Beef cooked sous vide (under vacuum) for 24 hours with phở spices was so dramatically tender and flavorful and deserving of extra attention, serving phở dry-style was our way to highlight our favorite new star. Serving noodle soups dry with broth on the side showcases the flavors of the meats and emphasizes their textural interactions with the other ingredients, all before a rush of hot broth reconstitutes the noodle soup experience. Phở isn’t usually served this way, but we were inspired by the dry variant of Hủ tiếu Nam Vang (Phnom-Penh style noodle soup). Surprisingly, this style also made phở more drink-friendly (more on that later) !
We fell in love with tofu misozuke at our first taste of 6-month aged tofu. So far, none of our tofu-misozuke has lasted that long, either due to failure or over-consumption of successful batches. This experiment is designed to ensure at least 1 block will make it to 6 months. Plus, it’ll allow us to keep track of the changes beyond the 2-month mark, which we know so far is the minimum required for a firm block of tofu to become creamy.
The above 2 Pyrex containers hold 4 blocks of tofu. Each block is wrapped in 2 layers of cheesecloth and covered in the same miso mix. They’ll be unwrapped at 3, 4, 5 and 6 months (1 at each milestone). I cut the amount of miso used in half, in an effort to cut down on the saltiness of the finished product. Let’s hope it’ll work.
Another reason we are running this time course experiment is that even though our first batch was creamy and incredibly tasty at 2-month mark, it became slightly bitter a month later (3 months). We couldn’t think of explanations for this development, so we want to see if this is reproducible.
Not pictured is another Pyrex container holding 2 soft blocks of tofu, similarly wrapped in cheese cloth and covered in miso. These soft blocks will be incubated for 1 and 2 months. From our previous batch, we know that soft tofu became creamy starting at 2 weeks (the core was still not creamy enough in such a short time, though. The whole block needed at least 3 weeks), so we won’t need to run this part of the experiment much longer than that. Plus, a shorter incubation period is probably better for soft tofu to preserve the fresh and light taste (similar to fresh cheese).
That’s the experiment I just set up this morning. In summary, I’ll have 1 block of tofu to enjoy every month (starting with soft tofu) 🙂 and will report how the taste changes with time.
A side note: the Mountain View farmers’ market is starting to have these fresh and incredibly inviting squash blossoms. I couldn’t help myself and had to buy a box last Sunday. After thinking through different possibilities, I was compelled 🙂 to create this dish: marinated thinly sliced beef with a few drops of yuzu, wrapped each slice around a cube of tofu misozuke (some slices had tofu misozuke smeared on) and stuffed each slice in a squash blossom.
Here’s a whole plate, before going into the oven (some torn blossoms were wrapped in beef slices instead). I had more flowers than originally thought, so there was a mix of different types in this plate:
– squash blossoms stuffed with tofu-misozuke cube wrapped in yuzu-marinated beef
– squash blossoms stuffed with yuzu-marinated beef smeared with tofu misozuke
– squash blossoms stuffed with tofu-misozuke wrapped in beef
– squash blossoms stuffed with beef
– squash blossoms wrapped in beef slices
In the end, I definitely loved the first combination the best. The combination of tastes and textures in each bite was amazing: the sweetness of squash blossom was followed by the refreshingly light taste of yuzu combined with the soft texture and savoriness of beef, which was then followed by a burst of the creamy tofu-misozuke center. The bite ends with the mingling of yuzu and miso flavors, which was a good combination as long as the amount of yuzu used was small.
We can’t seem to stop making bánh tét. Lamp likes bánh tét a lot and he came up with the idea of making bánh tét with stripes (like a caterpillar). I am not a big fan of bánh tét, but the idea sounded so cool and challenging that I was persuaded. Plus, there are enough friends who like our bánh tét that we weren’t afraid of having to eat bánh tét for the rest of the year. 😀
Working from a caterpillar photo, we knew we needed 3 colors: green, orange and black. Green and orange colors were easy: pandan leaf extract and gấc (spiny bitter gourd) are 2 common Vietnamese natural coloring ingredients. Black was a bit more challenging. We gravitated toward squid ink to color the sticky rice black, but we were worried about introducing a seafood taste to our bánh tét. Our other option we decided on was nếp than (black glutinous rice).
The ingredients were laid out in the above photo (from top left, clockwise): sticky rice with pandan leave extract, black glutinous rice, chickpea paste, sticky rice mixed with squid ink and sticky rice mixed with gấc.
Sticky rice was soaked overnight and then divided into different portions to be mixed with various natural coloring agents. Black glutinous rice already had the desired color, so we only soaked it overnight. All the sticky rice portions were then stir fried for ~20-30 minutes to partially cook them. We wanted the rice to become sticky and stay in place while being rolled into a bánh tét. Black glutinous rice was harder, so I cooked it longer and with added water until it achieved a softness similar to the rest of the sticky rice. Black glutinous rice didn’t turn sticky, though.
Since the rice was partially cooked, we only needed to cook bánh tét for 3-3.5 hours instead of the full 6 hours. However, that short cooking time meant we also had to pre-cook the meat before rolling bánh tét to make sure that meat will achieve the same level of tenderness as when it’s cooked for 6 hours in a regular bánh tét. Of course, there wasn’t 1 type of meat in this batch (how could we let such a big experiment go to waste?) Here are the different combinations for these bánh tét:
- pork belly with fish sauce & pepper (traditional)
- pork belly with kecap manis & pepper
- beef shank with fish sauce, curry & pepper
- beef shank with kecap manis & pepper
- lamb shoulder chop with kecap manis & pepper
With all the ingredients prepared, it’s time to roll our bánh tét. Lamp laid down a piece of foil between the banana leaves and the sticky rice to prevent the green color from the leaves to bleed into the colored sticky rice.
Another technique we tried was a different method for tying up the bundles. Lamp read about the lost art of cable lacing from Boing Boing and Make Blog and filed it away for future use in electronics projects. Who knew it’d make itself useful instead in streamlining our bánh tét rolling. Specifically we used a 12 foot long length of twine to secure the bánh tét via a telephone hitch and four lock stitches.
And here’s what that bánh tét sâu bướm (caterpillar bánh tét) looks like after cooking:
We were reasonably pleased with the result. Our biggest worry had been that the colors would bleed into other layers and we’d get a confused mess for a bánh tét. We were happy to see that the colors stayed where they were supposed to. However, the sticky rice grains moved a bit during rolling so the stripes weren’t as well defined as we’d like them to. Next time, we should definitely work on making the borders sharper when we laid down the grains before rolling.
Another concern was that if one sliced bánh tét before unwrapping the leaves, our hard work making caterpillar stripes would be unnoticed. But the bánh tét slices by themselves were still quite fun and colorful. And Lamp for one has no problem making jokes no one else gets.
Of the two methods to make black rice, we found the squid ink to work better. Nếp than was very fragrant but unfortunately its colorful husk prevented it from forming a solid shell like milled sticky rice. The squid ink rice on the other hand behaved glutinously, held its vivid color without bleeding (unlike nếp than) and also did not contribute a noticeable seafood flavor to the bánh tét. (Then again, why not a seafood bánh tét? …)
Finally, next time we roll bánh tét, we’ll have a mechanism to make sure the paste surrounds the meat – we’ll pre make bundles of chickpeas and meat rolled tight in saran wrap. It’ll probably have the effect of streamlining the rolling process too.