Have you ever had a dish so good that the taste, texture, and smell lingers deep in your senses and settles in your mind? Have you had a dish so complex, so unique, that it teased, then nagged at your memory…for three years?
Haunted by the tofu’s taste and elusiveness, Oanh and Dang set out to re-create the dish themselves. Armed with years of research skills (Oanh got her undergraduate degree in Public Health at Harvard, Dang with Biology at MIT) they scoured recipe sources. Then, Oanh came across the name a manuscript, 100 Tofu Delicacies. The description of the dish was towards the end, alongside lesser-known tofu dishes, and the page was scarce with details. Not only was there not much to go off of, but the entire book dated back to the 18th century and was written in an ancient Japanese dialect!
Relying on memory, Oanh and Dang recounted the tofu’s taste and texture, and consulted scientific papers for the dish’s fermentation process. Luckily, they had experience with creating dishes without the use of conventional cooking methods. They had already perfected an all-natural recipe for a popular Vietnamese charcuterie delicacy, that was quickly being banned due to health concerns. Through the use of various curing methods, Oanh and Dang re-invented the recipe without the use of commonly added chemicals. (In fact, they guest blogged about it for us here!)b
The fermentation process of the tofu would work like this: the enzymes in the miso paste should break down the proteins in the tofu, changing its consistency, while imparting intense flavor.
Test with an Experiment
The “experiment’s materials” consist of just a few: sake, sugar, tofu, and miso paste. Now Oanh and Dang had to figure out how to combine the ingredients to mimic the salty, sweet, and creamy tofu. They found that one variable was key to the recipe: time, and lots of it. The tofu they originally had in Tokyo was aged for six months! For three years, on and off, Oanh and Dang experimented with their ingredient proportions, technique, and maturing time. Time treats Tofu Misozuke well, as it does to cheese and certain types of alcohol, which is perfect considering Tofu Misozuke is akin to cheese in taste and texture, and aged with the sake.
Analyze the Results and Data
Formulate and Report Conclusions
Tofu Misozuke is in fact so completely transformed from its base ingredients that Rau Om sells and serves it like a fine cheese; Tofu Misozuke is sold in cheese shops next to imported wheels of aged Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Just this past November Oanh began selling Tofu Misozuke alongside their natural Nem Chua at two Bay Area farmer’s markets: California Avenue Palo Alto and Sunnyvale. The company is not even six months old, yet is quickly gaining popularity, recently wowing crowds at The San Francisco Street Food Fest. Vegans are now finding a truly vegan cheese, and the food adventurous are being re/introduced to lost delicacies.
As any good scientists, Oanh and Dang continue to ask questions about their experiments, as no experiment is truly ever complete, even open sourcing their Tofu Misozuke recipe online, and suggest ingredient pairings. They’re experimenting at the moment with Tofu Misozuke wrapped in kombu (seaweed), which I imagine would add even more umami flavor.
One would expect, that after reading Oanh and Dang’s elaborate dinner menus that they can tout a lifetime of kitchen experience. (Her deconstructed Pomelo salad consists of supremed pomelo vacuum-infused with shrimp and pork stock, candied pomelo peel in the shape of DNA, and pomelo pith rehydrated in Vietnamese coriander, hibiscus, and thyme)! But in fact, Oanh only began cooking after college, away from home-cooked meals and dormitory food. In the kitchen she works with precision, and a couple important tools: a digital scale, as well as a spreadsheet open on her nearby laptop detailed with ingredient measurements. Also to speed up her Monday nights: instrumental Vietnamese music.
Oanh and Dang created Rau Om in order to introduce, and re-introduce recipes with others. With a little creativity and an aptitude for molecular gastronomy, Oanh and Dang will be sure to “preserve” many dishes for generations to come.
Fall 2011 Bay Area Food Warrior
This post is from one of the interns in the Real Time Farms Food Warrior Fall Internship Program. These interns were in Asheville, Austin, Nashville, Portland and San Francisco, collecting data, pictures, and video on the growing practices of our nation’s farms, gathering food artisans’ stories, and documenting farmers markets. We all deserve to know where our food comes from! (Winter/Spring 2012 Interns will be blogging from Atlanta, Austin, the Bay Area, and throughout Hawaii soon!)