April 14, 2014
« tokoroten » de bœuf
(beef-flavored gelatin noodles)
Across the door on each side of every truck was written: “Find a need and fill it!” It was the slogan of the sand and gravel company that occupied a long, narrow stretch of land between my hometown’s main road and the railroad tracks.
Somewhere along the gravel road of life, I adopted a similar attitude. I buy tools, foodstuffs, and dishes without any idea as to how I will use them. Sometime later, the item will be put to use or tossed out. That was certainly the case when I purchased a wood and brass tokoroten press from a small kitchen shop in Kyoto. When I bought it, I had no idea what tokoroten was. I assumed that I had seen it once or twice, but I knew I had never eaten it.
A few days later I had my chance outside the Tsukiji Market in Tokyo, at least for a taste. I wasn’t impressed, but the tokoroten press was already in my baggage. I thought that I should at least bring it home. Once home, it was shoved into one of the abysses of my kitchen to hopefully be lost until its “need” cried out to be “filled”.
Like Poe’s telltale heart, it kept calling to me. I searched the web for an appropriate recipe. No luck. There were descriptions of tokoroten but essentially no recipes. To complicate matters, the last thing I wanted was a recipe that duplicated the tokoroten I had tasted in Tokyo. So armed with the concept of tokoroten, I set out to create my own.
Tokoroten is a block a gelatin pressed through the cutter at the end of the implement to produce long, transparent “noodles”. In Japan, the flavor is from the sea. I decided that the flavor of my tokoroten would be land‑based. Besides the tokoroten press, a suitable mold is required to cast the blocks of gelatin that go into the press. It turned out that the 8 cm wide x 12 cm long x 41⁄2 cm deep cake pan with a removable bottom that I purchased on the same trip was ideal for producing a block, that when slit in half lengthwise, fit the press perfectly.
The recipe is simple to make. These quantities produce enough for 8 to 10 portions.
230 ml (scant 1 c)
filtered cold water
1. Sprinkle the agar powder over the water in a small sauce pan. Add the broth base. Whisk the ingredients together over high heat until the liquid is boiling, the agar is hydrated, and the base is well dispersed.
2. Pour the mixture into an 8 cm wide x 12 cm long x 41⁄2 cm deep cake pan. Set the pan on a refrigerator shelf in a manner that the surface is level. Chill until quite firm.
3. Unmold. Slit the large block lengthwise to match the opening of the tokoroten press. Insert each smaller block into the press, and force it through the cutting plate with the plunger.
4. Carefully divide the “noodles” between individual serving plates. Serve well chilled.