Monday, June 27, 2011

Soon Tofu FTW

If you're not from the San Francisco Bay area, you don't know just how diverse the different communities are.  It is, in my opinion, one of the greatest food destinations in the U.S. for that very reason.  Mountain View and Palo Alto, CA, have a great abundance of Asian eateries.  Tons of Japanese and Vietnamese noodle houses, sushi, classic Chinese restaurants, and Korean BBQs.

Having never been to a Korean BBQ before moving to Mountain View, I was expecting, well... meat. And the did HAVE piles of barbecued meat on the menu.  The real star, though, was something called Soon Tofu.

Soon Tofu is the best food I have ever eaten. Ever. And the really bad part is, I can't make it.  You need special hardware for this dish... quite possibly stove accessories... and I just don't have that kind of funding. Plus you need a very specific type of Korean chili... and despite the fact that I live in this place with a million Korean restaurants, I can't find it. It really is cruel.

Not so cruel is that we live about 5 minutes away from the best Soon Tofu on the planet, So Gong Dong Tofu House in Palo Alto, CA.    They serve the tofu stew with a selection of Korean salads and small bites, a bowl of purple rice and a raw egg.  When the stew comes out, screaming hot in the clay bowl it was cooked in, you crack in the egg and bury it in the folds of spiced goodness.  Amazing.  Spicy as all get out (you CAN get a mild version, but I can't see why you'd want to), thick with tofu and a flavor that I can't really explain to you.  There is generally a lot of seafood ingredients in recipes that I've seen, but the stew isn't fishy.  Depending on the ingredients that you choose, the soup is very earthy, vaguely lemony.  It's food that wants to cuddle.

This is a recipe for it that I found and tweaked a bit.  I can't vouch for it, because as discussed, you need hardware for this.  But I know for a fact that there isn't ONE Korean BBQ in the state of Wisconsin, so I imagine not all of you will be able to find it.

Soon Tofu Stew

1/2 carton of extra-silken tofu, roughly 5 ounces
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 ounce ribeye steak, sliced thinly across the grain
1/4 to 1/2 cup sliced mushrooms
2 teaspoons soondubu paste, or to taste
1 cup vegetable or fish stock
Seafood, optional (4 clams, a handful of chopped squid, or 3 medium-sized shrimp)
2 tablespoons coarse Korean hot pepper powder
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon fish sauce

1 egg
Salt to taste
Rice as an accompaniment

Slowly heat the clay pot over a low flame on the stovetop.  In the meantime, Sprinkle the slices of beef with a pinch of salt. When the clay pot is hot, add the cooking oil and briefly heat.  Add the slices of ribeye all at once. Do not stir around. Let the surface of the meat brown and char; once one side has browned, remove all of the meat with chopsticks or a slotted spoon. Set aside. Each slice of beef should still be fairly raw. Add the mushrooms to the pot and let the juices deglaze the bits of meat sticking to the bottom of the pot.  Stir occasionally with a wooden spoon.  When the mushrooms are cooked, add the soondubu paste to the pot. Pour in all of the broth and add Soy sauce, salt, garlic and fish sauce.  Cook for 2 minutes.  When the vegetables are nearly tender, add the tofu by large spoonfuls. Add the seafood at this point.  Return the beef to the top of the broth.  Let simmer for a minute. 

1 comment:

  1. You could probably try making this in a small cast iron dutch oven with good results. Target has fairly cheap ones. Technically, soon dubu is just soft tofu. Tofu stew is dubu-jjigae (or soondubu-jjigae). A lot of the tofu houses just shorten it to soon dubu on their menus. If you like dubu-jjigae, I bet you'd like tteokbokki as well - rice cakes in a spicy sauce.

    For Korean cooking, I highly recommend watching Maangchi's videos ( - you can see all the ingredients and what the packages look like so you can get the right thing. Also, not sure if you are still on the peninsula, but if so, try Hankook Supermarket on El Camino Real in Sunnyvale for Korean ingredients. They have an awesome selection.