Here we are in peak tomato season, and should you be close to saturation point with traditional tomato salads, Fung Tu (22 Orchard Street; 212-219-8785) has a twist on the classic that shakes everything up.
“The dish starts with really great tomatoes,” chef/partner Jonathan Wu explains. “They come from Liberty Gardens Farm in Pennsylvania. Right now we have Green Zebras and Cherokees that we slice and season with a little salt, or blanch and peel. Then, some smaller ones we dehydrate, which adds great texture and sweetness to the dish.”
Replacing the traditional mozzarella or ricotta is a creamy aged bean curd. “Credit goes to our chef de cuisine John Matthew Wells, who came up with this recipe,” Wu says. “It’s such a classic garnish, and we’ve tried to make it very special. We blend aged fermented bean curd and heavy cream, then we simmer it with milk and add lemon juice to encourage curds to form. We skim off the curds into cheesecloth and press them. But we don’t waste the whey — we use it to poach celtuce [a Chinese lettuce].”
Finally, the tomatoes are dressed with vinaigrette. “It’s a very French idea, but with the essential base notes of Chinese cooking instead,” Wu notes. “We mince ginger, garlic, and scallions and steep them in sherry vinegar for at least twenty minutes. We also steep kombu in there too, and take that out before we serve the dressing. That’s a technique that I learned when I worked at Geisha, where they would steep kombu in the vinegar they’d use for sushi rice overnight to add umami. I realized that even though that kombu taste wasn’t necessarily perceptible, the umami was really amplified, and supported the natural umami in the tomatoes.”
It all adds up to a dish that’s refreshing and surprising, the classic salad prismed through a different culinary point of view.
“What’s important to me is to try to bring that notion of seasonality into American Chinese cooking,” says Wu. “I think it was always present in agrarian Chinese cooking, but it got somewhat lost. There’s nothing better than tomato salad in summer.”