Over the last few months, I repeatedly heard great things about the new book Plenty by Yottam Ottolenghi. Then, I read an issue of Delicious magazine in which there was a story about the book with six recipes. Well, after that, I could wait no longer. I finally ordered my copy of the book, read it, and quickly realized I’d probably end up cooking everything in it. Seriously, every single thing looks great. The sweet potato cakes, mushroom ragu with poached duck egg, and crusted pumpkin wedges with sour cream will all be tried soon. First up, though, I made the black pepper tofu because that had caught my eye when I saw it in Delicious. This is a spicy, big-flavored kind of dish with great balance. When Kurt saw the sauce coming together in a saute pan, he said it looked like it was going to be really hot and spicy. It did look that way with the red chiles and generous amount of black pepper. But, the chiles used were mild, and the black pepper heat was tempered by the kecap manis, or sweet soy sauce, and some sugar. The result was a tangy, interesting mix of flavors enveloping crispy tofu chunks.
I’m not sure why, but the version of the recipe in Delicious is slightly different from that in the book. The quantities of ginger and the different soy sauces are just a little more or less, but I don’t think those slight changes would even be noticeable in the finished dish. To start, drained tofu was cut into chunks, coated with corn starch, and fried in hot oil. I’ve finally learned a better way to fry tofu. Rather than heating oil in a wide saute pan and adding tofu only to watch it pop and splatter and cause oil to end up all over my stovetop, countertop, and floor, I now use a small saucepan instead. Heat an inch or so of oil in the saucepan, and the sides will be high enough to contain the splattering business. You’ll need to fry in batches so as not to overcrowd, but you’ll use less oil and spend less time cleaning. The fried tofu chunks were left to drain on paper towels while the sauce was made. Now, this was destined to be delicious because making the sauce began with melting a good bit of butter in a large saute pan. To the melted butter, chopped shallots, red chiles, garlic, and ginger were added. It instantly smelled amazing. Next, light soy sauce, dark soy sauce, and kecap manis were added. I learned from The Perfect Pantry that I could make kecap manis by simmering soy sauce with molasses until thick which I did. Then, sugar and lots of coarsely ground black pepper were added, and the tofu was stirred into the sauce with big pieces of green onions.
The flavor of the sauce was bold and exciting, and the tofu somehow magically remained crunchy and firm on the surface even though it had been warmed in the sauce. It really was not a tongue burning kind of hot sauce. The spiciness was there, and the black pepper was prevalent, but the sauce brought together an interesting mix of the whole flavor spectrum. I'm already deciding what to make from the book next, and I may not even bother finding room for it on a shelf since it’ll be spending most of its time in the kitchen.