Monthly Archives: December 2013

Deep fried tofu, Agedashi tofu

Tofu is not a substitute for meat.

Tofu is not a meat substitute.

It pisses me off when an Asian restaurant offers a dish in “chicken, pork, beef, shrimp, or tofu.” It would probably piss me off if I went to a restaurant in Japan and they offered the option to sub beef for chicken or pork in my sliders. Or tofu in my chili.

Tofu dishes can be vegetarian. But a large part of tofu dishes contain meat or fish products in one way or another to add some flavor to the rather bland soy bean cake.

So please don’t think of tofu as a meat substitute for vegans and vegetarian. And please don’t think that this dish can be arranged to make vegetarian versions of buffalo fried tofu, or whatever it is.

However, stubbornness has never been one of my traits, so let me know if there’s a dish that uses tofu as a meat substitute in a western context, and manages to pull it off.

Home made deep fried tofu with grated ginger and scallions

 

Agedashi dofu is usually bought in a supermarket fried and ready to eat. It’s more of a side dish that people can just open, dump in a bowl, and throw on the table as an afterthought than a main dish. However, frying the tofu yourself right before the meal makes the dish worthy as a main dish.

Making it is actually extremely simple. Heat up the oil fairly high, about 350 degrees, and throw in the tofu that’s been thoroughly dried on the outside. Have the heat around medium or medium high, and wait until the exterior is browned and crispy. The lower the heat and longer the frying time, the thicker the browned, crispy part becomes.

Throw on scallions, bonito flakes, or anything that you want. My favorite is kimchi and dried anchovy infused soy sauce. I guess that already goes against any notion of authenticity.

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Filed under Food, Fried food, Japanese

Macaroni gratin, the only casserole in Japanese cuisine

Writing about lasagna made me nostalgic of macaroni gratin, which was a staple in our house. However, we never made it from scratch. We bought frozen versions that came in aluminum dishes, and chucked them into the toaster oven for a quick dinner. Although frozen dinners have a bad reputation in the US, Japanese frozen food ranges from “not bad” to “orgasmic night snack.” Interesting thing about Japan is, it’s hard to find genuinely disgusting food that people have aversions to. For example, convenience store foods lack the stigmatization and also the layer of stale oil that are usually associated with US gas station/convenience store food. I remember my friend’s expression when I casually bought a burger from a gas station in the middle of nowhere in Kansas. The burger had developed a look that reminded me of the tortoise in the desert fable from Blade Runner, from the long days of basking in the rays of the food warming contraption.

Anyway, I sometimes crave the frozen gratin from the frozen food aisle, but lack the means to acquire them. I tried making it a couple of times, using as a reference mac and cheese recipes from the US. However, these attempts left me with a mound of squishy yet dry overcooked macaroni. Despite these failures, I never thought of reassessing my sauce to noodle ratio and kept cranking out these macaroni sponges. Once I scanned Japanese gratin recipes, I realized my mistake.

Penne Chicken gratin

 

So the right ratio was about 1/4 pound of noodles (I used penne in this one) for about 2 cups of béchamel sauce, which made enough for my 6 cup pyrex dish. I think it was my 6 cup one. Or maybe the 3 cup. I’m not too sure. Anyway, it fed two people easily, despite the small amount of noodles that went in to the dish. Using this noodle-to-sauce ratio resulted in a gratin that was just like the ones I ate in Japan, creamy, yet not too heavy.

As with the lasagna, I just soaked the penne in water for about an hour, instead of boiling them.

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Filed under Food, Japanese noodles, pasta

Lasagna, and making regular lasagna noodles no-boil

Lasagna, and making regular lasagna noodles no-boil

The loveliness of a conventional béchamel and bolognese doused lasagna. I did a little testing, and instead of boiling lasagna noodle sheets or using no-boil sheets, I soaked the pasta in cold tap water for over an hour, and stuck it in a lasagna. The result were pasta that were fully cooked but retained some texture. This technique could probably be used for most casserole applications.

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December 18, 2013 · 10:23 pm

Ramen failure and partial success

One thing that I could never figure out is how long the initial boil of the bones should be. Without it, the broth takes on a cloudy and brown color, and overdoing the process leads to a less flavorful broth.

Example 1: Too much boiling

Shoyu ramen

I used a bunch of leftover chicken thigh bones for this one. Even after two rounds of throwing the bone into a pot of boiling water and washing it, the broth took on a shade of pink. After the third time, when I put the lid on my pressure cooker, hoped for the best, and left it on for an hour, the broth still had an unappealing color. I threw that away, and filled my pot up with water for the third time. The result was a clear, beautiful looking broth that tasted like nothing.

Example 2: Partial success

 

Shoyu ramen with pork back soup

For this one, I used pork back bones I got from a Chinese market. Instead of throwing the bones in boiling water, I put the bones in cold water, and washed the bones after the water came to a boil. This worked much better, and the amount of coagulated blood and other unidentifiable gunk that floated on top satisfied me immensely.

After an hour and a half in the pressure cooker, I took out the bones and picked the meat from them. I sautéed the meat in sugar, sake, soy sauce, and a bit of fish sauce. When I took a bite, the meat tasted amazing. A bit too good, in fact.

Meat from pork back bone, after ramenThat’s when I realized that I didn’t stew the bones for long enough. If I extracted every bit of flavor in the bones, I should have ended up with tasteless, dry bits of meat that can only be salvaged by heavy flavoring. However, this ramen by-product that I made still retained some porky flavor that could have gone into the soup.

This is completely unrelated, but Taiwan has a bill on review for same sex marriage. Taiwan has one of the most progressive countries in Asia in terms of LGBT issues, and the passing of this bill could help not only in making people’s lives more livable, but in affecting the discourse on marginalized sexuality in Asia. The bill has been opposed by some, who state that the passing on this bill will encourage polyamory or orgies (which ignores the fact that this will benefit monogamous couples) or even bestiality (which I have no idea why this is an issue. If you cannot differentiate between homosexuality and bestiality, I don’t think  you understand the issue at hand.)

Anyway, if you can read Chinese, or have anybody that can translate for you, and would like to support the bill, you can sign a petition here. 

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Filed under Food, Japanese noodles