The Name of the Rose

Today is my birthday and I have a few things to say. Mostly everything I want to convey on this year’s birthday – September 15th – has all been said before in Nina Simone’s song “Feelin Good” At least the attitude part.

The recipe for this is actually already posted at culturesgroup.net

The semiotics or foodways start of a new year follows. As will the recipes that depend on understanding a few basic concepts. Although we haven’t yet introduced all of the misos, sauces, amino pastes, pickles, sakes, amasakes, kefirs, brews, yeast and bacteria centric items and baked goods and sweets that we’ve been making over the years, our corn rose miso has been very popular.

We only call it miso because the predecessor of all things made with koji is a word that has never been widely accepted in the English speaking world. Even the word koji is an inadequate translation of the predecessor to the what the original word for koji actually meant.

When the Japanese were gifted the knowledge of how to make and use koji – along with their first system of language – it was done by Chinese buddhists. The reason why so many people have seriously inaccurate ideas of where some things originated, or even that they have existed for thousands of years, is that the Chinese had no need to claim invention of anything.

The Japanese, however, kept repackaging and inventing while creating a hagiography of these things that were really just different versions of Chinese jiang, the predecessor even to the little fermented soybeans named shih or docuhi that many people insist are the actual precursor. Before koji there was jiang. Adding koji to jiang made it even better.

Ketchup and Worcestershire Sauce were derived from jiang, as were dozens of ither things such as miso and soy sauce and fish sauces and even preserved meats and game.

Nope

Sometimes the romanticized version of the past has worked well for the Japanese, and other countries to be sure, but other times it has failed miserably. Whoever though of the idea that foreigners would understand thus buy more Japanese sake by calling it rice wine should have been corrected.

The claim that they discovered or invented koji, or that it is endemic to only their country, is just not accurate. Still, the entire world should be extremely grateful to the Japanese for their efforts and inventions, especially Americans, because Japanese scientists including Dr.Takamine’s contributions to several industries in this country have been very significant.

麹 or 米糀 – Aspergillus and friends or pet Aspergillus

Millet koji.

But let’s start with the koji, or 麹, since it is what set everything off. 麹 really has little to do with the purified spores (tane-koji) that the Japanese have so brilliantly domesticated. When the Japanese think koji they mean 米糀 (rice koji or come-kouji) or sometimes another subspecies of Aspergillus (mold) grown on barley, millet, sweet potatoes or soybeans.

We’ll get to the Zygomycetes (Rhizopus, Mucor, Rhizomucor), yeasts and bacteria later, but even then it’s really rare that at some point in miso making or shoyu making and ocassionally even sake making they aren’t part of the process. Even if that just means avoiding them at all costs.

You should at least know these things exist. But we’ll try not to get too microbiologist on you unless it really matters.

Corn: Vinegar, Koji and Hamma Natto
Three corn kojis, three tastes (vinegar, koji, shih)

Su Jiang Rou or Shoyu what?

Many research papers, patent applications, books, journals, PhD theses and extant scrolls – as well as some pretty old oral communications – accurately document the development of mochi koji 麹. The stuff that seems to have taken hold in the minds of Westerners, at least, is bara koji, not mochi koji though.

We are actually partial to the bara koji, because as with sake and a whole lot of other food stuffs and beverages, the original sake was awful. Bara koji helps us to avoid that type of sake entirely. That said, Shanghai yeast balls or Chinese yeasts balls – way closer to the original mochi koji – can make some pretty amazing things.

Furthermore, modern day additives to sake that come from Aspergillus such as A.luchuensis or A. oryzaes and sometimes yeasts, bacteria or microbial enzymes should be welcomed as great things, especially if they help to avoid the industrialized unpalatable swill (増醸酒 ぞうじょうしゅ or Zojoshu) that is produced and consumed in Japan on a widespread basis.

Nukazuke (corn pickles made with corn nuka or bran). Thank you, Lactobacillus plantarum and friendly halophiles, for everything you do

Unblinded by Science

As I recently discussed at a recent meeting of culturesgroup, the invention of s16 rRna technology along with rapid advancements in other ways to quantify very precisely what bacteria and other microbes (yeasts, fungi, etc.) that populate the microbiome of any product have exploded the research into what microbes are in what we eat.

This is not all that new a thing, though, as the romanticizers of traditional methods keep trying to sell their goods. But industry and artesans can now either industrialize or individualize or do some of both when making something like soy sauce or amino sauces or sake with widely accessible ingredients.

Look to the Yeast

When I say there is actually only one thing that is ever created through any type of transformative process like using something to make koji from or add koji to or inoculate with a specific mold or fungus what I mean is that everything is on a continuum, a horizontal progression from ingredient to outcome.

The sokujo style method of making sake – basically just adding lactic acid derived from bacteria to avoid having to create it in what is called a shubo or moto in a time consuming and more expensive way – is almost exactly the same thing as making shoyu and even miso.

If you want to direct tastes or mormi develop look to the yeast. Sometimes, the water minerals or the bacteria, often cadged from a previous batch, do the trick as well.

Shiitake mushroom shoyu or soy sauce.

With the help of amazing new equipment with which we can measure a microbiome (as in the mkicrobiome of a vat of soy sauce) and it’s inhabitants down to the genetic level it makes clear how much respect the artesans that have been making these things for thousands of years deserve.

And this old world is a new world
And a bold world – Nina Simone, Feeling Good

Knowledge begets new customs and traditions. Don’t repeat history and not learn from the past. Using new tools and techniques, it’s time for new generations to experiment and create new foodways.

Not that we know everything we want to know yet. Just that it should be a fusion of the traditional and the modern, a sustainable and enlightened way of creating new foods and tastes.

Taking Stock of and Making Stock from Sweet Corn

First the corn stock. You can actually make this with half eaten, older, or cosmetically challenged corn and it will still deliver the smell and taste we lust after in corn. If you are using fresh corn save the husks for making tempeh or tamales or little packets of natto if you like.

Roasting corn picked a little more than a few days ago to create a very tasty stock and water replacement to give dishes a greater organoleptic corn thrill. The smell of corn roasting until brown from the Maillard reaction and the caramelization of corn’s inherently large percentage of sugars can provoke a Proustian Madeleine response in those of us that grew up near corn fields.

Corn Stock Recipe

Hack up four ears of raw, sweet corn into two to three inch pieces after shucking and removing the corn silk if it’s still on, then place in an un oiled pan. Bake the corn for 3 or 4 hours.

You could also just brown the pieces very well in a big heavy pot until they were caramelized and dark but not burnt. Or throw them on a hot grill.

Cover with water (6 to 8 cups) and cook for an hour or two on top of the stove, or cook in a pressure cooker – we’re not naming names here – in the same amount of water for 20 minutes. Let cool off and strain. You can also add any well roasted corn kernels to the broth – up to 1/4 cup per 6 cups of water, and strain everything for a richer taste.

Besides using this for our corn misos, breads, rice or bean based breads like idlis and dosas, you can just chill the stock and sweeten it (or not) for iced tea. Or add spices and tea for chai. Use it instead of water or even stock in just about any case you would use water or stock.

Of course you can also use it as a chilled or hot soup base adding whatever you like to it. In any case, this stock is so versatile and tasty and simple consider it as part of your mise-en-place. It lasts for up to a week in the refrigerator. We make it once a day when it’s corn season.

The amount of starch in corn and that starches ability to be gelatinized makes it a stand out candidate for microbial intervention: pickle it, ferment it, use it instead of rice starch for a kimchi or fermentation base, or turn it into a soy sauce type seasoning agent and dipping sauce. Or a marinade. Or alcohol. Or mirin.

Lots of recipes coming, many presented at one or more of September events we are presenting at, or collaborating with other people and groups to provide.

Just a few of the things you can make with corn:

  • wine
  • pickles
  • puddings
  • cakes
  • breads
  • chutneys
  • soy sauce (with or without beans)
  • grits
  • hominy
  • polenta
  • moonshine
  • beer
  • corn nuts
  • syrup
  • flour
  • sprouts
  • tamales
  • tortillas
  • tacos
  • stews
  • mirin
  • ice cream
  • and many, many different types of desserts.
Corn germ and corn tips from nixtamalized corn. In the 1980’s we used to make macrobiotic unrefined corn germ oil and barley malt pecan pies with a cornmeal crust. Not exactly low fat but unbelievably tasty. The removal of the 
germ reduces the chances that the corn will go bad in your larder or when transported to other places.

If you’ve ever picked the corn tips off newly nixtamalized corn (whole dried dent or field corn treated with potash or more commonly calcium hydroxide or cal) to make pericarp free, homogenized color, hominy it’s easy to see how canned hominy of a very consistent quality, or dried hominy (known as posole by most people) became popular.

A lot of the quality of fresh corn that is available to most consumers depends on how close a local corn field was, and how carefully and coldly fresh picked corn could be transferred to an alert buying public.

Except for a few hard core corn enthusiasts that argued about the perfect timing schemes to seize ears of corn from the fields and throw them into boiling water to get the sweetest, freshest corn, suburban and city folk were pretty much stuck with buying corn from grocery stores. Removing the kernels off the cob and getting just the juicy parts to be sauteed as a vegetable side dish is always a treat. Some places sell fresh, raw corn kernels as well.

For a while, popcorn was the best selling gourmet food item in any state in the country. As you’ll see, it makes a mean sprout that can then be popped, nixtamilized and made into a variety of things such as miso.

You can do a wide variety of things with dried (or freeze dried) sweet corn and field corn. There’s nothing like breaking out a big jar of pickled corn still on the cob or corn relish or chutney in the middle of winter. Our corn miso will make you think you are eating a piece of freshly grilled and buttered corn. Even if you are eating it on an ear of fresh corn in the summer.

Sweet corn miso aging in the refrigerator after a 6 month fermentation period. Deep.

We suggest adding some some at the last minute as is recommended with all misos – boiling it destroys the good things about this ferment and dulls the flavor – to a new England Corn Chowder, or spread on a corn based pizza crust topped with roasted garlic, cheese and pickled, charred jalapeños. Yes, recipe on the way.

Corn on the cob is just unavoidable in certain areas. No clam bake or crawdad boil or lobster dinner or barbeque was without corn. Often steamed along with the other ingredients, or cooked straight in salted butter and served as a side with unsweetened corn bread that had been cooked in cast iron in ashes, or dumped right on top of a shrimp gumbo.

Also, the argument about how to best (read properly and socially acceptable) eat corn in public, and whether it was even fair to serve something sure to get stuck in the teeth of well heeled diners made corn on the cob something avoided at formal dining occasions.

Corn from Masienda we nixtamalized and spiced and added to roasted pumpkin seeds and other ingredients for tempeh using a culture called Rhizopus oryzae. For hominy for our tempeh – or posole – we never use more than 1% lime (by weight). Same way we make our rapid grits for fermentation after soaking out the corn bran as we call it.

A Few Corn Facts

In most areas there are typically two classes of corn sometimes with a few varieties available, sweet corn or field corn. There are other types of corn grown for specific reasons, but most people never see them growing.

Sweet corn is not supposed to dry in the fields if it is meant to be eaten as sweet corn. Racoons and other corn eaters like coatimundi would never let that happen, anyway. Pumpkins with prickly vines, pole beans and tall sweet corn can be an effective deterrent. As can dogs.

Field corn was always yellower, grew taller, left on the cob to somewhat dry out for easier processing like a lot of grains, and a lot of fun to play in. When field corn is really dry it has indents or recessions on the top that are created as the corn loses moisture.

That’s also why it was sometimes called dent corn. If you get it before it is that dry it’s edible and tasty, just not as sweet and juicy as sweet corn.

But all corn is good. Big thanks to the Mississippians and other Native America tribes that created entire societies in what is now called the United States around corn. Pretty sure Vermont would be just green mountains had corn not been amenable to the cold climate there.


Third, Make Corn Miso

This miso is a very special miso for us. We use it not only with fresh seafood, especially shellfish and grilled vegetables, but also for several dishes we grew up on. These include gachas with rabbit or fresh bacon, polenta cakes fried in thick green olive oil and cloves of garlic, and Argentina style harina tostada in the morning with toasted almonds and fresh figs.

A little sumac and mashed garbanzo beans makes a great falafel type fritter with chopped pickles and hot sauces and creamy tahini, as well as a type of pancake that we used to eat in the Summer with grilled peppers and basil. We didn’t use corn miso back then, but this miso now gives us a reason to look forward to Summer when we tear through corn fields like raccons, knowing exactly when the corn milk is ready.

We make lots of corn based things with koji. Corn miso, corn amasake, corn doboroku, corn sauces like soy sauce, and corn shio-koji because we love corn. We consider it a local treasure in the tri-state area of New Jersey, New York and Connecticut. It grows pretty much anywhere in the United States.

Actually, you can’t get better corn or soybeans or a whole lot of other grains and beans than those grown in the USA. Even the rice grown in the USA is spectacular. Check out our growing resources list.

When you can buy organic pre-made masa harina (corn treated with lime) it makes things very easy. But you don’t even have to nixtamalize corn to use it. Koji and other microbes are all too happy to chomp down on corn to make it digestible for humans.

We can grow koji on corn cobs – listen up food wasters – and cornmeal itself. We didn’t come up with the later idea. It’s been down for hundreds of years throughout certain areas of Asia. We just think we may have elevated the practice to a higher level. Corn koji was in the past considered inferior. It’s not at all.

First, let’s make this very simple and incredibly versatile miso. We’ll post some more corn miso recipes in the next day or two.

Corn Rose Miso

Corn Rose Miso is one of the easiest misos you can make. You can use regular rice koji instead of jasmine rice koji. You can even use corn water or fresh corn put in a blender instead of amasake.

Note that we make only one quart of this miso at a time. This smells so good you’ll want to eat it while you are making it. You can use lavender or another flower essence if you prefer, or leave it out all together.

  • 1.5 cups/425 grams amasake or water
  • 2 cups/322 grams jasmine rice koji or other rice koji
  • 2 cups/234 grams organic masa harina
  • 2 TB/35 grams fine sea salt
  • 1 tsp rose water

Heat amasake or water to 110 to 135F but not above. When you are sure the temp is below 135F add the rice koji (ground into a powder if you like) and the organic masa harina. If you want a sweeter, faster miso add another cup/100 grams of ground rice koji and a little warm salted water.

Mix everything together well as if you were making dough. The miso should not be crumbly. You should be able to roll it out into balls that aren’t hard. Add a TB of warm water and a pich of salt several times if necesary to loosen the miso up, but remember that removing liquid from a miso can be nearly impossible.

Cover it very well and let it sit for a while and come back and add more water then instead of forcing it. You will need these types of adjustment skills for the more complicated corn misos and other misos we’ll walk you through. The detailed miso steps descriptions will be posted by then as well.

Sprinkle rose essence over miso and pack into a well cleaned wide mouth jar a little at a time to prevent air pockets. The jar must be very clean. Rinse out with a little water and sprinkle with salt if you aren’t sure. Make sure the jar doesn’t have any cracks in the rim or you cut get badly cut.

Place a small weight inside the quart jar and cover with parchment or a thick plastic bag cut into pieces. Screw on top. Check at a week. It should be done in 30 days, but you could check it and taste it at two weeks if you like – especially if you added more koji.

Don’t ferment over 72F. If you do, check it every few days and chill if it starts to sour or smell off. But you should avoid that from happening. Refrigerate when it’s ready. You should see a little pooling of a yellow brown liquid called tamari on top. Mix it in. Or lick it off when no one is looking.

Contact Us

Koji Essentials for Busy People

You’ll see demonstrations of

  • how to make miso (味噌)
  • how to make shio-koji (塩糀)
  • how to make takikomi gohan
  • how to make misodama (味噌玉)
  • how to make a refrigerated kimchi base
Millet koji

You’ll learn how to prepare things to use with these things – like a hundred zucchini you can’t deal with.

The point of all these items is to show you what to have on hand, and what to do with it.

KojiFest2019 presented by people that have mastered the art of living and eating tasty food with too little time in the day. Got kids? Work, like even two jobs ?

Need to spend less time and money cooking and more time enjoying food?

Presenters

Makiko Ishida (Maki) is a koji enthusiast, and a busy parent that knows how to budget time without sacrificing nutrition or taste for her family. A native Tokyoite who was born into a katsuobushi (fermented bonito) trading family. Maki-san has a unique sense of how to blend traditional Japanese food with everyday American fare.

Maki especially loves to share easy and fast Japanese home-cooking ideas using koji-fermented staples such as miso, soy sauce, mirin, shio-koji, and sake that anyone can apply into his or her own kitchen.

Professional Chefs often approach cooking with a stone soup approach. Sometimes they have access to fresh ingredients that a forager, farmer or artisan just harvested or made, other times they have to deal with what they ordered or shopped for versus what is in the house.

It’s really a bigger version of what we all go through at home when tired or busy or exhausted. That doesn’t mean you can’t use something in your pantry, refrigerator or from your local store and make something filling and very tasty like already when you get home or realy quick to prepare kasha. The stone in this case is koji,or shio-koji, or miso,or sake lees or a fermented or pickled condiment you already bought or made.

Garlic Misozuke

Chef Ken Fornataro will show you how to make food with a stone. No rabbit or fox will get this meal though! It’s all really about mise-en-place, a fancy way to say if you have miso, koji, shio-koji, soy sauce, mirin and other ingredients ready to go (or even just the miso) a quick trip to the farmers market, your local salad bar, the super market or a dig into your CSA box or your pantry or refrigerator and you can easily do it. Even for picky kids – we know all about the young stubborn ones – and people that are eating a vegan diet.

We’ll also show you how to get ready for the arrival of fresh foods from your local farmer or garden or grocer’s shelves. A #vegan focused event that could be translated into any type of food you chose to eat, but everything we prepare and sample will be plant based.

Koji is the most commonly used word to describe Aspergillus oryzae, a malted mushroom type of microbe that is an enzymatic powerhouse. You might not know how to cook, or even want to, but you still want to eat well without spending an enormous amount of time in the kitchen. Koji can be used with almost any food or even drink you currently eat, from whatever type of cuisine you choose. You can make koji out of just about anything that has carbohydrates in it that will get broken down into different types of enzymes to transform or season your food for you. Quickly.

Fresh Rice Koji

You’ll see demonstrations of how to make miso (味噌), shio-koji (塩糀), gohan takikomi (rice cooked with miso and whatever you fancy), misodama (味噌玉) and a long lasting, refrigerated kimchi base and how to prepare things to use with it – like a hundred zucchini you can’t deal with. All so when we offer the following tastings you’ll say that’s easy and fast! Especially since you can substitute ingredients that you have using the mise-en-place items. 

Based on these items we’ll have – if accessing the ingredients makes sense and preferably uses ugly vegetables, the following, all vegan, mostly gluten free items:

Menu (based on availability):

Menu:
• Fried Jalapeño and Garlic Salsa
• Szechuan Sauerkraut with pastrami flavored smoked hamma natto
• Shiitake Kombu Dashi Dama
• Edamame Crispy Beans (glazed with an amasake shio-koji plum mirin)
• Jasmine Amasake (sweet, thick, koji based rice)
• Miso Mayo (mayo with special seasonings and miso)
• Cucumber Misozuke (Cukes aged in a black pepper miso)
• Spicy carrot, garlic ginger, tomatillo, onion Kimchi
• Coriander Seed, Fennel and Lime Rind pickles
• Toasted Almond KIsses (savory, nutty and sweet)
• Garlic Misozuke (Fresh garlic fermented in miso)
• Baker’s Dozen – Freshly baked breads and Genmai Cha Tea (roasted rice, chilled tea, spices) if 40 people register by May 15.

Fee/Payment: Suggested Fee is $35 for the 3 hour demo and tasting. Bring cash and pay there if you like. Bring whatever you can, but please join the group and register for the event! Hope to see you there! koji@earthlink.net with questions! https://www.meetup.com/culturesgroup/

Lemon Rind pickle

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culturesgroup is about food and drink making, preservation, fermentation, science, and cultural history. We focus on traditional and novel techniques in cooking, fermenting, brewing and preserving techniques using koji, yeasts, and the tasty bacteria that make pickles. We stress sustainably resourced foods, food safety, digestibility, and maximizing the nutritional profiles of foods.