Sounding like an MC at the fourth stage of Lilith Fair, this one is for the vegans. While I am not a vegan, I know vegans and I like vegans (as much as I like any person). Not eating meat is their choice like eating meat is mine. While it is not a conclusion at which I would arrive, I appreciate the fact that they are consciously thinking about what they consume.
I cringe every time I meet someone who reads my writing and describes it as being meat-centric for a lot of reasons – because of health, because of the narrow focus it portrays (rightfully so), but mostly because of all of the things I like to cook, I like to cook vegetables most. My favorite cookbook, by a long shot, is a vegetarian cookbook. Meat consumption, as far as daily consumption goes, is dwarfed by vegetable consumption.
Yet when it comes to figuring out food projects to undertake and what I like writing about best, I find that meat curing, and, to a far smaller degree, vegetable fermentation, to be far more top of mind. There is a process and, most of the time, there is an outcome. It is about attempting to expose the processes to home cooks, like me. When writing about vegetables, it seems nearly impossible to not seem precious. It is hard to describe how amazing a super-ripe peach tastes that has not be done ten times better and a hundred times before.
Without getting too “meta” (I intensely dislike bloggers who waste most of the reader’s time by discussing the blog), this conflict pushed me to research something less meaty that wasn’t simply pickled or precious. When I came upon something labeled vegan foie gras, my eyes rolled. I have a harsh aversion to tofurkey and basically every product made vegan, but named after meat. As if the vegan was not to be trusted with vegan food that was made to be something good on its own. They must need something horribly replicating the animal flesh they already decided not to eat.
An hour later, once my eyes stopped rolling, I dug into the actual meat (see what I did there) of the idea. This was not something contrived to mimic a meat product, but rather a crude analogy relating two foods related only by appearance and, somewhat remotely, texture. The idea was foreign, to me and the US, and it seemed to be a combination of curing and fermentation. Like most fermented or cured food, it isn’t a new idea, but rather one cribbed from a centuries-old Japanese process.
Tofu misozuke is widely available in Japan and is made by slathering tofu with a combination of sake, sugar, and miso then leaving it to age. The unique American producer of tofu misozuke, Rou Am, did much of the legwork and has open-sourced their recipe, which I followed.
I started with a package of firm tofu which was pressed for an afternoon. I wondered why not just start with extra-firm, but I am just making the stuff here. The procurement of yellow miso was an issue for me. I picked up barley miso, which I thought would be close. By color alone, it appeared darker than yellow, but I was ready to start, so I added sake and sugar to the miso then wrapped the pressed tofu with cheesecloth. This is where the process got a little tricky. The miso/sake/sugar mix was not quite liquid and was very sticky. Trying to get the little bricks covered in it was no joke. The way that I made it work was to slather cling wrap in the mixture, then wrap the cheesecloth wrapped brick in clingwrap. This left two small faces on each brick to carefully manage by hand.
After the bricks were covered in the mixture, I set them on paper towels which were changed every other day for a few weeks, after which they were changed every other week. During the next few weeks, there were some small mold outbreaks which were carefully removed and patched with more miso/sake/sugar Spackle. In weeks 8 through 10, I let the mold grow both out of laziness and curiosity of how it might impact flavor. I watched to ensure that the mold was white and that it was surface-related only. Finally after 10 weeks, I removed the cheesecloth and with it the mold speckled miso mixture.
The formerly firm tofu, which was previously young-gouda-like in texture, was now creamy – think room temp butter. The color had changed from the customary white to something that you would see in a J Crew catalog, yes khaki food. This is likely from where the comparison to foie gras comes. The flavors are rich (this is likely the 2nd reason for comparison), but completely different that foie. The funkiness from the miso curing is all over this, but time and enzymes have affected the typical miso flavors. They are less earthy than the miso was at the beginning and has more fruity sweetness. The aging has taken some of that hard sake edges down and the age has added a little fermented funk to the tofu.
Tofu misozuke is eminently spreadable. The texture resembles liver mousse more than a foie torchon to me. I think that the real draw here would be to cheese lovers. This seems to be a perfect fit for a cheese plate looking for a soft cheese. Never mind the vegan aspect, tofu misozuke is delicious for all ‘vores – carni’, herbi’ or, god help us, omni’