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Sunday, November 27

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Ingredient Tue Feb 24 2009

Japanese Tofu Primer!

When I wrote about a series of wacky, high-end tofu from Japan, one of you asked me for tofu recipes. I hesitate to call them recipes because they're so simple, only involving some chopping, sprinkling, and a nominal amount of heating, but here they are, my favorite recipes for good tofu, along with some basic handling tips. Caution: Unless the tofu is very good in itself (i.e., ton of sweet, earthy soy flavor as well as a pleasing mouth feel) , these recipes probably won't dazzle you. Get the absolute best tofu you can for these. H Mart in Niles has very good fresh tofu (I love their silken tofu) made on site; Mitsuwa has those weird ones I wrote about. Your local Asian market may have fresh tofu, made in independent factories nearby.

First, the tofu primers. Tofu is extremely perishable. Unless it's in a light-proof, airtight container, use it within a day or two of purchase. (And if it is in a light-proof, airtight containers like those House tofu that survive outside of the fridge for months, it probably doesn't taste that great anyway.)

To cut very soft, silken tofu, carefully place the tofu on the palm of your left hand (if you are right-handed, that is). Cut the tofu right on your palm, being careful not to make the back-and-forth motion with the knife. Just push the knife straight down so you'll only cut the tofu, not your hand. This is how Japanese cooks, including me, cut their soft tofu. It's a lot easier than picking up the fragile pieces from a cutting board.

If you aren't using the entire package of tofu at once, refill the container with fresh cold water before placing the remaining tofu back in it. Essentially, the tofu should stay submerged in fresh water. Left out of it, tofu will lose its moisture; with moisture goes its flavor. (For the same reason, freezing the tofu will irreversibly changes its texture. Some Japanese cooks freeze their extra tofu and take advantage of the pockmarked, spongy texture in dishes suited for that type of texture, but I personally don't find the result appealing.) Change the water every day if the tofu is going to sit in the fridge more than a day. We Japanese say that tofu dies when the water it's sitting in dies.

The following three recipes are very simple. (Great when you need to whip up a quick dinner after a tiring day.) Hiyayakko and yudofu are the two most basic preparations of tofu, while the "hiyayakko modern style" and "chilled tofu dessert" take more creative liberty. Kinu is the silken tofu, while momen (literaly "cotton," referring to the rougher cotton straining cloth traditionally used in tofu making) is the firmer-texutred variety. I find most American-made firm tofu too tough for traditional Japanese preparations. Momen tofu in Japan is firmer and less smooth than kinu tofu, but it's never as rough-and-tough as the American firm. If you can, use a Japanese momen or find an American breed that's not too tough and crumbly. Each recipe serves two.

1) Hiyayakko

  • 1 Very good tofu, kinu or momen, cut in half (or about 3x4 inch piece per person)
  • 1 green onion, finely sliced crosswise
  • 1/2 inch piece of ginger, grated
  • 2 teaspoons good soy sauce

Place the tofu pieces in small bowls. Sprinkle with aromatics and drizzle with soy sauce. Done.

Variations: Some people like to add shiso (parilla leaves), toasted sesame seeds, pickled plum paste or bonito flakes. Experiment!

2) Hiyayakko modern style

  • 1 very good kinu tofu, cut in half (or about 3x4 inch piece per person)
  • 1 green onion, finely chopped
  • a tiny pinch good quality sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil

Place the tofu pieces in small bowls. Make a little mound on top with minced green onion, sprinkle with sea salt and drizzle the sesame oil over it. The idea is to compliment the tofu's sweet soy flavor with just enough sea salt and sesame oil, so don't overdo it!

3) Chilled tofu dessert with black sugar syrup

  • 1 Good, creamy, silky kinu tofu, cut in half (or about 3x4 inch piece per person)
  • 2 tablespoons toasted soy bean powder (kinako)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 3 tablespoons black sugar

First, make kuromitsu, or black sugar syrup. Bring the water to a boil in a saucepan. Add the blacksugar and let it dissolve, stirring with a spoon. Let the syrup boil down a little, so that it thickens. (The syrup will thicken some more when it cools.) Take it off the heat, and let cool. Place the tofu in a small bowls and pour the chilled syrup over it. Serve with the toasted soy bean powder. (Be careful not to choke on this soy bean powder--and not to sneeze on it, for that matter--I've done it, and trust me, it gets messy.)

If you don't have black sugar (it's a less refined version of sugar that contains mineral-rich morasses, famously from Okinawa), Mexican piloncillo is a good substitute, although I think piloncillos has a little bit more pronounced sour note. My husband, relying on his distant memory, says morasses may be a good substitute, but I can't confirm that; I've never had morasses.

4) Yudofu

  • 1 very good tofu, kinu or momen, cut in half (or about 3x4 inch piece per person)
  • 1 5-inch piece of dried kombu
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 teaspoon soy sauce
  • aromatics of your choice (green onions, ginger, shiso, etc.)

Soak the dried kombu in the water for at least an hour, or overnight in the fridge. Bring it to a boil. Turn the heat down so the broth is simmering. Carefully lower the tofu in the broth and cook for 5 minutes or so, till the tofu is warmed through. (It's more heating than cooking, really.) Don't let the broth boil vigorously once the tofu is added; tofu needs to be heated gently to keep its texture. If you used an attractive (perhaps clay) pot, you can serve the yudofu in it, distributing the pieces at the table. Otherwise, take out the tofu from broth and transfer to a small bowl, with or without a little bit of the broth. At the table, each person adds his/her choice of aromatics and a drizzle of soy sauce.

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gemma / September 3, 2009 12:17 PM

Thank you for this! I starred it in my RSS reader long ago and I am just now reading it. Very informative.

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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