Kachemak Cuisine: Miso gives hit of umami to seafood curry

The gorgeous weather we’ve been enjoying makes me feel like this is going to be a wonderful summer. The warmth of the sun felt so good when I took time out from planting flowers to sit on the deck. I went to pick rhubarb and discovered the rhubarb is loving this weather as well, as the leaves have grown big enough to hide a small child under.

This weekend I dined out and enjoyed yelloweye rockfish, halibut and spot shrimp that was so fresh I believe it jumped right out of the ocean and onto my plate. I have no words to describe how incredible fresh seafood can be. As the Other Fisherman and I enjoyed dinner at one of our favorite summer restaurants, our waitress ran up to me and asked, “If you didn’t care for seafood, where would you go for dinner?” She had a couple who she seated, presented the menu to and decided to leave. They told her they did not care for seafood. How disappointing for them. I bet they never had fresh Alaska seafood.

While looking at the New York Times food section last week, I came across a recipe for Coconut Miso Salmon Curry that sounded delicious and I wanted to try. This perfect weeknight dinner came together in under an hour and is defined by the combination of flavors; hot, sour, salty and sweet with a deep miso flavor.

As most often happens in my kitchen and probably in yours as well, I made the recipe my own with a few different ingredients and tweaks. I did not want to use frozen sockeye salmon from last year, so I made it with fresh, cooked shrimp and halibut. It would be excellent with salmon though, as we are in full-on salmon season, so making this with a beautiful piece of fresh salmon should be easy to do.

I’ve been trying more recipes with miso and have found I like the umami flavor it lends to many dishes. The Japanese word is for the fifth taste (after salty, sour, sweet and bitter), roughly translated as ”deliciousness.” Miso is typically whisked into soups toward the end of the recipe, but incorporating it directly with the ginger, garlic and a little oil early in the preparation process helps the paste caramelize, intensifying its earthy sweetness.

I went to the store and got fresh ginger, Thai basil, cilantro and limes. I was sure I had coconut milk and garlic in my pantry. Well, guess what? I did not have coconut milk and knew that without it, the recipe would not be worth the trouble. I had my heart set on making this recipe and didn’t care to make the trip into town for coconut milk, but I did have cream and half and half and unsweetened coconut. I warmed a bit of the cream and half and half, added about a half cup of the unsweetened coconut and let it steep for a while. After a taste test of the mixture, I couldn’t differentiate it from the canned version. I drained it and proceeded with the recipe.

It was a beautiful evening, and I decided I would coat the halibut and shrimp with sweet chili sauce and grill my seafood before adding it to the sauce. I hoped the hint of smoke and sweet chili could take it over the top, and it did. The original recipe called for poaching the seafood in the curry. I wanted my seafood to have more pizazz.

Once finished and just prior to serving, a few squeezes of lime and a scatter of fresh herbs keep this curry bright and citrusy. For a hit of heat, garnish with sliced fresh jalapeño or serrano chile peppers.

Coconut-Miso Seafood Curry

Adapted from the New York Times and Kay Chun

Serves 4


1 (1 1/2-pound) skinned salmon fillet, cut into 2-inch pieces or flaky white fish such as halibut or cod

1 cup cooked shrimp (optional)

1/4 cup Sweet chile sauce – just enough to coat seafood with pastry brush

3 tablespoons neutral oil, such as grapeseed or canola oil

1/2 medium red onion, halved and sliced 1/4-inch thick (about 1 cup)

1 (1-inch) piece fresh ginger, minced (about 2 tablespoons)

3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

Kosher salt

Black pepper

¼ cup white miso

1 can unsweetened, full-fat coconut milk

1 cup water

¼ cup dry white wine

5 ounces baby spinach (about 5 packed cups)

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice, plus lime wedges for serving

Steamed rice, such as jasmine or basmati, for serving

¼ cup chopped fresh Thai basil

¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro

Jalapenos or serrano chili peppers for garnish if desired


1. If grilling seafood, prepare grill and heat to medium high heat. Generously oil grates and cook fish until just barely cooked. Remove from grill to warm plate, set shrimp (if using) on top of seafood to warm and cover with foil while preparing sauce.

2. Alternately to cook the seafood, stir into curry sauce after it has been prepared, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer gently until just cooked through, about 5 minutes (after step 5).

3. In a large pot, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat. Add onion, ginger and garlic and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add miso and cook, stirring frequently, until miso is lightly caramelized, about 2 minutes.

4. Deglaze the pan with ¼ cup of white wine after the miso is done.

5. Add coconut milk and 1 cup water and bring to a boil over high heat. Cook until liquid is slightly reduced, about 3-5 minutes.

6. Turn off heat and stir in spinach and lime juice.

7. Add cooked shrimp (if using) and grilled seafood to curry sauce. Gentle coat seafood with sauce in pan.

To serve divide rice among bowls. Top with seafood curry, basil and cilantro.

Serve with lime wedges for squeezing on top and pass sliced jalapenos or serrano pepper.

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