Sunday, March 25, 2012

Miso-Glazed Tofu, Skillet Edition

This is a great recipe for busy nights when you don't have time to prep a lot of ingredients or have things planned out in advance, and is also massively tasty, as well. It's kind-of like a lower-key version of agedashi toufu, with pan frying instead of deep frying. Miso-glazing is awesome; try it with salmon, too, for example.

I find tofu to be mysteriously filling and satisfying, lately...which is a good thing. I mean, I've liked tofu in its myriad forms since I was young; liking it is not the issue. Though, I guess when I eat tofu as my protein of a meal, I eat a half block, which is something like 7-8 oz., depending on the brand. That probably has something to do with it.

Oh, if you haven't had katsuobushi (bonito flakes; the pinkish flakes of dried fish on the tofu, pictured above) before, try picking some up and garnishing your hot tofu with it. The flakes will dance and sway in the heat released by the food.

Check out my recipe, below!

[UPDATE: see my refined and improved approaches to this dish here, and check out another method for miso-glazing--with a broiler--here.]

Miso-Glazed Tofu

1 block medium-firm tofu
~3 TBS cornstarch

1/2 cup dashi (or chicken stock if you can't find dashi. I use the instant powder kind of dashi, rather than making my own, for convenience.)
2 tsp white miso paste
2 tsp brown sugar
2 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp rice wine

1-2 TBS vegetable oil

katsuobushi (bonito flakes)
aonori flakes (seaweed)
green onions, slivered or minced

  1. Press tofu for about 10 minutes. Once excess fluid has been drained, cut into large blocks, roughly 2" x 1.5" x 1" (the exact dimensions aren't critical).
  2. Pat tofu dry and dust with cornstarch.
  3. While the tofu is being pressed, prepare the sauce. Simply whisk the dashi, miso, sugar, soy sauce, and rice wine together in a small bowl.
  4. Heat oil in skillet over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Arrange tofu blocks in skillet, broad-side down, and pan fry until lightly browned on both sides, several minutes each side.
  5. Pour miso sauce into the skillet, cover, turn heat down to medium, and simmer for several minutes.
  6. Remove lid, turn heat back up to medium-high, and begin spooning sauce over the tofu. Once the tops are well coated, flip the tofu and spoon sauce over the other side. Continue doing this until the sauce has reduced somewhat to a thicker consistency, such that it can coat a spoon but still run.
  7. Remove tofu from heat and arrange in a platter. Pour thickened sauce over tofu. Sprinkle katsuobushi (bonito flakes), aonori (seaweed) flakes, and slivered or minced green onions over the tofu and serve.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Mushroom Musings

braised black mushrooms and napa cabbage

Checking in. Still alive, just working gradually on some longer term things like:
  • seasoning my wok (will post about in the future since it's coming along well, and I think I finally have a good handle on how to deal with that, as well as some pointers)
  • la mian hand-pulled noodles, sans machine to knead the dough (this is a tough nut to crack, with so many moving parts, but very interesting. I've made a lot of progress and gained a lot of understanding, but new challenges continue to crop up as old ones are resolved.)
  • assorted new recipes and refining older ones

Dried (Chinese) black mushrooms, aka shiitake mushrooms in Japan, are so fantastically flavorful. Here's what I wonder, though: when the mushrooms are dried, the flavor is concentrated and intensified as the water leaves the mushrooms. But, we have to rehydrate the mushrooms when we use why does the flavor still seem more intense? Maybe not as much water reenters the mushrooms as was originally there. Or maybe there's some other change. Harold McGee notes in On Food and Cooking, that there are enzymes that break down proteins in mushroom stems into amino acids for the cap and gills, making them slightly more savory. Maybe something related to this is going on in the dehydration process. I haven't found an answer for this, yet, so if you happen to know, I'd love to hear it.

Here's an interesting article about dried mushrooms that I found. It notes that some other varieties of mushrooms don't handle dehydration well at all, but black mushrooms are among those that become a different, more flavorful, beast. Also, I love the line, "Omitting dried mushrooms from the shopping list is an exercise in counterproductive food snobbery."

Monday, March 12, 2012

Clams in Black Bean Sauce

This one was definitely a learning experience for me. I haven't worked with clams before, and there's a lot to know about them.
  • You want to work with live clams so you know they're fresh. There are tests you can do, like submerging your clams in water (dead ones float) and tapping open ones (live ones will shut).
  • If you need to keep them for a while, you actually don't want to submerge them in water since they'll eventually drown.
    • Though, I wonder: apparently hard clams (aka quahogs) live intertidally, while the mahogany clams I bought (aka ocean quahogs) live subtidally. That means they live in a part of the tidal zone that is always submerged by water. That "don't submerge your clams in water" advice I found must depend on the type you have.
On the cooking and technique side:
  • Smaller ones have more meat-to-shell ratio and are more tender--but are also much more expensive than larger clams (like the ones I bought in ignorance, maybe about 2.5" at their widest point)
    • You can still use larger ones to flavor your dishes, but if the meat's what you're after, then smaller clams may be a better choice.
  • Clams will pop open spontaneously when they're cooked (if a clam doesn't open when cooked, it's already been dead and should be tossed). However, there are two stages to their popping open:
    • 1st stage: the clam pops open just a little. This is when it's done and should be removed from the heat.
    • 2nd stage: the clam shell flings itself all the way open. At this point, the clam is overcooked and starting to toughen.
Despite all my scrubbing of the shells, there was also still a lot of scum that was produced when I cooked these clams, the skimming of which was not mentioned in the recipe (Grace Young's book again). I'll skim it next time. Also, now that I know, I'll look for smaller clams next time. Flavor was good though, of course.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Sesame Balls 煎堆 Jian Dui

Hey, a dessert! No dairy or wheat flour in this, so we're all good. Sesame balls, called jian dui in Chinese, meaning "fried pile" (not poetic at all, unlike names for other foods), are made primarily of glutinous (sticky) rice flour and sugar, with a sweet red bean paste filling. I don't often make desserts, but I had some sticky rice flour and red beans on hand, and a pot luck brunch coming up, so it seemed like a good opportunity to try making another new thing using up the remainder of some ingredients that otherwise were just going to sit.

I made the red bean paste, too, though I didn't do a great job of it. Messed up the part where you process the cooked beans into a paste, though; I didn't drain the water at first. I don't think that was the main issue, though. I just drained the first batch (I have a small food processor) afterward, did the second half right, and just adjusted the sugar content since some would have been lost in the discarded water. Maybe my food processor just doesn't cut things up smooth enough, or it's the recipe.

I left skin fragments in the paste rather than sieving it, so it wasn't super smooth. This isn't necessarily a problem, as both smooth and mashed versions are made in Chinese sweets, and in Japanese sweets, they make smooth (koshian), "chunky" (tsubushian), and whole (tsubuan) red bean pastes, leaving beans half-intact in the chunky, and untouched in the whole versions (not so much a paste in this last case). But I think if you're going to process it, then probably sieve the paste. Otherwise, if you want the skins, then just mash it so there's still some beany-ness to the paste, rather than having a paste with minced skins. Or maybe red bean paste just doesn't need the drying step that Young has in her recipe. Really tasted just fine, but I bet connoisseurs would jump on how my paste turned out. Hmm, well, will research more approaches next time.

 balls filled, rolled in sesame seeds

 expanding as they fry


I adapted this one from Grace Young's Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen, as well. She asks for bing tang 冰糖 (peen tong in the Cantonese pronunciation), but I didn't have any on hand, so I substituted brown sugar instead. Also, having only so much glutinous rice flour on hand, I had to cut things down a little.

Sesame Balls - Jian Dui 煎堆

3 1/3 oz brown sugar [it may be easier to just weigh out 5 oz sugar and 1 cup water and then only use 2/3 of the mixture]
2/3 cup water

2 cups glutinous rice flour
2/3 cup sweet red bean paste, store-bought or homemade
1/3 cup white sesame seeds
vegetable oil for frying

  1. Dissolve brown sugar in warm water and aside to cool.
  2. Place rice flour in large bowl, make a well in center, and add sugar water all at once. Stir until water is incorporated; dough should be smooth but slightly sticky.
  3. Dust hands lightly with rice flour and roll dough into a thick rope. Cut rope into 16 equal pieces, and roll each piece into a ball.
  4. Flatten a ball in your palm into a 2.5-inch round and begin to bend and gather the edges, wrinkling them fan-like or pleating, to make a sort of low cup.
  5. Add just shy of 1 tsp red bean paste to the center of the round, and bend and gather the edges more to envelope the red bean paste. Roll the dough ball gently in your palms to make a sealed ball. Repeat steps 4-5 with the rest of the balls.
  6. Place a sheet of wax paper on counter and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Roll and press outside of each ball with sesame seeds.
  7. In a 2-quart pot, about 5 inches deep, heat about 2.5-inches vegetable oil (~5 cups) over medium-high heat to about 330 degrees on a deep-frying or candy thermometer. You can also use a chopstick to test the heat: hold one chopstick in the oil to see if tiny bubbles gather after several seconds of immersion. Add 4 sesame balls at a time, cooking over medium heat (maintaining temperature), 6-7 minutes. As the balls float to the surface, press them gently with the back of a metal spatula against the sides of the pot.* The balls will expand as they cook and are pressed. Increase heat to medium-high and fry until golden brown, about 2 minutes.
  8. Place cooked balls on a plate lined with several thicknesses of paper towels. Repeat with remaining balls. Serve immediately.

*I'm not entirely sure why you have to press the balls. I think, though, that this squeezes out any air that might be in the ball. The dough continues to expand, so it won't stay flattened (unless you keep pressing it through to doneness). However, if you don't squeeze out the air, the balls will deflate a little on cooling, resulting in a kind of semi-collapsed sesame ball at the end. I'm not sure though, since I didn't press the balls consistently or maybe hard enough through the cooking period, and some of mine deflated more than others.

Sweet Red Bean Paste

6 oz small red beans, about 1 cup
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp vegetable oil
  1. Wash red beans, cover with cold water, and soak overnight.
  2. Drain beans and discard water. Place beans and 3 cups cold water in a small pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer 1 hour, until very soft. Monitor the pan to make sure water doesn't dry up. Drain and discard water.
  3. Place the beans in a food processor and process until smooth. Add brown sugar and process until just combined.
  4. In a medium saucepan, heat vegetable oil over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Add bean paste and cook, stirring, 2-3 minutes, until mixture is dry. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Store in a covered container in the refrigerator up to 1 week, or freeze for later use.