This easy Miso Meat Sauce (Niku Miso) is a tasty, savory-sweet side dish of ground meat seasoned with fermented soybean paste, mirin, and aromatics. Try it on steamed rice and noodles or in a lettuce wrap. As a bonus, it‘s meal-prep friendly!
Since I love steamed rice, I always look for tasty small side dishes that can round up the meal. We call these small dishes “Gohan no Okazu” (ご飯のおかず), meaning a side dish to accompany rice. They bring substance and so much more satisfaction to a plain bowl of rice. A delicious example is this humble yet versatile Miso Meat Sauce (Niku Miso 肉味噌).
What is Miso Meat Sauce and How to Make It?
Miso Meat Sauce is braised ground meat seasoned with miso and we serve it more like a side dish or condiment to flavor the meal. In Japanese, we call this dish Niku Miso (肉味噌); Niku means ‘meat’ in Japanese and miso is Japanese fermented soybean paste.
It’s as simple as cooking the meat with seasonings. For a nice aroma and flavor, you have the option of adding ginger, garlic, and green onions. The type of miso you use, whether it’s red miso or awase miso, will lend a slightly different flavor profile to the sauce. For example, Miso Meat Sauce with white miso has a sweeter and milder taste while the one with red miso has a saltier and strong taste.
You may wonder why we need to sweeten this dish. Well, sugar and/or mirin play a key role in Japanese cooking as they balance out the saltiness from seasoning like miso.
The Miso Meat Sauce is usually on the sweeter side (savory-sweet, not dessert sweet) than a salty side, but feel free to adjust. It is meant to accompany bland or neutral-tasting food such as steamed rice or lettuce. Therefore, it’s recommended to use a stronger seasoning, which also helps to preserve the dish for longer storage.
Miso Meat Sauce Variations
This recipe is rather straightforward and everyone makes it slightly differently to their liking. How do I make this simple dish so versatile? It’s easy!
1. Use different types of miso
You are probably aware; there are many different types of miso. Each company also makes miso differently. By switching up the miso, you would get different tasting meat sauce each time. I’ve been using different miso from Hikari Miso® for over a decade and I’ll explain a bit more below.
2. Use different types of meat
Ground pork and ground beef are typically used in the dish, but you can also use ground chicken, ground turkey, or cubed firm tofu.
3. Add aromatics
To add more depth of flavors, you can incorporate common aromatics in Japanese cooking such as ginger, garlic, green onions, yuzu kosho, and etc. Use whatever you like.
4. Include add-ins to bulk up the volume
If your children don’t like eating vegetables or mushrooms, you have a good opportunity to sneak them in! The meat sauce makes a great dish to bind vegetables in a subtle way. Finely mince carrots, eggplants, zucchini, or shiitake mushrooms similar to ground meat size, and cook them all together. My recommendation is to add a small portion and increase the amount once the kids are grown to eating vegetables with the sauce. 😉
How to Enjoy Miso Meat Sauce
Miso Meat Sauce is considered as a side dish, rather than the main dish because it is not eaten alone, but with rice, noodles, or substitution like a lettuce wrap.
- Rice – steamed rice, fried rice, filling for rice ball (onigiri) or onigirazu
- Noodles – cook with stir-fried noodles or pasta, topping for udon/soba/somen noodle soup
- Bread – a sandwich and burger spread along with sliced cucumbers and lettuce
- Others – lettuce wrap (see above), an add-on to a vegetable stir fry, and more!
Bonus tip: Serve the Miso Meat Sauce with a fried egg, soft-boiled egg, Onsen Tamago, or Ramen Egg (Ajitsuke Tamago). Everything tastes better with a creamy egg! For extra color and crunch, serve with julienned cucumbers and carrots.
To make this Miso Meat Sauce, I used Enjuku Koji Miso from Hikari Miso®. Koji miso includes a higher percentage of koji and as a result, this miso has the natural sweetness of the koji and the umami with a rich fragrance.
Where can I buy Hikari Miso® miso?
- Japanese grocery stores (Nijiya, Mitsuwa, Marukai, local mom-pop shops, etc)
- Asian grocery stores (including Chinese/Korean grocery stores)
- Some miso products on Amazon
Ideal Side Dish for Meal Prep!
What I like most about the Miso Meat Sauce is that we can make it ahead so it’s ideal for weekly meal prep. Because the meat is strongly seasoned for storage purpose, it can be kept in the refrigerator for up to a week! I make it often on the weekend and use it for kids school lunch or my quick lunch.
When you’re ready to eat, all you need to do is to reheat the amount you need in the microwave or in the frying pan. This all-purpose Miso Meat Sauce has saved us on countless busy weekdays!
Japanese Ingredient Substitution: If you want to look for substitutes for Japanese condiments and ingredients, click here.
All-Purpose Miso Meat Sauce (Niku Miso)
- Gather all the ingredients.
- Grate 1 knob ginger. Chop ½ Tokyo negi (naga negi; long green onion) into small rounds.
- In a bowl, combine the seasonings: 3 Tbsp mirin, 3 Tbsp sake, and 1 Tbsp soy sauce.
- Add 2 Tbsp water and 2 tsp potato starch or cornstarch. Mix it all together until everything is well combined.
To Cook the Niku Miso
- Heat a saucepan or frying pan over medium heat. When it’s hot, add 1 Tbsp toasted sesame oil and the chopped negi. Coat the negi with the oil until fragrant.
- Add ¾ lb ground pork and break up the meat with a spatula.
- Add the grated ginger and cook the meat until no longer pink.
- Add 4 Tbsp miso and 2 Tbsp sugar. Combine well.
- Add the seasonings and cook on medium-low heat.
- When the cooking liquid is reduced to your liking, turn off the heat. You can leave more or less sauce depending on how you want to use the Niku Miso. Transfer to a bowl or container. Serve hot along with steamed rice, noodles, or lettuce cups (see the post for ideas).
- You can keep it in the refrigerator for up to one week. Reheat only the portion you will serve. You can also freeze it up to 3–4 weeks.