A while back, I worked at Table & Apron, a produce-driven restaurant set in the sleepy suburbs of Kuala Lumpur. During my time there, I fondly remember serving up many super jazzy Asian-influenced dishes. Think lemongrass-brined fried chicken, pork ribs with a kicap manis glaze, and fern salads laced with fish sauce and calamansi. All these dishes were amazing in their own right, but the one dish that I kept sneaking mouthfuls of during service (I call it quality control) was this funky, creamy mushroom pasta — with miso!
Besides its alliterative allure, miso and mushrooms are two umami-heavy flavors that are often employed to uplift any dish. So when put together, they work in tandem and complement each other so well, creating a massive umami bomb that leaves you salivating for more.
At the restaurant, we start off by tempering the miso with butter and cream, giving it the form of a rich, funky sauce. The mushrooms, a classic ingredient in creamy pasta dishes, are then sautéed and added to this creamy base. The third component of the dish — the pasta — serves as a vessel for the mushrooms and sauce to adhere to. So the more sauce you manage to get onto your pasta, the better.
Even after eating countless bowls of this pasta at the restaurant, I never seem to tire of it, and it really has become my ultimate comfort food. And it isn’t just me who is obsessed with this dish. At the restaurant, this umami-laden pasta is the second most popular dish, dwarfed only by their fried chicken — because, well, it’s fried chicken.
Contrary to the belief that restaurant-quality dishes require incredible finesse to cook and take hours to prep, all that's needed for this miso pasta is 30 minutes and a few simple steps. With just three straightforward components — sautéed mushrooms, a miso sauce, and pasta — the key lies in the proper treatment of each component, cooking them with the utmost care and respect and allowing their flavors to really develop and shine.
During my time at Table & Apron, I’ve picked up three important tips that can elevate this dish to restaurant-worthy status:
- First, when sautéing the mushrooms, it’s crucial to not overcrowd the pan. Treat each piece of mushroom like you would a steak. You want to have a bit of space in between each piece of mushroom, giving it a nice golden sear, as opposed to having a mound of mushrooms in the pan which would give you soggy, steamed pieces of fungi.
- Then, for the miso cream sauce, it helps to whip the butter with the miso paste until it becomes a smooth, almost fluffy paste. This ensures you don’t end up with big, salty lumps of miso speckled throughout the dish, and makes it a whole lot easier for the sauce to emulsify later on.
- And finally, the pasta. Most sauce-based pasta recipes expect you to know exactly how many minutes it requires you to make the sauce, so that you can time your pasta to finish cooking just as your sauce comes together. Otherwise, the pasta will turn cold as you’re still busy prepping the sauce, in which case you’d proceed to reheat it in the sauce and probably end up with gloopy, overcooked pasta. There’s an easy solution to this that doesn’t require you to be a chef version of Dr. Strange: Cut down the pasta cooking time by a minute or two. Though the pasta will have a tad more bite than the revered al dente, once the sauce comes together, you can add the pasta in and put it on the heat for a little longer for that final bit of cooking.
Et voila! You’ll end up with a beautiful sauce and perfectly cooked pasta.
- 7 ounces dried pasta, such as bucatini
- 4 ounces mushrooms (I use an equal mix of shimeji, eryngii, and oyster mushrooms, but most other combinations are good too)
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon sherry vinegar, or white wine vinegar
- 2 teaspoons red miso paste
- 3 tablespoons butter, softened
- 5 garlic cloves
- 1/2 cup cream
- 1 stalk of scallion, finely sliced
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 pinch black pepper