Monday, February 1, 2010

The Mushroom Samurai

The lovely Mel of Gourmet Fury and Leela of She Simmers have been hosting Beet ‘n Squash YOU!, their monthly vegetable-themed food battle, for the past few months now. It’s been wonderful seeing what delicious concoctions have been created in such talented kitchens, and while I was a viewer standing on the sidelines in the past, I knew Mel wouldn’t let me off so easily this time around.

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Last year, I bought Izakaya: The Japanese Pub Cookbook by Mark Robinson. Part food diary, part travelogue, and part cookbook, it’s an absolutely beautiful book and introduction to real Japanese “pub” food and the izakaya culture. Western culture often thinks of Japanese food as sushi or teriyaki, but there’s a whole other world of the Japanese culinary scene that were not aware of, or at least not yet familiar with. Thankfully, izakayas are starting to become the next buzz thing in Japanese cooking over in North America. Izakayas have popped up across Vancouver, and the popular Guu has finally arrived in Toronto not too long ago. But still, none of those can truly compare to some of the izakayas that Robinson highlights in his book—the food, the traditions, and the pride that goes behind the preparation of it all. What I wouldn’t do to fly across the Pacific right now and do an izakaya crawl across Japan.

With mushrooms being the theme ingredient for this month’s battle, it took me a while to figure out what I wanted to do with them. Western cuisine? Eastern cuisine? And more importantly, what kind of mushrooms? With so many varieties to choose from nowadays, the choices seemed endless! But in the end, I decided to go with some of my favourite mushrooms, and ones that I was quite familiar with.

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There’s a delightful recipe in the book, Jikaesei Atsu-age, Kinoko-an—pieces of golden and crispy deep-fried tofu topped with a mushroom sauce. My take on this recipe features broiled tofu steaks topped with the Japanese-inspired mushroom “gravy,” using an assortment of Asian mushrooms: shiitake, shimeji, maitake and enoki. The gravy will absorbs the flavours of the earthy mushrooms, and goes lovely with the crispy, savoury tofu. It makes for a lovely light meal served with some brown or mixed grain rice. (Best of all, if you have some leftover gravy, it makes for a great twist on classical lo-mein when you mix it with some thin Chinese egg noodles!)

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Roasted Tofu Steaks with Japanese Mushroom Gravy
Serves 2 as a main

1/2 block firm tofu
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil

For mushroom gravy:
2 cups dashi stock
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons mirin
2 tablespoons sake
About 2 cups assorted mushrooms (shimeji, maitake, enoki, julienned shiitake, etc.)
1 tablespoon cornstarch, dissolved in 2 tablespoons cold water

Wrap the tofu in a clean kitchen towel or paper towel and place on a flat dish or board. Place a light weight such as another flat dish on top, and leave to drain excess moisture for about 30 minutes. (Best to keep the dish or board in or near the sink in case of the excess water being squeezed out of the tofu.)

Preheat the oven to 450°F. In a small bowl, stir together soy sauce and sesame oil.

Unwrap tofu from the towel and slice into 1/2-inch pieces, so you get about 3 or 4 slices per serving. Use a pastry brush, brush the soy sauce and sesame oil mixture onto the tofu, making sure to coat both sides of the tofu. Place tofu slices on an oiled baking sheet and bake in oven for 10 minutes. Remove sheet from oven, flip the tofu steaks, and bake for another 10 minutes, or until golden brown and the crispy.

While the tofu is baking, in a medium saucepan, bring the dashi, soy sauce, mirin and sake to a boil. Add in the mushrooms. When it comes to a boil again, lower heat to medium-low and allow to simmer for 5 minutes. Slowly pour in the cornstarch mixture, a teaspoon at a time, stirring after each addition, until you get the desired thickness for your gravy.

Serve with steamed rice if desired. Place 3 or 4 slices of tofu on a dish, and spoon over the mushroom gravy. Enjoy!

3 comments:

LetMeEatCake Eat With Me! February 6, 2010 at 12:28 AM  

What an inspired dish! It looks delicious. What a great shot of it! Working on my post still. Really enjoyed reading yours!

Bonita February 10, 2010 at 11:17 PM  

Thanks! So glad you enjoyed the post!

Anonymous May 13, 2010 at 10:36 AM  

This is a great looking and simple recipe. I can't wait to try it. Thanks for sharing this!

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