Tuesday, March 20, 2012

One Great . . . asparagus with miso butter

In a burst of healthfulness last year, I bought a small tub of white miso, driven by a suggestion from a fellow food writer that a little miso makes a good topping for a baked sweet potato. It does, although I quickly discovered "a little" is key. Even the milder white miso is a strong flavor.

The easy way to describe miso is as a fermented soybean paste, but that's not completely accurate. There is more than soy in miso. The pastes vary in color and intensity -- red and mixed misos also are common -- and they can include grains, such as barley or rice. They also can be made from other beans beside soybeans.

Since a little goes a long way, my tub was lasting a while. Then, just as asparagus was starting to show back up in stores, I spotted an idea inspired by New York chef David Chang: Miso butter.

One night when I needed to throw together a fast supper for myself, I gave it a try and was stunned at how tasty this stuff is. As a topping, it's as easy as it gets: Half miso, half room-temp unsalted butter, whisked together with a fork. The sweetness and creaminess of the butter complements the intense salty/savoriness of the miso. Chang's version also tops the asparagus with a poached egg, so the runny yolk mixes with the butter. That makes a great simple meal, although it also works great just to toss a little hot asparagus with a little of the butter mixture.

I'm starting to see more ideas for using miso butter cropping up: Toss it with roasted corn, dab it on flank steak, It's a completely different set of flavors, and a great spring trick. Oh, and yes, it's also amazing on a baked sweet potato.

Asparagus With Miso Butter
Inspired by David Chang and adapted from a number of online versions.

2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
2 tablespoons white miso (also known as shiromiso)
1 bunch of asparagus (about 5 to 6 stalks per serving)
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 tablespoons white vinegar
2 eggs
Salt and pepper

Place the butter and miso at room temperature for 10 minutes or so, until soft enough to whisk together. Set aside.

Cook the asparagus: Either toss the stalks with a little olive oil and roast in a 375-degree oven for 5 to 8 minutes, or heat the olive oil in a skillet, add the asparagus and a couple of tablespoons of water, cover and saute for about 8 minutes, until the water is evaporated and the asparagus is crisp tender.

Bring a small pot of water to boil, add the vinegar and reduce the heat to keep the water just simmering. Carefully crack the eggs into the water and cook until the whites are just set, 3 to 5 minutes.

Place a little of the miso butter on a serving plate. Top with the hot asparagus. Remove the eggs from the saucepan with a slotted spoon and place on the asparagus. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve immediately. If you have any miso butter left over, just refrigerate it and use it on another dish, such as any roasted vegetable or a grilled steak.

Makes 2 servings.