What’s koji, you ask? Well, it’s a deeply important part of most Asian cuisines. It’s also how they have fun with fungus; and by fun, we mean plenty of delicious eating and indulgent drinking.
Koji is essentially just the Japanese name for cooked rice or soybeans, sometimes even both, after they’ve been inoculated with a fermentation culture called Aspergillus oryzae. This is a naturally occurring fungus or mold particularly prevalent in Japan, where it is referred to as koji-kin.
This is the main ingredient to which so many Japanese foods
owe their origin to. Everything popular such as soy sauce, miso, mirin, sake, shochu, and even various rice vinegars, all have their source in this koji.
Remember that fermenting trend that started a while back and shows no signs of stopping or slowing down? Yeah, with good reason too. Fermented foods are great for healing your gut. And while koji began enjoying a resurgence in Japan some time back, it’s positively ragingly famous across American right about now.
Now koji is sold refrigerated (to arrest the fermentation process), in a version called salt koji, which is a creamy sauce. this is usually used as is and works to enhance any dish with meat, seafood, vegetables and almost anything else before they are cooked. Because using koji is a great and really easy way to infuse practically any food with that incredible flavor called umami, it’s been getting really popular with chefs and gourmands, alike.
You can buy it in the fermented form (ask for shio-koji or salt koji) at an Asian market
, in the refrigerated section, and depending on the brand, can cost anywhere between $4-$5 for 4 to 16 ounces.
Cooking With Koji
- If it appears rather chunky and you can even spot grains of rice in it, just throw it in a blender, puree it to a smooth paste and then use.
- The longer you let the food marinate in the koji, the better and deeper the flavor will be.
- Never use high-heat while cooking with koji; techniques like grilling or roasting at high temperatures will cause it to burn and taste terribly bitter.
- Rub some koji all over a roast chicken recipe and even under the skin before refrigerating it all night, uncovered. Roasting this in an oven will result in a golden bird that’s crisp outside and moist inside, and delicious all over.
- Using koji means less salt in your recipes, which is again good for your health. So make sure you serve up all your salty koji-infused treats with plain rice or good bread.