Miso is one of those handy products of fermentation that it’s good to keep in the fridge, especially the versatile white (shiro) or yellow (shinshu) kind. With its profound savoriness and satisfying sweetness, it can three-dimensionalize a dish that seems flat or can nearly stand on its own as a principal flavor. (And, to be sure, you can whisk it into dashi or other light broths to make a version of miso soup.)
In today’s dish, the miso is not the sole flavor, but it dominates – though it is softened with butter and decidedly does not overwhelm the main ingredients: carrots and shrimp. Indeed, the recipe started with the carrots: One recent Saturday morning Jackie and I were at New York’s Union Square farmers’ market and saw bags of small carrots with a sign saying “Picked Yesterday.” Which was all we needed to know: These carrots would be our first spring produce of 2018 (apart from what we ate on our March vacation). They varied in size, but were mostly about the length and girth of the questionable “baby” carrots sold in supermarkets, and the original idea was simply to glaze them in a covered pan with water, butter and salt.
As we approached dinner time, however, we realized that less than a pound of carrots wouldn’t entirely slake our hunger, so I took half a dozen big Gulf of Mexico shrimp out of the freezer with no particular plan in mind. The plan gelled as the shrimp defrosted: It was to start by glazing the carrots in the usual way, then stirring in miso and letting it do its magic, and finally adding the cut-up shrimp, which would take barely a minute to cook.
As the carrots, butter and miso came together, it was clear that a little extra freshness would be a plus, so I got a halved lemon ready for squeezing and a small handful of parsley ready for chopping (dill or coriander would have been good too). I’d also added a teaspoonful of soy sauce after the miso went in: It was delicious but was probably umami overkill, and next time I’ll loosen the sauce with water or perhaps vegetable stock.
With rice, this makes a wonderful meal for two; if you omit the shrimp, you’ll have a great side dish (with fish, I’d say) or one element of a multi-dish meal. Because of the miso, it tastes Japanese, but I wouldn’t hesitate to serve it in a Western or even Indian meal.
- 1 Pound little new-season carrots (or medium carrots), weight without leafy tops
- 6 to 8 ounces shrimp
- 2 Tablespoons butter
- 1/4 Teaspoon sugar
- 2 Tablespoons miso
- 1 Teaspoon soy sauce (optional)
- 1 to 2 tablespoons lemon juice, to taste
- 2 Tablespoons finely chopped parsley, dill or coriander leaves
Prepare the carrots: If they are tiny and newly harvested, just remove stalks and any root filaments and wash. If using larger carrots, peel and cut into bite-sized chunks.
Prepare the shrimp: Defrost if necessary, peel and cut into bite-sized pieces. I generally get three pieces from a large shrimp (16-20 size): the tail-end third cut off crosswise, then the remainder cut lengthwise from back to belly, giving access to the digestive tract, which you should remove and discard. Dry them well, lightly salt and reserve until needed.
Put the carrots into a medium sauté pan or so-called chef’s pan along with the butter and sugar, lightly sprinkle with salt, and add water to a depth of 1/2 inch – the carrots should not be submerged. Bring to the boil over medium-high heat, stir to melt the butter, then cover the pan and lower the heat to medium. Cook until the carrots are almost but not quite as tender as you’d like them, six to ten minutes; it took me seven. If the water boils away before the carrots are done, add a little more.
Uncover the pan and quickly boil off most of the remaining water, which will finish cooking the carrots and leave them with a nice shiny butter glaze. Drop the heat to low and stir in the miso with a silicone/rubber spatula to coat evenly. Do not overcook the miso, which is prone to burning, and add a spoonful or two of water to loosen the sauce if necessary (you can use soy sauce here if you’d like the extra flavor).
Add the shrimp pieces and stir them in among the carrots, still over low heat. They will be done in one minute – again, add a spoonful of water if needed. Check for seasoning; the miso almost guarantees that this will be perfect.
At the last moment, stir in the lemon juice and chopped parsley (or dill or coriander). Serve with plain rice.