For years I toiled over how to cook chicken so that the meat was tender and had some of that delicious char that comes from roasting. After several failed attempts (high heat only, brown sugar only, broiler only), I finally had my lightbulb moment—miso.
During my time at Cook’s Illustrated, I learned a great deal about a small, but mighty mold called koji (Aspergillus oryzae). Along with being Japan’s national mold, koji “kickstarts the fermentation process” in ingredients such as soybeans, rice, and barley to then create the umami-rich ingredients we know as miso, sake, and mirin. My former colleague Dan Souza was right when he called koji a “game-changer.” In 2013, David Chang spoke about how koji produces umami at Harvard’s Cooking and Science lecture series: “Microbes produce enzymes, enzymes develop amino acids, glutamic acid + aspartic acid = umami, umami = delicious.”
Any ingredient containing koji will help tenderize meat, bring out more meaty flavor, and add more caramelization because of the sugars developed during fermentation. Cool!
Miso ended up being a game-changer for me in my mission for the perfect roasted chicken thighs. Thanks, koji.
- 6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
- 1 tablespoon red miso*
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon rice vinegar
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon ground ginger
- Whisk together miso, soy sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar, garlic powder, and ground ginger in a large mixing bowl. The mixture should be thick in order to coat the chicken thighs well. If too thin, add more miso.
- Using tongs, place the chicken thighs in the bowl and coat them in the mixture.
- Let the chicken sit for 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 425°F.
- Place the chicken thighs on a baking sheet and roast in the oven for 25–30 minutes. Ideally, the chicken thighs should register a temperature between 180–195°F, so the collagen can gelatinize.
Kristina DeMichele is the Digital Content Strategist at Harvard Magazine. She is also a freelance copyeditor who has worked for America's Test Kitchen as the Senior Content Editor of Cook's Illustrated Magazine.