Funky Business

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All right.  I admit it.  I have been hiding something dirty from you.  I have been for quite sometime now playing the role of a girl who gushes about red velvet things, woos-and-ahhs over seasonal muffins for weekends and salutes to tacos, sandwiches and raviolis for everyday meals, who even contemplates (but no luck so far) on creating the ultimate fairy-food salads to tackle the hippie crowds.  Don’t get me wrong because I love all that (maybe not the salads…) as much as the next American and who wouldn’t?  But… there’s more to it me and it’s despicable that I’ve been tucking it away in a dark corner to lick off its own shame.  Today I’m going to let my closeted funk-fetish get exposed…

Yes.  Funks, gamey things, stinky stuff, nasty bits.  I’m… cool with all that……  Al’right I lied, I enjoy them all quite a bit…  FINE!  I’m totally obsessed with it!  To an extent that probably puts me ahead of the curve from most fellow Taiwanese and that’s saying quite much.  Let’s just say not long ago I went hot-pot with close friends, got comfortable, and was since banned from adding things to the pot (already bubbling with “adventurous” things) that was… visually unpalatable to some, which I’m still not fully ready to disclose yet before we get to know each other EVEN better…  And the draft box in my queue is stained with recipes that may never see the light of day because this self-doubting funk-fetish suspects that there aren’t enough Andrew Zimmerns out there to press “like” on her Facebook (pretty please).

But a couple months ago, I received a vote of confidence in  my mail – an awesome cookbook by Zakary Pelacicio called Eat With Your Hands.  Fatty Crab?  Fatty ‘Cue?  Awesomeness?  Ring a bell?  Anyways, in his book he featured an ingredient that, although for me just a rub-it-on-my-cereal kind of thing, but no less an exotic challenge for the American palette - (the faint-hearted cover your ears) fermented tofu!  Yeah, tofu (no thanks…) fermented (yew…) aka rotten (YEEWWW!).  Doesn’t sound pretty.  But if you think about fermented meats (cured sausages?), fermented milk (cheese, anyone?), fermented vegetables (sauerkraut, kimchi?  HELLO?), fermented wheat and barley (COME ON! BEEERR!).  Not that scary is the word “fermented” now is it?  In fact if I don’t say what it is before you eat it, all you’d get is a strong savory note with hints of soy.  Yum?

But this isn’t just fermented tofu 101.  The vote of confidence evolved into… boldness.  Say, already not the most popular choice of meat if put against chicken breast, the gamey aroma of lamb or goat is the PERFECT and classic pairing for the saltiness and unique flavors of fermented tofu, and it happens to be… one of my favorite things to gobble down recently.  Listen, to exercise their potential to the full extent – the ideal choice of cuts would be lamb ribs, or necks, or basically parts with moderate quantity of meats hanging on large pieces of bones because the idea is to have animal grease, fermented tofu sauce and minty chili oils all mingling… and dribbling… and running down between your fingers and cheeks, then you wash it down with a big gulp of beer then wipe all that off with the back of your hands in one swift motion and say “Aaaggghhh…”.  Satisfaction.

Then of course I’d go back to watching Gossip Girls while polishing nails or whatever because that’s how a girl with funk-fetish rolls.

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Ingredients:

  • A whole rack of lamb ribs (approx 1 kg/35 oz), or equal amount of lamb necks
  • 1 tbsp of olive oil
  • 2 tbsp of Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 tsp of salt and black pepper
  • Fermented tofu sauce:
    • 3 cloves of garlic, chopped
    • 1 tbsp of Sichuan chili bean paste
    • 2 tbsp of fermented tofu
    • 1 tbsp of oil
    • 3/4 tsp of flour
    • 1 cup of lamb stock (from cooking)
    • 1 ~ 2 tsp of cane sugar (depends on the sweetness of the fermented tofu)
    • 1/8 tsp of ground white pepper
  • Chili oil:
    • 3 tbsp of vegetable oil
    • 1 tsp of cumin seeds
    • 1/2 tsp of ground coriander
    • 6 dried red chili
    • 1/8 tsp of paprika
  • Chopped fresh mints for sprinkling

Preheat the oven on 500ºF/230ºC.

Leave the entire lamb ribs uncut.  Mix 1 tbsp of olive oil and 2 tbsp of Dijon mustard, and brush it evenly over it.  Sprinkle 1/4 tsp of salt and black pepper on both sides and place it on a deep baking sheet.  Bake in the oven under 500ºF/230ºC for 10~15 min until the surface starts to sizzle, then turn the heat down to 320ºF/160ºC.  Cover the baking sheet TIGHTLY with foils and bake for another 2 hours until a fork can be easily inserted into the meat without effort.

Meanwhile, make the chili oil.  Use a scissor to trim off the heads of the dried chili.  Shake and tap them upside down to release the seeds as best as you can, then cut the chili into thin strips.  Combine vegetable oil, chili strips, cumin seeds, ground coriander and paprika in a small pot.  Heat it over medium heat until it sizzles for a while and the chili has darken in color (a deep brownish red).  Turn off the heat and just let it sit.

Check the lamb after 2 hours which should be tender by now.  Create a small pocket between the foil and the baking sheet, and pour all the stock/juice released from the meat into a measuring cup.  There should be quite a layer of fat floating on top.  Skim it off with a spoon.  Measure the stock to 1 cup (add chicken stock if not enough).  Then turn the oven to top-broil, and return the lamb back into the oven (meat-side up) until the top gets crispy and golden brown, approx 10 min.

Meanwhile (keep an eye on the lamb!!) make the fermented tofu sauce.

Saute garlic, chili bean paste, fermented tofu in 1 tbsp of oil in a small sauce pot.  Once it is fragrant, approx 1~2 min, add the flour and saute for another minute.  Add 1 cup of lamb stock and whisk while the mixture comes back to a boil.  Depends on the sweetness of the fermented tofu used, add 1~2 tsp of cane sugar to adjust the taste.  Use less if the fermented tofu is quite sweet to begin with, which varies among brands.  The one I used (DIFFERENT from the link above) is quite salty so I added 1 1/2 tsp of sugar.  Then add the ground white pepper to taste.  Let the sauce simmer until it’s reduced by 3/4.  Technically the sauce is perfectly wonderful as is, but if you want to be really anal, puree it in a blender for a smooth and silky finish.

Take the lamb out of the oven once it’s crispy and golden brown.  Let it REST FOR 10 MIN!  Then cut it into segments.  Pour the fermented tofu sauce on top (you may not need it all), drizzle with the chili oil and sprinkle chopped fresh mints.

Station your napkins close.  It’s gonna get dirty.

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