How to Make Miso Butterfish at Home

Delicious miso butterfish

Delicious miso butterfish

Miso butterfish is simple to make and incredibly delicious. It really hits many of our buttons: rich texture, fermented umami flavor, caramelization, sweetness, and salt. Most people credit the chef Nobu Matsuhisa for popularizing this recipe which contains only five ingredients. My version is messily penciled on a small piece of paper and I don’t recall where I found this ratio or exactly when I wrote it down (it was a long time ago). You can find the Nobu version with a quick online search too, and I would encourage experimentation with the balance of the four marinade ingredients in order to find the ratio that tastes best to you. I often change the amounts or even leave out ingredients or steps, and it still tastes very good. 

Butterfish is also known as sablefish and black cod, and in Japan, gindara. It has very high oil content, which makes it a great pairing with sweet-salty miso and the umami of sake. Because of the fattiness, butterfish is quite forgiving compared to other fish so the danger of overcooking is not as imminent. This recipe can work well with other oily fish like sockeye salmon and albacore tuna. It can be made with fillets or steaks, as long as the fish is fresh and of high quality. You can easily scale this recipe up or down depending on how much fish you have.

Miso Butterfish
1/4 cup sake
1/4 cup mirin
1/4 cup white miso
3 tablespoons white sugar
1 or 2 butterfish fillets or steaks

  1. In a small pan, heat the sake and mirin, and boil for 20-30 seconds to burn off the alcohol.

  2. Remove from the heat and whisk in the sugar, followed by the miso.

  3. Chill the marinade, and add it to the fish in a container or ziplock bag.

  4. Marinate in the fridge for 2 - 4 days.

  5. Wipe off (don’t rinse) the marinade and cook. Grilling or broiling is best, but you can also brown it in a pan (nonstick or cast iron to avoid sticking to the pan). Sometimes I will cook it sous vide at 115F for 40 minutes, then brown it with a torch.

Keep in mind that the marinade is full of sugars and proteins so the fish can brown and burn quickly. The best way to be consistent is to monitor the internal temperature with an instant-read kitchen thermometer. My preference is 115 - 130F internal temperature, but some people might prefer to go higher for firmer texture or food safety concerns. Most sources cite 145F as the absolutely safe internal temperature for fish. To go lower, it’s recommended to freeze the fish for one week to kill any potential parasites. It’s always good to do your own research across multiple sources so that you can make informed decisions on topics like these.

Miso butterfish ingredients: miso, butterfish, sugar, mirin, sake

Miso butterfish ingredients: miso, butterfish, sugar, mirin, sake

Boil sake and mirin to vaporize the alcohol

Boil sake and mirin to vaporize the alcohol

Turn off heat and add miso and sugar

Turn off heat and add miso and sugar

Cool the marinade and place in a ziplock bag with the butterfish, then place in fridge for 2 - 4 days

Cool the marinade and place in a ziplock bag with the butterfish, then place in fridge for 2 - 4 days

Grill, broil, pan fry, or sous vide

Grill, broil, pan fry, or sous vide

Miso making

Miso making on Valentine's Day - why not?  I can think of several reasons as to why it's a good idea to make your own miso at home:

1. Quality control - I used fresh homemade koji, organic soybeans, really good sea salt, and will be deciding the time and conditions of the fermentation.  Mass-produced miso doesn't even come close in flavor.  Making your own allows full control of the salt level and other variables to suit your palate.

2. It's far cheaper than buying miso, especially if you make the koji yourself.  But even if you're buying koji and the best organic beans and salt, you will still be saving.

3. Making miso is fun and rewarding because of the long fermentation time as well as how incredibly useful it is in the kitchen.  And it's pretty easy to do.

4. You can make your friends very happy by giving them some, or by cooking for them using your miso.  It's a great idea to make a big batch and plan on giving some away and aging what you don't use within one year.

5. Great for learning - making something yourself deepens your knowledge and sharpens your appreciation of it.  Using your own miso makes you a more mindful cook overall.

For anyone who might be interested, I'm providing the recipe and photos from my 2016 batch here.

One-Year Miso
2.4 kg dry organic soybeans (soak 24 hrs)
1.4 kg koji (fresh homemade)
646g sea salt (17% of the weight of dry beans & koji)
1/4 c seed miso (from my 2013 batch)
4 c bean cooking liquid
 

soybeans after 24 hr soak

soybeans after 24 hr soak

a talkative sous chef

a talkative sous chef

koji, salt, seed miso

koji, salt, seed miso

mashing beans with a 1 liter glass bottle (beans pressure steamed 45 min)

mashing beans with a 1 liter glass bottle (beans pressure steamed 45 min)

mix everything when beans are below 100F

mix everything when beans are below 100F

press down to get out air pockets, sprinkle salt on top

press down to get out air pockets, sprinkle salt on top

plastic wrap on miso, then 1cm kosher salt

plastic wrap on miso, then 1cm kosher salt

I will check the progress in about 5 - 6 months.  Usually it takes over a year to reach the flavor I'm looking for.  Some mold growth on top is not a problem (just scrape away) but it's good to be careful of bugs and other critters wanting a taste.  One memorable incident was when the miso was stored in a shed and a rat chewed through the plastic and ate through the salt layer and then a good amount of miso.  It was heart-rending to dump that year's batch, but lesson learned.

plastic wrap on top, taped, labeled

plastic wrap on top, taped, labeled


I had leftover koji and decided to try a sweet-style miso with azuki.  This has much less salt and much more koji.  It should be ready in about 2 months.

Azuki Sweet Miso
170g azuki (no soak, boiled 75 minutes)
340g koji (fresh homemade)
30.5g sea salt (6% of the weight of dry beans & koji)
1/2 c bean cooking liquid

azuki pre-rinse

azuki pre-rinse

mashing with a glass

mashing with a glass

I will probably check this in 4 - 6 weeks.  Next up is experimenting with black turtle bean miso and garbanzo miso.

salt and koji

salt and koji

luckily just fits a 1 liter mason jar

luckily just fits a 1 liter mason jar