One of the recipes I’ve fiddled about with the most is for miso aubergines. Perfecting them has been an ongoing project since I came back from Japan eight years ago, until about last week, when I think I got it right. The first time I tried them was in a little café in a Tokyo side street, I forget where exactly, but they were so good, I’ve been trying to emulate them ever since. I’m finally happy enough with the recipe to post it, but don’t be surprised if an updated one appears here in the future. I’m notorious for not being able to leave things alone.
I was a vegetarian when I travelled around Japan; so there was no sashimi, salmon teriyaki, chicken katsu or pork ramen, things I have since discovered. Instead, I was happily eating miso aubergines, agedashi tofu, sweet potato tempura and, most bizarrely, those hot dog buns with cold soba noodles you can buy from the 7-11. Being now omnivorous, and living in a city with a myriad of Japanese restaurants, I can enjoy all of these things on a regular basis, except for the noodle buns, which I have yet to find here.
Up until a few years ago, finding miso in London was a bit of a ballache, and really you had to order it online or get it from the Japan Centre in Piccadilly. Now it’s more or less everywhere, which means that my quest for the perfect miso aubergine has subsequently ramped up a gear.
As with anything, it’s finally finding the right balance of ingredients that leads to the eureka moment you’re looking for. I tried out a number of miso aubergine recipes, from both books and restaurants, but never found any of them to be quite right. Then I added a little pinch of chilli flakes one day and knew immediately what was missing. I also found that although I love the flavour of miso, if the ratio to the other ingredients is too high, I’m just not into it as much.
There are two ways you can cook the aubergines: you can slow-roast the aubergines with a miso glaze, or you can cook the aubergines in a wok with the miso sauce until it cooks down and caramelises. It’s up to you whether you salt the aubergines first to remove some of the moisture, but I always find it gives a better result, and means that you won’t need to add any salt during cooking. I prefer the cooking-in-the-wok method, but this is really because it creates more of a nostalgic, side street Tokyo cafe dish.
This is the recipe I’ve come up with. Do cook it if you have the time, as I think it’s wonderful. Or just use it as a basis for your own adaptation.
I really need to go back to Japan.
2 large, or 3 medium, aubergines
5 tbsp sesame oil
2 dried red chillies
4 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine
4 tbsp mirin
4 tbsp caster sugar
3 tbsp rice vinegar
4½ tbsp miso paste
Cut the aubergines into bite sized pieces and place into a colander. Sprinkle with sea salt and leave for about half an hour. Wipe away any moisture with kitchen paper.
Heat the sesame oil in a wok and, once hot, crumble in the red chillies. Add the aubergine and stir fry for about eight minutes until the aubergine is tender and golden. Turn the pieces occasionally with tongs.
Meanwhile, combine the rice wine, mirin, sugar, rice vinegar and miso in a bowl and whisk to a smooth sauce. Lower the heat under the wok and pour the sauce over the aubergines. Cook over a medium heat for a further eight minutes. In this time, the sauce will reduce and form a glaze over the aubergine pieces.