Master of Miso: Biwa’s Gabe Rosen Lets Us in on the Fermented Fun

By Alisa Sloan, Foodable Contributor

What’s more fun than making miso? If you’re thinking “just about anything,” you’re totally right. It takes from six weeks to three years to mature your miso, and during that time it’s just sitting there — probably in a bucket with a cheesecloth on top, and probably a little bit stinky — offering you absolutely zero feedback or entertainment value. Meh.

But then one day, when you’ve determined that your miso is ready for prime time, you must figure out what to do with it. There’s only so much miso soup a person can eat in a given month, so deciding how to use it is the toughest part of making miso. This is why most of us leave it to the professionals. Don’t know about you, but I’d rather go to Biwa and enjoy the fermented fruit of chef/owner Gabe Rosen’s labors than make it myself. Not to mention, he has access to the entire Biwa pantry — and its cooking staff — which trumps my kitchen setup. Biwa miso for the win!


Making the [In-House] Switch

“We’ve always had miso soup on the menu,” says Rosen, “and for a long time, we bought our miso from a company in Portland that makes incredible handmade miso. We’ve always tried to make a lot of our ingredients, but for some reason, miso didn’t make the list.” That all changed when the cost of bringing in miso increased dramatically — and fortuitously, at the same time Biwa had a cook who was going for a food science degree. He brewed beer and was an avid fermenter, so he made miso for a microbiology class. Biwa the restaurant had already been doing a bit of its own fermenting — from pickles to rice bran to beverages — and in-house miso was a natural addition to their back room mixings and picklings. It’s not that space-intensive, but “setting up a batch can take half a day,” says Rosen.

A Draw to Japanese Cuisine

Once you learn a little about Rosen’s background, it all makes sense — the menu, the miso, the yakimono, the fact that Biwa doesn’t serve sushi… “I’ve always been a cook,” says Rosen. He’s also a trained butcher who spent some very happy time working in a retail butcher shop. Once he was in a kitchen, his early years behind the line focused on presentation, so when he went back to school to get a degree in Japanese and then visited Japan, it all came together for him. “I felt that Japanese cuisine had a lot to offer. A lot of (everyday eating) was plain, gutsy, ingredient-driven food. Presentation is important—a lot of it is tidy and beautiful—but it’s not fussy.” Right up his alley.

So what can you order on the ever-changing Biwa menu that features their artisan miso? Start with their miso soup: misoshiru. “It depends what’s going on with the menu,” says Rosen, “but the miso is often used in sauces and marinades.” (Ask your server where the miso is hiding.) Also, an assortment of their pickles may be done in miso (insider tip: Ask if they have the garlic cloves that are pickled in it). They even have a Miso Butterscotch Gelato on the menu. (Insider tip: Get some.) 

215 SE 9th Ave.
Portland, OR 97214