Each week on the Food Chain, we ask a chef to describe a dish he or she recently enjoyed. The chef who prepared the dish responds and then picks his or her own memorable meal. On and on it goes. Last week, Bruce Sherman of North Pond in Chicago swooned over the suckling pig chef Peter Hoffman serves at New York’s Back Forty. What gets you going back for more, Peter?
“My whole family is cuckoo for the homemade tofu at EN. It comes out warm — it’s like you’re taking a bath in tofu. They serve it in this lacquer box, and you get a little bit of soy dashi sauce to pour into it that’s a counterpoint to the softness, and it’s just a heavenly, heavenly way to start a meal. They’re making fresh all through the evening. For awhile, they actually used to print the times on the menu that the tofu was available — 7, 8:45, 9:30 — though I’ve never had them say to me, ‘We don’t have it, we’ll have it in twenty minutes.’ It’s always there when I’ve asked for it. It’s really got that wonderful mouthfeel, a nice richness.”
EN chef Abe Hiroki (via a translator) explains why it’s so great:
“Tofu is a quintessential expression of Japanese cuisine. Soy milk has been said to be the milk of Asia and tofu the cheese. Walking through the streets of Tokyo at 7 a.m., it would not be unlikely to come upon a small, traditional tofu-maker preparing their batches for the day. Our tofu comes from that very same tradition.
We make our tofu by heating soy milk and adding nigari — which is primarily magnesium chloride extracted from seawater when the salt is removed and water evaporated — in such a way that it doesn’t break apart. This allows the tofu to retain flavors normally lost in the excess whey that is produced in firm tofu and to give it its ‘silken’ texture. The simple process and the use of so few ingredients is what makes it so beautiful. Omitting the commercial practices of extensive steaming and packing does limit its shelf life, which is why we make it in small batches so often.”