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Eric Akis: Miso adds umami-rich boost to B.C. rockfish dish

Baked rockfish fillets are served, Asian-style, with steamed baby bok choy, mushrooms and umami-rich broth flavoured with miso, ginger and garlic.
Rockfish with Baby Bok Choy, Shiitake Mushrooms and Miso Broth Rockfish, baked and then served in a shallow bowl with bok choy, mushrooms and miso broth.

As noted in a previous column, I like to keep a tub of miso in my refrigerator, at the ready to use in myriad ways.

Miso is a paste made from cooked and mashed soybeans fermented with salt and koji, a yeast-like mould. Depending on the type of miso it is, it can also be made or blended with other ingredients, such as rice and/or barley.

Miso is deeply savoury ingredient that can add umami-rich boost to all kind of things, such as roasted vegetables, salad dressings, stir-fries, glazes for meat, flavoured butters, marinades and, of course, soup. It also works well with seafood, how I used it in today’s recipe.

To make it, I used one of my favourite types of B.C. fish, rockfish fillets. Rockfish is also sometimes sold as Pacific snapper, despite not be related to “true” snappers caught in warm-water places, such as the Gulf of Mexico.

When compared to other B.C. species, such as halibut and lingcod, rockfish is more budget friendly. And it has a slightly sweet, mild and appealing taste, and a firm, yet flaky texture that enables the cook to use it in a variety of ways.

For today’s recipe, which serves two, I baked the rockfish drizzled with a bit of vegetable oil and citrus/soy-flavoured ponzu sauce. The fish was then served in shallow bowls that were filled with steamed baby bok choy and a beguiling broth accented with such things as shiro (white) miso, ginger and garlic. Complete the meal by serving the fish with steamed rice.

When buying the rockfish, opt for firm looking, glistening fillets that have a mild sea-like aroma. For the freshest taste, buy rockfish the day you’ll cook it. If you had to, though, if the fish is very fresh, you could store it, removed from its store packaging and set in a covered container, in the coldest part of your refrigerator for one day.

Many sellers of rockfish fillets remove the sturdy bones that run through the thicker part of the fillet. Some do not, and if that’s a concern, simply ask the person selling the rockfish if the bones have been removed.

Rockfish with Baby Bok Choy, Shiitake Mushrooms and Miso Broth

Baked rockfish fillets are served, Asian-style, with steamed baby bok choy, mushrooms and umami-rich broth flavoured with miso, ginger and garlic. To make a filling meal, serve the fish with steamed rice, to spoon alongside the fish once in the serving bowls.

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 10 minutes

Makes: two servings

1 1/2 cups low sodium chicken, fish or vegetable broth or stock

3 medium shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, caps thinly sliced

1 medium garlic clove, minced

1 tsp peeled and finely grated fresh ginger

• pinch red pepper flakes and granulated sugar

2 (about 5 to 6-oz/140- to 170-gram) rockfish fillets, each cut in half, widthwise, a slight angle

2 tsp vegetable oil

1 Tbsp ponzu sauce (see Note 1)

• salt and ground white pepper, to taste

1 Tbsp white (shiro) miso (see Note 2)

5 small to medium baby bok choy, each halved, lengthwise

1 green onion, halved lengthwise, and then thinly sliced, widthwise

• roasted sesame seeds, to taste (see Note 3)

Preheat oven to 400 F. Place broth (or stock), sliced mushrooms, garlic, ginger, pepper flakes and sugar in a small pot. Now set a steamer over a pot of water. Set both pots on the stovetop, but don’t turn on the heat yet.

Place the fish in a single layer in a parchment paper-lined baking dish. Drizzle fish with the oil and ponzu sauce; season with salt and pepper. Bake the fish 10 minutes, or until cooked through.

While the fish cooks, set the pot with the steamer on it over medium-high and bring the water to a simmer. Set the pot with broth mixture over medium, medium-high heat and bring to simmer. Simmer three minutes, and then stir in miso until it dissolves. Cover and reserve this miso broth on low heat (do not boil). When the water is simmering, set the bok choy in the steamer, cover and steam until just tender, about one minute.

When fish is cooked, divide and ladle the miso broth into two shallow servings bowls. Set five, half pieces of bok choy in each bowl. Top the bok choy in each bowl with two pieces of the fish. Drizzle fish with any oil/ponzu sauce left in the baking dish. Sprinkle the fish with green onions and sesame seeds, and serve.

Note 1: Ponzu sauce is sold in the Asian foods aisle of most supermarkets. If you want to make your own ponzu sauce, in a small jar, combine 2 Tbsp soy sauce, 1 Tbsp orange juice, 1 1/2 tsp lemon juice, 3/4 tsp water, 3/4 tsp rice vinegar and 3/4 tsp honey. Use what you need for the recipe and then seal up and refrigerate the rest for another use. If you did not want to use ponzu sauce, simply replace it with soy sauce.

Note 2: Tubs of shiro (white) miso are sold, refrigerated, at Japanese/Asian food stores and at many supermarkets. I used Amano Foods brand B.C.-made miso when testing this recipe.

Note 3: Rich golden-coloured roasted sesame seeds are sold in the Asian foods aisle of most supermarkets. If you wanted to toast your own sesame seeds, place raw sesame seeds in a non-stick skillet set over medium heat. Cook the seeds, swirl the pan from time to time, until lightly toasted and golden, about three to four minutes.

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Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.