Thursday, May 26, 2011

Ginger Tofu and Bok Choy

Did you know there was an Asian grocery store 5 minutes from my house? I didn't. There could be one around yours, too, and you just don't know about it. You should check. It's quite the experience.

I was planning on making a regular old irreverent pan-Asian for dinner tonight, and didn't get across the parking lot after work before an Asian grocery store sprung up from the ground and stopped me in my tracks (well, not literally, or my car would have been flying through the glass storefront).

I decided to go in, expecting that I would shop Ina Garten-style: take a slow, meditative walk around the market, pretending that the aisle shelves are garden patches, humming softly to myself, describing produce items as "whimsical", casually picking up whatever looks fresh that day as if plucking it off a sun-ripened bush (arms linked with Alec Baldwin optional).

But this is not The Hamptons. This is the Yu Yu Asian Market on Waller Ave.

Luxurious browsing, I realized, is not a possibility. There are rows upon rows of little dried things in totally opaque packages that I cannot read, and probably would look just as foreign even if the label were translated in English. Whole 3' long dehydrated squids lying around. Flies swarming open bags full of chickens' feet. The whole place stinks with the odor of the live crabs crawling all over each other, which about make me jump out of my skin when I peer into their soggy cardboard box. The whole time I keep thinking it would be totally awesome if I had the prowess to kill my own crab, but I don't. Instead, I decide to get the two or three things in the whole place I actually recognize and get out as quickly as possible. (I also really had to pee).

Here was my small loot:

The moment I get home I realize that I don't actually know anything about this stuff, so I immediately begin typing all kinds of things into Google

how to drain tofu
how to cook tofu
how to chop bok choy
how to cook bok choy
what are enoni mushrooms
how to cook enoki mushrooms

First of all, the package of tofu had a promotional sticker for Kung Fu Panda 2, which made me LOL.
What I did was "dry fry" it according to this method, then marinate it for 30 min.
I like really firm tofu in a stir fry. Some takeout places call it "home style." Cut it up into triangles, thoroughly press in towels to collect the moisture, and then brown it low and slow in a dry pan. You've got to resist the temptation to move them around in the pan, otherwise they won't get that nice crispy texture on the outside. Don't forget to periodically press it with a spatula to get the extra moisture out (the article describes the sound as a 'sizzle' when the water hits he pan, but it's more like slowly letting the air out of a balloon).
Like I said, I like my tofu to be firm, but I always assumed that places generally deep-fried it. You'd be surprised how little fat is actually in this recipe. The dry pan method takes a while, but it's worth it. Once it comes out of there flattened, firm and crispy, it really soaks up that marinade and tastes delicious.

As far as marinade... as you can see in the photo, I actually bought a spice packet for yellow curry, but then decided to make my own flavor combo and save the yellow curry for a later time. Here is what I came up with.

Asian Marinade
1 Tbsp fresh grated ginger
2 cloves fresh grated garlic
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup canola oil
3 Tbsp sesame oil
1 Tbsp fish sauce
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
8 minced chilis, red, yellow, and green
sweet chili paste
3 Tbsp white sugar

Those measurements are rough; everything is pretty much to taste.
Of course you have to de-seed the chili peppers because they are HOT! We like things hot and spicy, but these raw peppers were making us sneeze and cough all over the place.
I slice them lengthwise like so and just remove the core with a small, sharp knife.

Here are the little enoki mushrooms out of their pack:
So baby-baby!
I guess they're a lot more delicate and cute than they are flavorful. They are best enjoyed raw or nearly raw, because otherwise they'll break.
To me they just add a nice visual element.

First I heated some oil with garlic and shallots. Washed the bok choy, chopped the stems up and separated them out from the leaves, washed it again. Stir-fried the stems 7 minutes, then the leaves: I stirred them around for 5 minutes along with 1 julienned carrot. Finally added the enoki mushrooms.
I finished it by adding the tofu and pouring the rest of the marinade overtop. So really it was like a wilted bok choy salad.

The one thing I would do differently next time is not cook the bok choy for so long--I think I over-steamed it in the pan, it could have had more crunch to it. The tofu was just perfect--about Asian restaurant-quality, if I'm allowed to say so myself.

I'd like to try this salad with a grilled white fish, too. Of course, you can always eliminate the fish sauce from the marinade and it'd be 100% vegetarian.
Served with fluffy white rice!

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