. Armed with delicious dessert at competition, I was crowned the 2016 Boston Fermentation throwdown champion! (more on that in another story)
Rich is good people. He is dedicated to spreading that koji love wherever he goes. He was most recently in L.A at some of the top spots in town, sharing his techniques with all who would listen. If you would like to get the details on the interesting things he’s done with koji, check out this page on OurCookQuest.com. If you would like to see his current ideas, follow @ourcookquest on Instagram.
We will be using ours to make all sorts of deliciousness from sake to soy sauce. I'm really looking forward to sharing the process! Stay tuned!