It is a refuge like no other, a special stillness that belies the screeching and scolding of the world you left behind, just on the other side of the door. If you are lucky, the sound of delicate waters trickling over grey rock trickles into your ear to tell you things only imagined in your sweetest dreams. If you are very lucky, the precise, fragile and ethereal tones of the koto and shakuhachi* hover in a resonating cocoon over every inch of you for the next two hours.
As you slide into the hushed and clean pale woods of minimalist seating, you are given a hot and steamy washcloth to chase the soot and tension from your fingers. A cup of mellow, nutty genmaicha is offered for cradling in your born-again hands.
The menu, filled with nary a hibachi-grilled anything, beckons you to luxuriate in the gentle art of contemplative selection. Your stomach pangs give over to a higher power, now, a quiet patience, while your meal is prepared to order. You contemplate eternity in a tea cup, a shade of taupe on the wall, or the sensual curve of a sake bottle gleaming in the shadows.
These are the treasured succors of a traditional Japanese restaurant. Not all recipes are easy to replicate in the home kitchen, but once you commit to undertaking the culinary rituals involved, even the most instant gratification at a fast food joint will feel a disservice to you. With Japanese cuisine, eating is a journey before it is a destination.
Agedofu with Dipping Sauce – My own recipe, with technical frying assistance from the Black Moon abura-age recipeThis post is for Lucy, hosting My Legume Love Affair - Third Helping. Today, September 28, is the last date for submissions. Stay tuned with Lucy for her round-up, coming very soon.
2 blocks firm tofu (water extracted by wrapping in paper towels and weighing down for at least 1 hour under a heavy skillet; discard water or use it toward making mushroom stock. If choosing later method, strain water first.)
Cornstarch or flour
Flavorless oil for frying, enough to fill a depth of halfway up the side of your skillet
1 large bowl boiling water (used to drop the fried tofu into to set the crust. Discard this water after use.)
¼ cup black sesame seeds (toasted in a skillet for a few minutes, then spread on a large plate.)
Chopped shiitake mushrooms, for garnish (from the broth below)
¼ cup shiitake mushroom stock (made by simmering 2 cups of sliced mushrooms in 3 cups of water until ¼ cup water remains)
4 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons mirin
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 scallion stalk, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
A few drops sesame oil
A few strips of nori
1 teaspoon ponzu sauce (optional) or
A pinch hot pepper flakes (optional)
(Quantities for soy sauce, mirin, vinegar, garlic and ginger can be fine tuned for your particular taste.)
Prepare sauce. In a small bowl, mix all ingredients together except the nori.
Blot tofu with additional paper towels, then cut each block in half, then cut each half into four equal cubes. Dredge in cornstarch or flour. Heat water in a kettle, keeping it simmering while you fry the tofu. Heat oil in a large, heavy skillet until it thins, but before it smokes (about 20 seconds). Add enough tofu cubes without crowding and fry until golden brown and blistered on the bottom (check by lifting with metal tongs). Turn over to fry the opposite side. Check periodically for browning. As soon as the tofu is sufficiently fried, turn off the heat under the oil, as well as the water. Pour the boiling water in a bowl. Lift each tofu cube with tongs from the skillet and immediately release into the boiling water bowl. Transfer each cube to the sesame seeds, pressing top side until well covered with seeds. Work in batches, refreshing the boiling water as needed.
Divide tofu cubes into bowls, leaving space between them. Spoon just enough sauce around the cubes to create a very shallow pool. Float nori strips in the sauce. Garnish cubes with chopped shiitake mushrooms and a few grains of sea salt. Serve immediately while hot. Serves 2 as main course or 4 as a starter. --