Most Americans have been introduced to miso, the traditional Japanese fermented soybean paste, in the form of the ubiquitous soup, served as the first course in most Japanese restaurants.

In the United States, miso soup usually involves little more than soft tofu, seaweed and a scattering of scallions, but the flavor is savory and complex enough to compel the diner to slurp down every drop.

It's that savoriness, combined with a touch of sweetness, that makes miso paste such an essential ingredient in Japanese cooking. Over the years, though, it's found its way into many American kitchens. And given the versatility of miso paste, it's no wonder why.

You can find one or two varieties of miso paste in most grocery stores, often in the produce section. Typically, you'll have a choice between white and red.

Red miso, also known as akamiso, is aged a year or more, which is when it develops its reddish-brown hue. In order to repel the growth of bad microorganisms during the long fermentation process, red miso is made with a higher proportion of salt — and hence tastes saltier — than most other varieties.

White miso is also known as shiro miso, which in Japanese translates to "soup miso." It's fermented for a much shorter period, sometimes as little as a week, and is milder, sweeter and less salty than red miso.

The uses for miso paste are limitless. In this week's recipe, Sheet Pan Honey-Miso-Glazed Halibut and Asparagus, I've mixed it with honey, ginger, garlic and soy sauce and used this heady mixture to marinate halibut fillets before roasting them in a hot oven with asparagus. It's an easy but impressive meal that's perfect for a busy weeknight or when you need a sophisticated but stress-free weekend meal.

Once you buy a tub of miso and use it on the halibut, you'll have plenty left to experiment with in your everyday cooking. Mix it with butter for a spoon-licking good compound butter to melt on steaming ears of corn or grilled fish or chicken. Combine it with mayonnaise for a mind-bending spread for your favorite sandwich. It's good spooned into a soup, instead of another pinch of salt, in the seasoning process. You can even add it to caramel sauce for a satisfying salty counterpart to all that sweetness.

It's time to open your mind, heart and stomach to this umami-rich paste. Once you've tried it, you'll find yourself reaching for it whenever you're in the kitchen.

Sheet Pan Honey-Miso-Glazed Halibut and Asparagus

Serves 4.

Miso, the traditional Japanese soybean paste, is an easy way to add loads of flavor to a dish. In this one-pan wonder of a meal it's paired with honey and ginger, which gives the halibut a deliciously rich, savory-sweetness. From Meredith Deeds.

• 2 tbsp. white miso

• 1 tbsp. vegetable oil

• 1 tbsp. grated ginger root

• 1 tbsp. unseasoned rice vinegar

• 1 tbsp. honey

• 1 tbsp. soy sauce

• 4 tsp. toasted sesame oil, divided

• 1 clove garlic, minced

• 4 (6-oz.) skin-on halibut fillets, each at least 1 to 1 1/2 in. thick

• 1 lb. asparagus, trimmed

• Salt and freshly ground black pepper

• 1 tbsp. toasted sesame seeds

• 2 green onions, thinly sliced


Adjust oven rack to lowest position and preheat oven to 450 degrees. Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a small bowl, whisk together miso, vegetable oil, ginger, rice vinegar, honey, soy sauce, 1 teaspoon sesame oil and garlic. Place the fish fillets in a medium bowl, pour the miso mixture over the top and gently massage the marinade all over the fish. Let marinate for at least 30 minutes, or up to 3 hours.

Place asparagus on baking sheet. Drizzle with remaining 3 teaspoons sesame oil and season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Arrange asparagus around the sides of the pan.

Place halibut, skin side down, in the middle of the sheet pan, spaced evenly. Bake until the asparagus is tender, about 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer asparagus to a serving platter. Return the sheet pan to the oven and continue to bake until the centers of the fillets register 130 degrees, 4 to 8 minutes longer. Transfer halibut to the serving platter with asparagus and garnish with sesame seeds and green onions.

Meredith Deeds is a cookbook author and food writer from Edina. Reach her at Follow her on Instagram ­at @meredithdeeds.