a better miso butter onion (sorry, Yotam Ottolenghi!)

November 26, 2021

The photo of Yotam Ottolenghi’s miso butter onions (printed in TASTE, from his new book Ottolenghi Flavor) is extremely compelling. Just the slightest bit of char, visible umami flavor, and a visibly softer onion than one can achieve with high-heat roasting. Who wouldn’t want to try them?

The recipe is simple, yet the technique is surprisingly finicky for a three-ingredient side dish.

Preheat the oven to 500F (yes, 500F.)

Melt butter into a baking dish, and whisk in miso and warm water.

Nestle some small onion halves into the baking dish.

Roast for 35 minutes, flip, and continue roasting for another 45 or 50 minutes, basting every ten minutes.

(Check out Taste, or Ottolenghi’s book, for more detailed instructions.)

Are the onions tasty? Sure. Miso adds umami, butter adds fat, onions cooked until soft add sweetness. If you like miso and you like onions, of course you’ll like this.

Here’s why I think it’s not worth it.

First of all, your oven is on for a MINIMUM of an hour and a half, longer if, like me, you have an ancient oven that takes a while to heat up.

Onions are a very affordable and humble primary ingredient for a side dish, and this would be a very accessible recipe if it wasn’t for this finicky technique. Who has time to baste onions every ten minutes? Who can afford to leave their oven on for two hours just to roast some onions?

Also, is your favorite onion texture “mush”? Predictably, braising onions gives them the same consistency as an onion simmered in a pot of chicken broth for six hours. That is, “soft” is an understatement. These onions could be spread on toast if you wanted to. (Actually, that doesn’t sound half bad.) It eliminates much of the bite and flavor of an onion, making them maybe ideal for someone who’s horrified by a caramelized or roasted or raw onion, someone looking for a way to conceal an allium. If you like the flavor and texture of an onion, this is, let’s say, not an ideal way to highlight either.

—-> My alteration, with apologies to Yotam Ottolenghi? Cut some small onions into chunks, then toss in melted butter and miso paste, then roast onions on a baking sheet. No simmering them in water until they’re mush. Just roast them as you would garlic. Will the texture be identical? No, instead of insipid mush, they’ll become a slightly savory version of the onions you probably already roast along with your sheet pan of veggies or chicken. Hell, toss a bunch of chicken parts and chunks of potatoes and garlic in the same miso butter, and make a whole meal out of it!

Onions are a smart side dish for folks like me who love flavor but have a limited food budget. The flavors are on point here, but the technique is unnecessarily complicated. I’ll recommend this exact recipe and technique IF you’re already planning to keep your oven on 500F for several hours. Otherwise, just roast onion chunks in miso butter, and ditch the constant basting. They’ll be done in less than half the time, and you may just prefer the texture, too.


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