Like A Big Stick Of Butter...

It would appear that nothing is safe from my recent slash-and-burn policy when it comes to my freezer/refrigerator/cabinets. Even ingredients that have a long shelf life are starting to bug me; I just want everything gone. My latest cooking project got started with a carton of heavy cream that was past its expiration date (don't worry, that stuff is ultra-pasteurized, and I've never had any go bad, despite how old it was). There was enough of it that ice cream seemed like the obvious answer, but what kind?

While I was standing in front of the fridge ruminating on the question, my eyes lit on the container of miso that has been taking up space in my fridge for five months. Sure, it's not that big, and it'll be good indefinitely, but it was still so full, and I knew exactly how to use up some of it. You see, for quite some time, I'd been eying an ice cream recipe that featured miso as a secret ingredient.

I know it sounds a little strange, but it was a recipe for butter pecan ice cream, and miso does pair incredibly well with butter. It adds a savory essence that enhances and deepens the flavor of butter, and since I'm kind of a sucker for recipes that include an unexpected ingredient, I was keen to give it a try. 

The description promised that the miso flavor itself would not be noticeable, that it would merely amplify the taste of the butter and pecans. However, once I added the miso to the base, all the lovely nutty aroma of the browned butter (another stroke of genius in this recipe) disappeared, and I was left with the scent of miso. I was concerned, but I persevered. After all, the same thing happened with my chocolate mayonnaise cake, which smelled like something from the deli all the way until it came out of the oven, when it emerged as a decadent, chocolate delight.

My overall anxiety level was not improved when I added the toasted pecans to the freshly churned ice cream, and it started to melt right away. The recipe's suggestion of heating the nuts while the ice cream was churning was clearly a bum steer; they were still warm when they went into the ice cream, and they caused it to melt almost immediately. I was worried that I had effectively undone all the work done by the ice cream machine to aerate the mixture and create smooth, uniform ice crystals that would give the finished product a pleasant mouth feel.

Miraculously, once the ice cream had set up, the texture was flawless. It was neither too dense, too icy, or too hard to scoop. The ice cream itself struck a fantastic balance between sweet and savory, with a generous portion of nuts tossed in for added interest. As promised, the miso flavor receded into the background, however, I'm not sure it did much to increase the buttery taste. To me, though the ice cream was very good, it did not conjure flavor memories of other butter pecan ice cream I've had in the past. It did little satiate the craving I'd been nursing ever since I set about making this recipe.

Nonetheless, it was very good, and certainly a worthy experiment. How many people can say they've made miso ice cream?

Really Buttery Pecan Ice Cream
adapted from Serious Eats
9 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 c. plus 1 tablespoon packed dark brown sugar, divided
3 c. half and half
5 tablespoons shiro miso paste
6 egg yolks
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 c. pecans, chopped
Pinch of salt
1. In a large saucepan, melt 8 tablespoons butter over medium-low heat, cooking until browned bits appear in the pan and a nutty aroma is achieved, then stir in brown sugar. Increase heat to medium-high and cook sugar until it just begins to smell toasted and smokey, 2 to 3 minutes. Add half and half and miso paste, whisking to combine. Bring to a bare simmer, whisking frequently.  
2. While dairy mixture is heating, whisk egg yolks well in a medium bowl. When dairy just begins to bubble, add one third of mixture to yolks, one ladleful at a time, whisking constantly. Then transfer yolk mixture to saucepan and whisk to combine. Reduce heat to low.
3. Cook custard, stirring frequently, until it coats the back of a spoon and a swiped finger leaves a clean line. Remove from heat and whisk in vanilla and cinnamon. Pour through a strainer into an airtight container and chill overnight.
4. Meanwhile, toast pecans in a large saucepan over medium-high heat with remaining tablespoon of butter and brown sugar. Stir frequently and cook until pecans smell toasted and darken slightly in color. Allow to cool to room temperature.
4. Churn the ice cream according to manufacturer's instructions.
5. When ice cream is finished, transfer to a large airtight container or a bowl. Stir in pecans, then transfer to airtight container to chill for 4-5 hours; ice cream will be very soft out of the churn and needs time to set. Stir ice cream well before serving, as pecans may have sunk to the bottom. 

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