Recently my husband and I took part in a little friendly competition with a few other couples for a mutual friend’s birthday, which involved her naming an ingredient and the rest of us coming up with dishes incorporating the ingredient, to bring to her birthday dinner. She selected miso, which was a brilliant idea, as miso can be used in so many applications, sweet and savory. Some of the contributions that evening included miso-marinated steak, miso-caramel ice cream, and miso-pork stuffed steamed buns. Delicious!
But how does this relate to poutine, you ask? Well, for reasons left unexplained, bonus points were awarded for Canadian-themed dishes, and what’s more stereotypically Canadian than poutine?
Of course, I’m a dessert chef, not a savory chef, and since the dishes needed to be mostly assembled ahead of time I didn’t want to actually try making fresh french fries. Instead, adapting my original concept of a miso panna cotta, I decided to make it richer and a little stiffer, and let it stand in for cheese curds over some faux “fries” made of shoestring-sliced miso blondies. Top it all off with a miso-pear-ginger “gravy” and a sprinkling of sesame crunch for texture, and it made for a really fun dessert. The caramel notes of the red miso really shone in each of its applications, and the interplay of textures was fantastic.
Rich Miso Pana Cotta
Note: this is sweeter and richer than a standard panna cotta– almost cheesecake-ish in flavor.
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cups half and half
8 oz cream cheese, room temperature (or heated in the microwave for about 45 seconds)
1 cup sugar
1 package Knox gelatin
3 tbs. red miso paste
(I will note that I took practically no pictures of this process, since it was basically all mixing cream colored liquids together in various amounts… boring!)
1. Pour 1/4 cup of the half and half into a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over the surface. Set aside for 5 minutes.
2. Combine the sugar, miso, and 1 cup of the cream in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer, stirring to break up the miso. You just want the sugar to dissolve, then remove from heat.
3. In a separate bowl, combine the cream cheese and another 1/4 cup of the half and half to form a smooth mixture. This will help avoid lumps in the next few steps.
4. Add a few dollops of the cream cheese mixture into the sugar/miso/cream mixture, stirring to combine. Check the temperature– you want it to be right around 130 degrees F. Once it hits that point, stop adding cream cheese.
5. Add the gelatin mixture to the hot sugar/miso/cream and stir until the gelatin is completely dissolved.
6. A spoonful at a time, add in the rest of the cream cheese mixture and stir until reasonably smooth. A few lumps here won’t be a problem– you’ll be straining it later.
7. Slowly add in the remaining 1 cup of half and half, and 1/2 cup of cream.
8. Pour mixture through a mesh strainer, using a spatula to press out any lumps of miso or cream cheese that remain.
9. Pour into an oiled (I used sesame oil) 9×13″ pan, cover with plastic wrap (over the top, not pressed into the surface), and chill at least 4 hours until firm.
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1 1/2 tsp. red miso paste
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 cup sesame seeds
1. Line a sheet pan with a silicone mat, or parchment paper.
2. Combine sugar and water in a medium-large saucepan, stirring just until sugar is moistened. Bring to a boil over high heat, covered.
3. Cook sugar, covered with a lid (check every few minutes on its progress), until the mixture thickens and starts to bubble slowly. Then you can remove the lid.
4. Continue to cook sugar until it turns a light amber. Remove from heat and stir in the red miso paste. It will bubble up a lot, but keep stirring.
5. Stir in the baking soda. It will bubble up even more. Keep stirring for about 20 seconds.
6. Stir in the sesame seeds. The mixture will immediately thicken and start to clump, but keep stirring until it’s reasonably workable.
7. Immediately pour out onto the silicone-lined sheet pan. Using a spoon or spatula, spread out thinly over the pan.
8. Let cool for about an hour, until firm, then break into shards.
Miso Blondie “Fries”
1/2 cup butter
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
2 tbs. red miso paste
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 cup diced crystallized ginger
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9×13″ pan with foil or parchment paper.
2. Melt butter with miso in a saucepan, then add brown sugar and stir until just smooth. Remove from heat and add vanilla.
3. Let butter/sugar mixture cool for about 10 minutes.
4. Beat in eggs one at a time with a fork or whisk, until thoroughly combined.
5. In a separate bowl, combine dry ingredients. Add to liquid ingredients and stir until thick and smooth.
6. Stir in chopped crystallized ginger.
7. Spread batter into prepared pan and bake for 30-35 minutes until lightly browned on the edges and the top.
8. Cool completely (chilling would be even better), then remove from pan and use a large knife to slice into 1/2-inch “fries.” (slice into strips and then split the strips in half)
Pear-Ginger Caramel Sauce
3 Bartlett pears, peeled and diced
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 tsp. red miso paste
1. Heat the sugar in a heavy-bottomed saucepan until it melts and turns dark amber, stirring occasionally to prevent burning. This is the “dry method” of making caramel. It’ll get clumpy before it finally melts out, but keep at it– it’ll eventually get smooth, though it may never be completely clear. This won’t matter since you’ll be adding pears later.
2. Once your sugar is nicely colored, stir in the diced pears. The caramel will bubble up and seize, but keep stirring and cooking until it re-dissolves.
3. Stir in the miso. Cook for 10 minutes over medium heat to let the pears soften.
4. Remove from heat. Pour in the cream. Using an immersion (or regular) blender, puree the sauce until smooth.
1. Lay blondie “fries” on a sheet pan and lightly toast in a 375 degree F oven until the edges crisp just a bit.
2. In the meantime, use a butter knife to cut your chilled panna cotta into small cubes. They won’t be stiff enough to hold firm edges (they’re kind of gloppy), but the slight meltiness will make them look more like cheese curds anyway. If you want firmer edges, try putting the pan in the freezer for half an hour before cutting.
3. Put a pile of warm fries into a serving dish, and scatter panna cotta glops generously over them.
4. Drizzle pear-caramel gravy over the fries.
5. Add a piece of sesame crunch (and maybe some chopped crystallized ginger) for garnish.
6. Serve immediately.
Also, if you feel like going a little more elegant with this dessert, try molding the panna cotta in domes or small ramekins, then unmold it over a thin circle of blondie. Gorgeous, no?
1. The panna cotta is amazing. If you make nothing else, make this! It’s creamy and rich and the miso adds such amazing depth of flavor that no one will believe it was easy to make. Also, if for any reason you don’t like the finished shape of the set panna cotta, you can always re-heat it gently until liquid, and re-mold it with no issues at all.
2. You may be tempted to just use half milk and half cream instead of the half-and-half. While this may work perfectly well, I will note that half-and-half is homogenized, so is guaranteed not to separate out during the chilling process. If you just mix the milk and cream you may not get such a smooth result. It’s possible that the cream cheese in this recipe would prevent that anyway, but I didn’t want to take any chances.
3. The sesame crunch is a great candy all on its own. You could also crush it up and sprinkle over desserts for added texture and flavor.
4. I made the blondies with an extra egg (recipe only called for two) because I knew I wanted them cakey rather than fudgy– this was to provide greater contrast with the rich, creamy panna cotta and silky, sweet pear-caramel sauce. I know that if I’d gone with the fudgier recipe I wouldn’t have been able to cut them into thin “fries” for poutine, but if you were making this as a straight dessert you could go back to two eggs– it would make the dessert richer as a whole.
5. I prefer to use the dry caramel method when it’s not absolutely necessary to have a completely clear caramel– it tends to leave some undissolved sugar crystals, which don’t matter in this application (or any caramel sauce applications) because they’ll re-dissolve when you add liquid. But if you’re making straight caramelized sugar to dip things in, go with the wet method (the one I use in the sesame crunch).