On Monday night, a group of food writers, scientists, and food aficionados crammed into a tenth floor NYU chemistry classroom to eat, drink and learn. During the September meeting of the Experimental Cuisine Collective, Dan Felder, head coach of the Momofuku Culinary Lab, shared his research on microbes and miso with an eager crowd.
Felder and his team believe miso is one of the most humbling foods around, and they would never undermine the beauty that comes with over 2,000 years of culinary development. For them, though, the tradition of miso can, and should, be altered to meet the desires of the modern culinary kitchen. So the team has combined the tradition of miso with the innovation of food science, and they are now experimenting with fermentation in ways you could never imagine.
Miso, traditionally made from fermented rice and soybeans, can actually be produced with any nut, seed, or legume that has a similar starch and protein content to soybeans. One day, the gastronomic geniuses at Momofuku made a list of every local ingredient they could dream of making into a miso, and they got right to work.
Felder brought a ton of samples for the crowd. First, we tasted misos made from pistachio, cranberry bean, and Felder’s personal favorite, pine nut. The pine nut was by far the best. Unlike traditional smooth misos, it had small chunks of ground nut, almost resembling a freshly milled almond butter. But the flavor was nothing like that of nut butter- it was rich, strong and salty. If there were one food to define the umami or savory taste, this would be it. Next, we were each given a series of vials filled with a few drops of tamari, a liquid similar to soy sauce that comes from the miso fermenting process. The most memorable was the chickpea, because the flavor worked perfectly in the tamari even though the legume is not traditionally used in Japanese cooking.
As Felder notes, the most important part of these crazy culinary experiments is deliciousness, and anyone who has been to their restaurants knows they’re doing things right. If you haven’t checked out one of their six locations throughout the city (or one of the five in the rest of the world), you should get on that.