Monday, August 10, 2015

Flying Dragon's Head

The other day a friend of ours passed us a giant wax gourd grown from her garden. Wax gourd, aka Togan in Japanese, is a common ingredient for dishes in the summer in both Chinese and Japanese cuisine (despite in Chinese it's literally known as Winter Melon, or 冬瓜). According to Chinese tradition, it's known for its cooling and detoxifying effect, and to counter the summer humidity.

Since it's best to be consumed while it's still fresh, I decided to turn it into a 6-course dinner, making use of wax gourd in every single dish - I took that as one of those Iron Chef style self-challenges. Anyway, the recipe is from one of the dishes I prepared - a loose adoption of something I have tried in Japan a few weeks ago.

Hiryozu (飛竜頭) is a dish I learned while spending 3 days in the mountainous area in Wakayama called Koyasan, known for the numerous Buddhist temples in the area and Shojin Ryori, the fine vegetarian cuisine served first to the pilgrims than to the general public. Literally meaning "Flying Dragon's Head", it's essentially deep-fried fritter ball of tofu and other ingredients. It's quite similar to a Chinese dish called "Pei Pa Tofu" (琵琶豆腐) but I think this is firmer in texture.

I decided to try doing it at home, this time a non-vegetarian version by mixing in mashed shrimp paste for added texture and taste. The winter melon was steamed, mashed, and served underneath the tofu fritter, with the mash's soft texture and light flavor contrasting with the rich fritter. Then I also plated the dish nicely in a bowl, similar to how a Takiawase (煮合) course was served in a Kaiseki-style dinner. You could also easily omit the seafood bit and stick with the strict vegetarian version using the same recipe. With or without the fancy plating, I reckon this would make a good home-style dish and quite straight-forward to prepare too.

Deep-fried Tofu and Shrimp Fritter with Winter Melon Mash

Ingredients: (serves 4 as appetizer)
  • 450g fresh or frozen shrimps (or 12 taels if you buy from local wet market), shells removed and deveined.
  • 2 blocks of firm Tofu
  • 40g Carrot, diced
  • 20g of Shimeji Mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon of soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon of sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon of corn starch
  • 800g of wax gourd, skin and seeds removed and cut into large chunks.
  • Flour and oil
  • salt to taste
  • Lemon Zest and Yuzu Kosho for garnish (optional)

1. Wrap the tofu in kitchen towel. Place on top of the steamer rack and put something heavy on top (like a pot or something). Let the tofu sit for 3 hours or overnight in the refrigerator, changing towel often and drain the water that came out. This is to remove any extra water content in the tofu.
2. Mince the shrimps and put them into a bowl. Add cornstarch, soy sauce and sesame oil into the bowl and mix. Use a pair of chopsticks or fork, or a mortar, rigorous whisk the shrimp and marinate until they were well-mixed and start molding together. Common Chinese cooking legend calls for whisking in a single direction only for the bounciest texture of the minced shrimp - I will leave that to you whether to follow that rule.
3. Use your hands to mash the tofu into crumbles. Mix in the carrots, mushrooms and the shrimp paste. Form into a ball-shape (slightly smaller than a tennis ball) - you should have enough to make 4 of them - wrapped them up and put in the refrigerator to let it set for about an hour.
4. Meanwhile, steam the wax gourd chunks on a wok or steamer for 20 minutes with a dash of water, until it's soft enough when you can easily stick a fork in but firm enough that it doesn't fall apart. Remove the wax gourd and use a stick blender to turn into mash. Add salt to taste and set aside.
5. Remove the tofu ball from the refrigerator. Use the kitchen towel to remove any extra moisture. Dredge the tofu ball with flour all over.
6. Heat the oil in a deep-frying pan at 180C, to at least half the height of the tofu ball. Carefully put the tofu ball into pan, and deep-fried each side for at least 2 minutes and they turned into golden color. When done, removed the tofu fritter from the pan and soak the extra oil on top with kitchen towel.
7. To plate, put the wax gourd mash into a small bowl, put the tofu fritter on top, and garnished with yuzu kosho (a chili paste made with yuzu) and lemon zest.

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