Put on a pot of rice, make the sauce, steam the broccoli and you are just about ready to taste a wonderful combination of two ancient flavors, developed worlds apart and brought together here for this simple fish and vegetable dish.
The discovery of taking sap from a maple tree and cooking it down to a sweet syrup has long been part of the diet, medicine, as well as myths and legends, of the Ottawa, Iroquois, Menominee, Chippewa and Mohegan people of the northeast North American continent.
Paul Le Jeune, in 1634, was one of the first Europeans to write about this. Later, Philadelphia physician Benjamin Rush in the late 1700s promoted maple sugar as a “wonder food” leading to an invasion of European immigrants into the Upper Great Lakes, who hoped to profit off the product. It truly is a “wonder food,” needing 30 to 50 gallons of sap cooked down to make one gallon of syrup.
As sweet as maple syrup is, miso is salty. There are different varieties rendering many subtle and not so subtle secondary flavors, so salt is only part of the story. Basically, it is made from fermented grain; the kind of grain determines the name of the miso, like mugi miso is made from barley, and genmai is made from brown rice.
The fermentation process and the region the miso is from also determine its name and flavor. A key ingredient in the fermentation process is aspergillus oryzae, a special fungus that is not only used to make miso, but also soy sauce, sake and rice vinegar. Mentioned in the Chinese Rites of the Zhou Dynasty, it is thought to have been domesticated over 2,000 years ago and was a major advancement in Asian food technology. Eiji Ichishima of Todoku University spearheaded the movement in 2006 to recognized it as the “national fungus” of Japan.
The recipe is from writer and recipe developer Colu Henry, which appeared in the New York Times food section in January this year.
I like buying wild sockeye salmon because of its flavor, and because it is recommended by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program; the way the fish are caught has a low impact on the environment. Visit the official website at www.seafoodwatch.org for more information.
Maple and miso salmon and broccoli
•1 pound salmon fillet with skin on, cut into 1 inch wide slices
•4 teaspoons maple syrup
•1 tablespoon white or brown miso
•1 tablespoon rice vinegar
•2 teaspoons soy sauce
•1 garlic clove, minced
•1 pound broccoli florets, washed and trimmed
•2 tablespoons olive oil
•Pinch of red pepper flakes
•1 teaspoon sesame oil
•¼ cup roughly chopped cilantro leaves - optional
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a shallow pan with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Wash and dry the salmon. Cut into 1-inch wide pieces and rub with salt and pepper. Place on the pan, skin side down.
In a small bowl whisk the syrup, miso, rice vinegar, soy sauce and garlic. Pour the mixture over the fish and gently rub it into the fish. Don’t wash the bowl; use it again for the broccoli. Let the fish sit until the oven is ready.
Bring a small saucepan with water to a boil on the stove. Add broccoli florets and cook for about 5 minutes until broccoli turns bright green and are partially cooked. Drain and then add to the same bowl the maple-miso mixture, and then add the olive oil, pepper flakes, sesame oil, salt and pepper. Toss well to coat florets, then add to pan with the fish.
Bake for about 10-12 minutes depending on how thick the fish is. When done, sprinkle with cilantro and serve with rice. This recipe serves four.
Sarah Ringler is a retired schoolteacher. She worked as a cook for 8 years before being a teacher, and also taught a cooking class at Pajaro Middle School for several years. She comes from a long line of serious cooks and passed the tradition on to her children, grandchildren, students and hopefully her readers.