Note: We went through a miso stage where the sweet, umami-rich white or brown paste found its way into every dish possible. Miso ice cream, miso dressings, miso soup. The inspiration for this particular incarnation was David Chang's Lucky Peach magazine, which told of how pastry chef Christina Tosi used burnt miso in a banana pie that was so addictive it soon went by the name Crack pie. The miso is cooked in the oven to the point where it turns almost caramel-like. After a bit of experimenting, we found it worked as well in a savoury dish as it did in its sweet incarnation. De-boned chicken thighs also work well here, as an alternative to the quail.
150 g white miso paste, at room temperature
50 ml mirin
30 g light brown sugar
2 tsp sherry vinegar
40 g unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 Tbs sunflower oil
8 whole quails, de-boned with wing tips left on (1.1kg)
Coarse sea salt and black pepper
150 g pomegranate seeds (seeds of 1 medium pomegranate)
70 g walnuts, toasted and roughly chopped
35 g pickled walnuts, rinsed, skin removed, finely chopped (optional)
2 tsp pomegranate molasses
2 Tbs Valdespino sherry vinegar (or another good-quality sherry vinegar)
1 Tbs olive oil
20 g parsley, finely chopped
Preheat the oven to 160°C/140°C fan/gas mark 3.
Use a rubber spatula to spread the miso paste out thinly and evenly on a parchment-lined baking tray. Place the tray in the oven and roast for 20–25 minutes, until the miso has turned to dark caramel: the sides should look burnt and the middle a dark golden-brown. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool. Scrape the burnt miso paste off the parchment paper, breaking it as you go, and transfer the pieces to a food processor, along with the mirin, sugar, vinegar, butter and 1 tablespoon of water. Blitz well for 5 minutes to form a smooth aerated paste.
Place all the ingredients for the salsa, apart from the parsley, in a medium bowl with 1/4 teaspoon of salt and 3 tablespoons of water. Mix well and set aside until ready to use, stirring the parsley in just before serving.
When you are ready to serve, set the oven to its highest grill setting.
Place a large sauté pan on a high heat and add the oil. Season the quails with 1 teaspoon of salt and a good grind of pepper and, once the pan is hot, add them skin-side down in batches. Fry for 5 minutes, turning once, so that both sides get some colour. Transfer the quails to a parchment-lined baking tray and spread 1 tablespoon of miso butterscotch evenly over the skin of each bird. Place the tray under the grill and cook for 1–2 minutes, until the miso starts to bubble and caramelize. Serve at once, with the salsa spooned on top or alongside.