Over the past few years I found the more I prepared food and cooked for people the more I wanted to bring new experiences and flavors to them. My first dive into the fermentation world was this: Shio Koji. It’s become a staple in the kitchen and one I reach for to add another layer when I want to make people say “why was that so good?”
On my way to and from the commercial kitchen I worked out of I’d listen to podcasts, and one day an episode topic was shio koji. They had used it in a marinade for fried chicken and claimed it made the chicken really juicy and gave an umami flavor boost. What is it? It’s a fermentation of koji rice (or barley). So easy to make. Koji rice, salt, and water. I can see you still have questions.
Koji rice (or barley) is rice (or barley) which has been cooked and then inoculated with Aspergillus oryzae, a fungus. The mold grows on the rice, the rice gets used to make fermented things like sake, miso, and soy sauce. From what I understand, the mold turns the starches into sugars. When you make shio koji (and you will now after reading this) you’ll notice how the mixture develops an earthy sweetness as it ferments. Ends up with a nice salty sweet balance.
How do I use it? Anywhere I can think of which needs a little flavor boost. A few spoonfuls of shio koji added to sautéed vegetables gives them a rounder flavor. For example, I like using shio koji with Brussels sprouts. The sweet/salty of the shio koji balances out some of the bitterness of the Brussels sprouts and enhances the umami-ness of it. I usually add at the end when finishing and seasoning. Add some, taste, add more if you want. Good for adding to sauces, stews, etc. though it is particularly excellent with…
Marinades. Substitute shio koji for liquids in a marinade or adobo (like in this recipe), add herbs and spices, put your protein in to sit and soak. It’s kind of like a brine, tenderizes meat and flavors it. I especially like shio koji marinades with leaner proteins which can dry out quickly like rabbit. I mix some herbs de Provence in with a cup or two of shio koji, place rabbit legs in a bag, pour in the marinade and let it sit in the fridge for a couple of days. If you’ve got a vacuum sealer go ahead and seal up the legs in the marinade. When you are ready to use simply rinse off excess marinade and begin. Your braised rabbit will be tender, not stringy, and have a sweet juicy flavor. Works like this with most animal proteins like chicken, pork, beef, but it definitely works better with some than with others. Also don’t be stingy with it.
SideRoam: because the starches in the rice get turned into sugar the marinated proteins will brown very quickly so keep an eye when searing or grilling (steaks, chops, roasts)
First step on your new road to enhanced flavor country is to get some koji rice (or barley). This is very easy, see Amazon. A 200gr packet is perfect for your first time. If you google koji rice/barley you’ll discover there are plenty of other places to buy. I have been using koji rice but the barley is supposed to be really good with a different type of sweet umami, nuttier. Haven’t tried it yet but I do want to use it in some other ferments I am planning.
Once your rice arrives get some coarse Kosher salt and water and 16oz mason jar (or similar non-reactive container) and a kitchen scale. Weigh out 100gr of the koji rice and put in a mixing bowl. It may look like a block similar to the ramen noodle packs, if so break it up so the rice is loose. Now add 25 grams of the salt and mix the rice and salt together and then transfer to the mason jar. Salt level varies greatly on interwebz recipes, some more, some less. I keep it to 25% the weight of the rice so use that as a guideline and adjust as you like after your initial use.
Now add some water. When it comes to the water part, most recipes will say to add a cup but I don’t think that’s enough. I start by adding and mixing in enough lukewarm water so that the rice is just covered. The rice will suck up the water and you’l basically have a cup of soaked, wet rice, which isn’t what you want. Eventually, after an hour or two, I’ll add more water so the mixture is more soupy. The ferment is ready to sit when I have the water level stabilized a little bit above the top the rice. Now put a lid on the jar and set it on the counter and wait for about 7-10 days depending on the season. Longer in the winter than summer.
Each day give the mixture a stir when get up and right before going to bed. You just want to keep it mixed. Taste it after the first day. It’ll be salty but this is more of a reference point for you. After a few days you’ll notice the mellowing of the saltiness and an increase in sweetness. Keep going. After the week or so is up you’ll have a jar of mellow rice soup. Ready to go.
You can use it as is but it the mixture will have whole rice kernels in it. There’s nothing wrong with this, they are pretty broken down but don’t really liquify if adding to finish vegetables, soups, stews, braising liquid. You can mash them but instead I’ll take my immersion blender and blend the rice soup into a thicker sauce.
The shio koji can be stored in the fridge for about 45-60 days. After pouring some out for use I’ll give the inside of my container a small wipe with a paper towel dipped in vinegar in order to keep anything bad from growing on the container surface. Mold does what it is want to do, grow.
Now go out and get yourself some better seasoned and flavorful food. You deserve it.
- 100gr koji rice
- 25gr course kosher salt
- 1+ C warm water
Combine koji rice and salt in a bowl, mix together, put into a mason jar or plastic container.
Add 1 C of water and stir. Set aside for an hour.
Add more water, enough to just cover the top of the rice. Stir.
Cover jar with lid and set on counter or pantry for 7-10 days depending on the season. (7 days in summer will be fine, longer in winter as air temp is cooler). Stir the mixture one or two times each day, start tasting on day 3. When balanced you can store the shio koji covered in the fridge for 45-60 days. Probably won’t last that long though.