Classic Miso-Marinated Salmon with Green Sauce

This image courtesy of Joseph DeLeo

Saikyo rniso, sweet white miso, is made in Kyoto Prefecture. Kyoto was the capital of Japan for a thousand years. The technique of marinating fish in miso was born out of necessity, because, unlike other major cities such as Tokyo, Kobe, and Osaka, Kyoto is situated inland. Marinating fish in miso was a method of preserving fresh-caught fish for the long journey from the fishing port to the capital. Today, we marinate fish not to preserve it, but rather to enjoy the sweet flavor that the fish acquires during marination. Broiled or grilled miso-marinated fish, one of the most popular fish preparations in Japan, can appear on any dining occasion. You may find it in an ordinary box lunch or at a formal dinner, kaiseki ryori, at a first-class Japanese restaurant. In this traditional preparation, lightly marinated salmon is broiled with a spinach-miso sauce. To keep the miso marinade from adhering to the salmon, you will need two tightly woven, thin cotton cloths, about 12 inches square, or four similarly sized pieces of cheesecloth. A Chilean sea bass also works well in this recipe.

4 servings

Cooking Methodbroiling


Total Timehalf-day

OccasionCasual Dinner Party, Formal Dinner Party

Recipe Coursemain course

Dietary Considerationgluten-free, kosher, lactose-free, peanut free, tree nut free

Equipmentblender, food processor, mortar and pestle


Taste and Texturesavory, spiced, sweet, tangy, umami, winey


  • 1½ pounds salmon fillet, skin attached, cut into 4 pieces
  • 5 teaspoons salt
  • 8 ounces Saikyo miso (sweet white miso)
  • ¼ cup sake (rice wine)
  • ¼ cup mirin (sweet cooking wire)
  • 3½ ounces Saikyo miso (sweet white miso)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • Yolks of 2 small eggs
  • 2 tablespoons sake,
  • mixed with 2 tablespoons water
  • 3½ ounces spinach leaves, 4 small leaves reserved
  • Sweet pickled ginger


  1. Salt the fish on both sides, and place it on a steel rack set over a pan. Put the fish in the refrigerator for 1 hour.

  2. In a medium bowl, soften the 8 ounces miso with the sake and mirin. In a pan large enough to hold all the fish without overlapping, spread one-third of the miso rnlxture. Place a tightly woven cotton cloth or two layers of cheesecloth over the miso. Wipe the salt from the fish with a paper towel, and place all the pieces on the cloth in the pan. Cover the fish with another tightly woven cotton cloth or two layers of cheesecloth. Spread the remaining miso mixture over the cloth, covering the surface completely. Wrap the entire pan with plastic wrap, and refrigerate the fish for about 5 hours to overnight.

  3. In a large pot of boiling water, parboil the spinach, excluding the 4 leaves, 1 to 2 minutes. Cool the spinach in ice water, and drain the spinach. In a food processor or blender, puree the spinach, adding 1 to 2 tablespoons water if necessary.

  4. In a skillet, heat 1 inch oil over medium heat to 320 degrees F. One at a time, add the 4 reserved spinach leaves to the oil, and cook them until they are bright green and translucent, 10 to 15 seconds. Transfer the spinach to paper towels to drain.

  5. In a suribachi or other mortar, grind the 3½ ounces miso, the sugar, the egg yolks, and the sake mixed with water, adding the ingredients one at a time. Transfer the mixture to the top of a double boiler and cook over simmering water until the mixture thickens.

  6. Remove the top of the double boiler from the heat, and cool the mixture in a bowl of ice water. Stir in the pureed spinach.

  7. Heat a broiler and a broiler pan. With a pastry brush, grease the pan lightly. Transfer the salmon to the broiler pan, and cook, turning once, until both sides are slightly golden, about 8 minutes. Just before the cooking is finished, spread the spinach sauce over the fish. Cook the fish close to the fire until the sauce is lightly charred.

  8. Serve the fish garnished with the fried spinach leaves and accompanied by the sweet pickled ginger on the side.

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