Sorry for the sparse blogging as of late (I know: piccies don’t count). I’ll just leave it up to you to pull the appropriate form RFC-3563 (a.k.a. “I’m sorry I did’t blog for so long. Here are the reasons why…”) and fill it with whatever you fancy.
In order to break the silence, I am not gonna rant about spitefully incompetent French university personnel, nor am I gonna express any sort of opinion about the current bouts of suburban pyromania taking place one hour north of the city I’m moving to next month (oh no, we aren’t talking about that. keep walking. keep walking. just a bit more… yep, good).
Instead, I’m gonna give you the detailed recipe for the most amazing Japanese dish you’ve ever had. And not only is it yumtastic, but it’s also dirt-easy to make and vegetarian. If you’ve lived in Japan any, you probably know about the difficulties of following a vegetarian diet in this beautiful country. In fact, if you meet somebody here who tells you he is a die-hard vegetarian, he is most likely either a liar, an imbecile or eating the vast majority of his meals at home (I know a couple of the latter). Oddly enough for a somewhat buddhist country, the concept of vegetarianism is about as foreign to Japan as it is to your average midwest eatery (where asking for a vegetarian meal means you want a side order of fries with your 3-pound rib-eye steak). No matter how hard you try, and even after you’d eventually manage to convey the idea that neither chicken skin nor seafood could reasonably be considered “vegetables”, the ubiquitous fish-sauce that’s added to about any edible dish in Japan will get you in the end.
Luckily, I was never the religious veggie type: I did not eat meat or fish during my last few years living in SF, but it was mostly by choice of a health-conscious diet, not the deep-seated conviction that I would be snacking on the reincarnation of my grandpa. While not a deciding factor, the fact that my dearly beloved was a veggie herself helped a lot… Not that she would impose it on me or anything, but it just makes things infinitely easier when you don’t have to cook two of each meals you take together…
And overall, SF might be one of, if not the, most herbivore friendly cities in the world, where opening a restaurant without at least a few decent vegetarian dishes on the menu is akin to commercial suicide.
Yet, I was never hardcore and had no qualms about ever so occasionally partaking in some delicious late-night cheeseburger goodness. What can I say: In-N-Out burgers are like the choir boys of vegetarian priesthood… It’s just impossible to resist.
So upon moving to Tokyo, I quickly decided to spare many an awkward encounters with flustered Japanese restaurant employees by accommodating whatever was on the menu and keeping my vegetarian tendencies for home-cooking. Though even this isn’t quite as easy here as in sunny California, considering the substantial difference in availability and pricing for fresh groceries that do not contain tentacles or miscellaneous animal parts.
A man needs his calories, especially in Japan, and there are only so many ways you can cook tofu before getting seriously tired of it. Let’s face it, tofu is quite bland, edible at best (granted there is a world of difference between what you’ll get in a supermarket and what I can buy at the Tofu-ya just down the road), hardly anywhere as exciting as, say, a crispy strip of bacon. Unless… Unless…
Unless you make:
Agedashi Tofu (揚げ出し豆腐)
This amazing recipe will single-handedly revert any misguided aversion you may have toward eating coagulated rotten soy beans, or as we like to call it around here: tofu. It draws its powers from an ancient and revered cooking technique, one that holds the magical property of turning any semi-edible piece of junk into sin-inducing candy goodness: deep frying.
Some of our readers are no doubt familiar with this staple of fair food in the UK: deep-fried Snickers chocolate bars (or its Kentucky’s US equivalent: deep-fried squirrel balls) and its much improved yummy-factor as a result. Well, tofu works the same: the technique will turn an overall unappetizing lump of healthy proteins into a much-less-healthy, but infinitely more sexy, golden tofu beignet, whose creamy inside will melt on your tongue. Add to it our patented Magical All-purpose Japanese Sauce™ (sold separately, see details on top), and you have yourself a strong contender for best Japanese food, on a tight spot with Shoyū Ramen.
On to cooking then:
Step 1: The Sauce
- Get in equal quantities (approximately 1 or 2 TB): wasabi (that green spicy thing), shoyū (soy sauce) and mirin (a Japanese sweet cooking wine) in a cooking pan. Note: feel free to follow on our innovative footsteps and forego the use of mirin in favour of shochu (distilled rice alcohol, not sake/nihonshu, which is fermented rice alcohol), should you be like us: 1) out of mirin, and 2) a raging alcoholic.
- Throw in a few sliced shiitake mushrooms
- Pour half a cup of vegetable stock (non-veggies out of the item should be able to substitute chicken stock without noticeable difference), a healthy dash of sugar and heat the whole thing up: first to a boil, then back to simmering for a few minutes
- Optionally, I hear one can throw in a few spoonful of kombu (dried seaweed powder). Always did without, though. Garlic certainly can’t hurt either.
- While the sauce is simmering, mince a couple TBs of ginger that you will throw in the mix shortly before taking it off the fire.
- Prepare some finely chopped negi (Japanese “green spring onion”, somewhat the same as scallion/shallot, I reckon) as well as, maybe, grated daikon (white radish), if you feel like it, and set aside.
Step 2: The Deep-Frying
- Deep-frying is your run-of-the mill deep-fry technique (feel free to skip if you’ve ever cooked french fries once in your life):
- Pick your choice of frying batter. Pretty much anything works (some even do without any at all). Tested and/or recommended batter, in order of preference: kuzuu (“arrowroot” powder?), flour, corn starch or just plain nothing. Personally, I’d stay away from corn or potato starch if it comes to this or nothing as a choice: tends to overcrowd the texture… But maybe it’s just me. If you don’t use a batter at all, make sure to pat-dry the tofu (don’t otherwise). Also never had a chance to experiment with a beer batter, but I reckon there is no way it could come out wrong (of course it cannot be wrong: there’s alcohol in it).
- Get a few blocks of tasty kinugoshi-dofu (“silken tofu” is what it may be sold under, in your area), cut them into somewhat bite-sized cubes, without patting the blocks dry, and dip them on all sides in your choice of batter
- Heat up a few cups of deep-frying oil: canola or peanut oil work good; if you are in Japan, the ubiquitous Japanese tempura “sarada” oil is all you need. Motor oil isn’t recommended.
- General oil-heating advice: your oil is hot enough when, upon dipping any foreign object (chopsticks, wooden spoon, finger, dash of flour…), tiny but plentiful bubbles immediately form around it. Your oil is too hot when your kitchen starts filling with heavy, acrid, black smoke (if that happens right away, or before your oil is hot enough, you need to get better oil with a higher smoke point). Your oil is way too hot, when three-feet high bright flames start shooting out of your pot (not that I would know or anything…). To complete beginners out there: should the flame situation arise, do not attempt to put out the fire by throwing a bucket of water over it, if you value that youthful and fresh face of yours. Proper solid-particle extinguisher, a large lid, baking soda or a wet towel, should all work fine at preventing the complete torching of your apartment (oil fires do burn quite strong). Sorry about the obvious advice, but I’d hate to lose the remnants of my readership to a freak cooking accident.
- Once your oil is hot enough, lower the tofu bits one by one (should be completely immersed) and leave for about one or two minutes on each side, or until it comes back up to the surface. Remove swiftly with a strainer so as not to let the oil seep in and place on paper towels to dry off.
Step 3: Eating
Serve the fried tofu bits with the dashi sauce and negi spread over it, daikon on the side. Alternatively leave the sauce as a separate dip.