Several months ago, I had lunch with a friend at a relatively new local restaurant called Nettletown. It has been getting a lot of buzz lately and I took precious babysitting time to go check it out. I am not a restaurant reviewer but I can tell you that within a very modest space, very exciting über-local and sustainable food is happening. If you want more information, Tea wrote a great post about Nettletown here.
From the specials list, I chose a dish that turned out to be one of the most interesting and delicious dishes I have eaten in a long time. I don’t remember everything exactly but I know for sure that my shallow but well-filled bowl contained fresh rice noodles, very firm and perfectly flavored tofu, sea beans, mizuna, and shiitake mushrooms. There may or may not have been other delicacies in there. I was pretty hungry that day and I still only made it through about half of my dish. I dislike leftovers but I loved my noodles so much that I took my unfinished portion home with me and ate them later that night.
Since then, the dish has haunted me. I have been back to Nettletown twice and have been dismayed to find it absent from the specials menu. So, I have attempted to re-create the dish. Three times. The first two times I was so hungry and distracted by the time the dish was done that I didn’t have the energy or patience to take a photo. (Fellow food bloggers, can I get an amen?) I just figured I would make it again. These are flavors and ingredients I love so why not use “no photo” as an excuse to repeat? Each time I refined the dish a little more. Some things stayed constant, others changed. All three times I hoped to use fresh rice noodles and was never able to make that happen in spite of looking for them at my local Asian market.
So what is going on here? First I made a marinade/sauce. I cut the tofu into pieces, put them in a small baking pan, and poured about half the marinade over top. I sautéed up some shiitake mushrooms until they started to brown and added just a touch of soy sauce at the end. I rinsed sea beans, pre-cooked and then rinsed the rice noodles, and I allowed the tofu to bake long enough to absorb the marinade and develop a bit of a crust. I assembled the whole dish together, poured the remaining sauce over top, and quickly seared bok choy halves to put on top.
This is not exactly the dish I had at Nettletown. I’m still going to keep tweaking it and I am going on a fresh rice noodle quest. But I’m getting close.
One Year Ago: Zesty Tofu Wraps
Rice Noodles with Marinated Tofu and Shiitake Mushrooms
Dana Treat Original
I tried both the angel hair thickness rice noodles and the more fettucine thickness and preferred the latter.
For the marinade:
2 inch pieces of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 garlic clove, minced
2 stalks lemongrass, outer leaves removed, minced
6 tbsp. soy sauce
3 tbsp. honey
3 tbsp. rice wine vinegar
1½ tbsp. mirin
Zest and juice of 1 lime
1 tbsp. sesame oil
2 tbsp. canola oil
2 tbsp. water
½-1 tsp. red pepper flakes
12 ounces extra-firm tofu, blotted dry and cut into 1-inch cubes
8 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stems trimmed and cut into thick slices
4 baby bok choy, sliced in half
Large handful of sea beans, rinsed and drained
Mizuna leaves (you can substitute spinach)
1 pound rice noodles
To make the marinade/sauce, mix together all the ingredients in a medium size bowl. Taste for flavor balance and add more soy, honey, or lime juice to taste. Put the tofu in a shallow baking dish (an 8×8-inch pan is perfect) and pour about 1/3 of the marinade over top. Allow the tofu to sit for at least half an hour, turning the pieces periodically. You can also refrigerate the pan, covered, for up to one day. Reserve the rest of the marinade.
Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Place the baking pan in the oven and bake until the marinade is absorbed and the tofu is developing a bit of outer crunch, 30 to 40 minutes. Turn the tofu once during baking. Set aside.
Heat a medium non-stick pan over medium heat. Add just a bit of canola oil and then the mushrooms. Allow to cook with out turning too much so that they get a bit browned. Once they are soft and have released all of their liquid, add about a tablespoon of soy sauce. Stir until the soy sauce is absorbed and set the mushrooms aside.
Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add the rice noodles and cook until just tender. Check the package for how long they need to cook and be sure to taste them to make sure they are done. Drain and immediately rinse them with cold water until they are cool.
Heat a bit more oil in the same skillet in which you cooked the mushrooms. Add the bok choy halves and cook just until softened a bit, about 3 minutes.
To assemble the bowls, place a small handful of mizuna at the bottom of a wide shallow bowl. Top with ¼ of the noodles. Pour ¼ of the marinade/sauce over the noodles. Top with some tofu, sea beans, mushrooms, and a couple bok choy halves.