The last 2 years have been a bit of a challenge for most of us to navigate. In our household, we spent the first year of our semi-social seclusion mitigating our world ache by consuming a steady diet of creamy pasta sauces, fabulous breads and lots of white wine. It felt comforting at the time. Needless to say, that lifestyle was not sustainable. We began to feel lousy and…we couldn’t fit into our pants.
The second year of our social isolation we decided to begin a healthier lifestyle. We have taken on homemade, plant-based, healthy cuisine as a new adventure. We have been sprouting, microgreening, gardening and whipping up some deliciously memorable meals, all with a focus on health and accentuating the flavors of fresh foods.
We have recently discovered a whole new world of food fun by experimenting with Koji. Fifth Season sells Koji Kin (Aspergillus oryzae) a starter used to make sake. This tiny package of mold spores is used to inoculate rice, barley or soybeans as the base for making sake, miso, mirin, soy sauce, rice vinegar, marinade for meat, fish, vegetables as well as a brine for pickles. Chefs throughout the world have been experimenting with Koji to amplify the flavor elements of a wide range of foods.
When rice is inoculated with the Koji spores it creates a malted rice. This malted rice is then fermented with salt and water to create Shio Koji. Shio Koji is then used in cooking to enzymatically make flavors more accessible to taste buds, unveiling a palette of salty, sweet, umami-rich flavors.
Cooking with Koji, while naturally boosting the flavor profiles of many foods, also has many health benefits. The enzymatic action of Koji helps to feed good bacteria in the intestines, acting as a natural probiotic. The enzymatic action of koji not only imparts savory and subtle notes to foods by breaking down proteins and starches, it also makes vitamins and minerals in foods more digestible and available.
When making koji malted rice and Shio Koji it is important to remember a few things. As with all fermentation projects, all of your containers, utensils and other equipment coming in contact with the ferment must be sterile, this includes your cheesecloth as well as your hands. When making your Koji rice malt you must maintain a constant temperature of 85-95 degrees F. I made an incubator out of the setup I use for seed sprouting using an AC infinity seed sprouting heat mat, a heavy duty Quad thick seed starting tray and a 7” Mondi humidity dome.
To make Koji Malted rice you will need:
- 2c short grain sushi rice
- ¼ t Koji Kin-Sake Homebrew kit (Koji Spores)
- Sterilized cheese cloth
- Cheese thermometer
- Rice steamer- I found that a mesh colander in a pot with a lid works best
- Heated incubator set up
- Filtered water
Rinse your rice with cold water until the water runs clear and all the excess starch is removed. Soak your rice for 6-8 hours, drain.
Steam the rice on medium low heat until it is not quite done, about 45-50 minutes. I put my rice, wrapped in damp cheesecloth in a colander over but not touching the simmering water, with damp cheesecloth on top for added moisture. When the rice is done, let it cool to just above room temperature. Break up any stuck-together pieces, making it into all individual grains. The rice should be damp, not wet.
Sprinkle the Koji Kin spores evenly over the rice grains, incorporating it thoroughly into the rice.
Keeping the rice in the cheesecloth, lift it into a 9”x13”x2” glass baking dish. Spread the rice out and cover it with another few layers of damp cheesecloth. Place this dish into a 10”x20” super sprouter tray. Add a cup of water into the super sprouter tray to maintain humidity. Place the thermometer on top of the cheese cloth and cover with the 7” Humidome with the vents closed. Place this whole set up onto the seed sprouting heat mat. I don’t have a thermostat for my heat mat so I place a towel between the heat mat and the sprouter tray. This keeps the rice at a constant 95 degrees. I find that the bottom of the rice package can get too dry when the inoculant begins to activate and warm up so I put a washcloth under the baking dish to lift it off of the heat source.
This whole setup will sit for 48-60 hours. Mix it and break up any clumps every 12 hours until the rice grows a white mold on the grains. If your mold is brown, black or orange, throw it out as it has been contaminated. If the mold is green, your process has gone too far and it has bloomed, and you can’t use this to make Sio Koji. The first 12 hours your rice may develop a slight smell similar to a used cat box. This smell should eventually turn sweet and malty. You can freeze this rice for up to 3 months to use later or go ahead and make Shio Koji out of it.
To Make the Shio Koji (the inoculated rice slurry used for cooking) you will need:
- 1 ⅔ c rice koji
- 7T fine kosher salt
- 1 ⅔ c filtered water
- Sterilized cheesecloth
Boil the water and make a brine with the hot water and salt. Let the brine cool to 85 degrees, place in a sterile jar, add the inoculated rice koji. Place a double layer of cheesecloth on top and secure with a rubber band. Stir this mixture every day for 7-10 days. Your Shi Koji should develop a sweet, nutty, briney smell. If it continues to smell like a cat box or develops off colors, it’s best to start over as it may have become contaminated. Your Fermented rice koji can keep in the refrigerator for up to a year. Experiment using this as a marinade for meats, fish, tofu, and vegetables. Use it in stir fries, rice dishes, dressings and soups.