Monday, May 31, 2010

Tofu The Size Of Texas

I finally ordered some nigari (magnesium chloride) for making tofu. I had bought organic soybeans–both white and black–a while ago, but it took an age for me to get the order in. Once it arrived, though, the intervening time spent waiting helped spur me to quick action. I soaked some of the white beans overnight and re-read the tofu recipe I wanted to try from the Shunju cookbook. (Shunju is one of Tokyo's finest restaurants, and the book is beautiful. I haven't made anything from it before, but it has inspired a number of improvisations of late).

Basically, the technique is a two-step process. First you make soymilk, then you make tofu with that. You purée the soaked beans in the fo-pro for quite a while until they are seriously frothy. You take that foam and gently heat it, stirring, and add some boiling water to loosen the mass a bit.

And then you simmer, stirring frequently so it doesn't stick and scorch. And it bubbles up to many times its original volume, so be advised. Eventually (after about half an hour) the bubbles subside and you're left with the familiar off-white liquid that is soymilk, with all the solids on the bottom of the pot. You strain this, separating the latter (okara) from the former. Then heating the milk back up to 167˚ F I think, you add a bit of the nigari and stir it in. Then you let it sit to coagulate.

In this case, I poured some of the mixture into individual dishes so it would set up inside the confines of the square plate, making for a cleaner presentation than a lumpy pile spooned in after the fact. I drizzled a little light soy and sesame oil on top, along with minced scallions.

But first, to get going and provide a weather-appropriate cold soup, I simmered some fresh-cut red kale in the beef/lamb stock that didn't get reduced to demi-glace, puréed it all together, and strained it. The kale solids that remained in the strainer looked so similar to the okara from soymilk-making that I impulsively combined the two for a grainy green goodness which I made use of in the next course.

Which was okara-kale cakes. I added an egg yolk and a pinch of flour, plus a dribble each of nam pla, usukuchi, and sesame oil, then cooked them in a lightly oiled pan. To accompany, I made salad with some lovely curly endive: I fried up some large dice of our bacon, then dumped lardons and hot fat right into the bowl to lightly wilt the greens. I followed that with some vinegar and thinly sliced radish, then tossed it all together. I deglazed the fritter pan with a spoon of demi-glace and a splash of sake to make a rich little sauce for the cakes.

Then we had the tofu. It hadn't set all the way (I'm not sure how long it's supposed to take) so it was still pretty liquid. And the nigari was tasteable, which is not really such a good thing. Nigari is pretty awfully bitter and quite alkaline. So I should use less, obviously, but why then did it not set in the hour it had to sit? These and more questions will be answered when I use a source other than a book which appears to have been somewhat haphazardly translated–or at very least converted from metric to English. But the process is simple enough, and the result holds a great deal of promise–especially the ability to flavor and season the result.

For dessert, something that accidentally ended up being quite close in spirit to the book. Milo had been clamoring for me to take the coconut water from the remaining young nut that Mike brought over when we had Korean BBQ night and make a gel with it. Where he got the idea is anybody's guess. He's just sort of brilliant like that. So we bloomed a couple of sheets, then dissolved them in the coconut water which we sweetened with a squeeze of good local honey. Then we poured the mixture into a pyrex dish and chilled it in the fridge. We also had a cantaloupe on hand (shopping with children is hell for locavores) that was very sweet, so I cut both the melon and the gel into roughly equal sized cubes and served them in little glass bowls with a chiffonade of spearmint on top. This was a winner: sweet, clean, and light as a feather, it came closest to the sort of taste and texture I imagine based on extensive reading of the cookbook. Someday maybe I'll have cause and means to get to Tokyo and eat there, and I can revel in the subtle mastery of their technique.

And then I can upend the table and storm out, yelling over my shoulder that their tofu recipe tastes like drano.

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