2 Ways Jacques Pépin Uses Miso To Flavor Fish

It's no secret that acclaimed chef Jacques Pépin loves seafood: In a post on his official Facebook account, he even writes, "Hello. I eat a great deal of fish." This personal penchant compounded by a lifelong career of preparing seafood in the kitchen makes for a seasoned authority on how, exactly, to do it the right way — and in Pépin's book, it's all about the miso.

Miso is the quintessential umami bomb. It's a paste made from fermented soybeans and salt, and this salty, funky condiment is a natural fit for pairing with salty-funky fish filets. Plus, thanks to its natural fermentation, it lasts for around a year in the fridge, meaning you can also keep the ingredient on hand for easy access in other recipes. Miso's peanut butter-like texture makes it a natural fit for creating thick, rich glazes for preparing fish. There are many different types of miso paste, but the intense flavor of red miso is the best fit for creating impactful marinades and glazes — and it's the ingredient Jacques Pépin swears by when he's preparing fish. 

As the world-renowned chef once waxed, "My palate is simpler than it used to be. A young chef adds and adds and adds to the plate. As you get older, you start to take away." It's no wonder, then, that the miso glazes and marinades Pépin uses to flavor fish tote simple prep and short ingredient lists, letting the punchy Japanese ingredient speak for itself.

Roasted black cod in spicy miso glaze

Cod is characterized by its mild flavor, making it a wonderfully accessible option for pleasing hesitant seafood eaters who might not find an intense fishy taste appealing. For added home cook ease, it's typically sold in skinned, deboned filets or even bagged in the grocery store freezer aisle, requiring zero prep work.

When he's serving it on his table, Jacques Pépin makes roasted black cod filets with a spicy miso glaze, according to a post on his official Instagram account. The glaze is a mixture of miso paste, hot chili garlic sauce, soy sauce, and mirin — "One of my favorite ways of cooking fish," raves the chef. If you've never worked with it before, mirin is a sweet, sake-esque rice wine popular in Japanese cooking, made from a combination of shochu, koji, and steamed mochi rice. The resulting complex profile is sweet, tangy, and umami-forward, with a hit of acidity.

"Cod is one of my favorite fish. It's flaky, moist, easy to find, and affordable," Pépin explained to PBS. "I like to serve it slightly undercooked, but of course you should prepare it to your own liking." To do it like the pro, roast your black cod in the oven until it's flaky a little on the underdone side, then slather it in the miso glaze and dig in.

Broiled salmon in maple-miso marinade

Salmon's naturally high fat content imbues the fish with an automatic richness, so it's only right to play up the luxury element with a fittingly luxurious marinade. When he's preparing salmon, Jacques Pépin sweetens things up a bit with the addition of maple syrup — another sweet-umami dressing, but one that emphasizes the sweetness more than the tangy acidity.

As he told KQED, Pépin's overnight salmon marinade is made from a mixture of red miso paste, maple syrup, soy sauce or tamari, hot chili sauce like Sriracha, and rice vinegar — notably, not dissimilar to the ingredients in his go-to cod glaze. If you don't have an entire day to wait for this dish to marinate, says the chef, even an hour-long soak can make a big difference. It works so well for salmon, explained Pépin, because "miso paste has a deep taste, and the maple syrup, soy, and vinegar give it great complexity. Extra miso glaze can be served with the cooked fish, if you like." To complete the meal, serve your maple-miso salmon with roasted parmesan potatoes, wilted asparagus, or mushroom risotto.

In general, lighter-colored salmon filets carry a milder taste, while darker, pinker filets carry a stronger fishy flavor. To let the maple-miso glaze shine, you might opt for a less vivid filet. Or for a more intense taste that stands up to glaze with some juxtaposing funk, give a darker pink salmon filet a whirl.