All-Purpose Miso Meat Sauce (Niku Miso) 肉味噌

This easy Miso Meat Sauce (Niku Miso) is a great side dish to go with steamed rice, noodles or lettuce wraps! As a bonus, it’s meal prep friendly!

All-Purpose Miso Meat Sauce (Niku Miso). photo by Namiko Chen

Since I love steamed rice, I always look for tasty small side dishes that can round up the meal. We call these small dishes “Gohan no Okazu” (ご飯のおかず), meaning a side dish to accompany rice. They bring substance and so much more satisfaction to a plain bowl of rice. A delicious example is this humble yet versatile Miso Meat Sauce (Niku Miso 肉味噌).

What is Miso Meat Sauce and How to Make It?
Miso Meat Sauce is braised ground meat seasoned with miso, and we serve it more like a side dish or condiment to flavor the meal. In Japanese, we call this dish Niku Miso (肉味噌); Niku means “meat” in Japanese and miso is Japanese fermented soybean paste.

It’s as simple as cooking the meat with seasonings. For a nice aroma and flavor, you have the option of adding ginger, garlic and green onions. The type of miso you use, whether it’s red miso or awase miso, will lend a slightly different flavor profile to the sauce. For example, Miso Meat Sauce with white miso has a sweeter and milder taste, while the one with red miso has a saltier and strong taste.

You may wonder why we need to sweeten this dish. Well, sugar and/or mirin play a key role in Japanese cooking as they balance out the saltiness from seasoning like miso.

The Miso Meat Sauce is usually on the sweeter side (savory-sweet, not dessert sweet), but feel free to adjust. It is meant to accompany bland or neutral-tasting food such as steamed rice or lettuce. Therefore, it’s recommended to use a stronger seasoning, which also helps to preserve the dish for longer storage.

Miso Meat Sauce Variations
This recipe is rather straight-forward and everyone makes it to their liking. How do I make this simple dish so versatile? It’s easy!

  1. Use different types of miso
    As you are probably aware, there are many different types of miso. Each company also makes miso differently. By switching up the miso, you would get different tasting meat sauce each time. I’ve been using different miso from Hikari Miso® for over a decade and I’ll explain a bit more below.
  2. Use different types of meat
    Ground pork and ground beef are typically used in the dish, but you can also use ground chicken, ground turkey or cubed firm tofu.
  3. Add aromatics
    To add more depth of flavors, you can incorporate common aromatics in Japanese cooking, such as ginger, garlic, green onions, yuzu kosho, etc. Use whatever you like.
  4. Include add-ins to bulk up the volume
    If your children don’t like eating vegetables or mushrooms, you have a good opportunity to sneak them in! The meat sauce makes a great dish to bind vegetables in a subtle way. Finely mince carrots, eggplants, zucchini, or shiitake mushrooms similar to ground meat size, and cook them all together. My recommendation is to add a small portion and increase the amount once the kids are used to eating vegetables with the sauce.

How to Enjoy Miso Meat Sauce

Miso Meat Sauce is considered as a side dish, rather than the main dish, because it is not eaten alone, but with rice, noodles or a substitution like a lettuce wrap.

Rice — steamed rice, fried rice, filling for rice ball (onigiri) or onigirazu
Noodles — cook with stir-fried noodles or pasta, topping for udon/soba/somen noodle soup

Bread — a sandwich and burger spread along with sliced cucumbers and lettuce

Others — lettuce wrap (see above), an add-on to a vegetable stir fry and more!

Bonus tip: Serve the Miso Meat Sauce with a fried egg, soft-boiled egg, Onsen Tamago or Ramen Egg (Ajitsuke Tamago). Everything tastes better with a creamy egg! For extra color and crunch, serve with julienned cucumbers and carrots.

Miso Recommendation
To make this Miso Meat Sauce, I used Enjuku Koji Miso from Hikari Miso®.

Koji miso includes a higher percentage of koji and as a result, this miso has the natural sweetness of the koji and the umami with a rich fragrance.

Where can I buy Hikari Miso® miso?
Japanese grocery stores (Nijiya, Mitsuwa, Marukai, local mom-pop shops, etc.)

Asian grocery stores (including Chinese/Korean grocery stores)
Some miso products are sold on Amazon

To read the recipe, visit the Just One Cookbook post here.

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