Chef Toshio Suzuki speaks to attendees about tofu uses; he stands before trays holding dishes of hiya yakko (cold tofu) with various toppings.
The latest installment of the JBF Master Classes for Chefs series, a partnership with the Gohan Society and the Astor Center to offer JBF professional-level members classes on Japanese ingredients and techniques, took place yesterday at the Astor Center. The topic? The production and uses of tofu (past classes have covered soy sauce, nabe cooking, Japanese pickling, and nigiri and maki sushi making). Held in the Astor Center's study and kitchen, the session was packed with demonstrations and lectures from Toshio Suzuki of Sushi Zen, Noriyuki Kobayashi of Megu Midtown, and Kazuhiro Saito of Nori. And then there were the tastings: over 20 dishes were prepared to showcase the clean, creamy taste of fresh tofu and its generous affinity for other flavors.
Some attendees (the likes of whom included Ben Pollinger, Michael Romano, Martin Brock, and Franklin Becker) tried their hand at making shira-ae, a nutty paste made with sesame seeds, egg-enriched miso, sugar, mirin, light soy sauce, and firm and soft tofus. Using a suribachi (essentially, Japan's version of the mortar and pestle), chefs crushed and blended the ingredients to a wet, spreadable consistency. The video below shows the final step of the preparation: tofu, which has been pressed through a tamis, is combined with the other ingredients:
Demonstrators used the shira-ae to dress a variety of foods like noodles, persimmons, shiitake mushrooms—even foie gras and bamboo shoots.