Bleached Lancaster Celery, Sprouted Organic Tofu, Szechuan Chili Oil, Maldon Salt
I've wanted to do this dish for the blog for a while now but I was waiting til I got some really banging celery. I usually just mix everything together in a big mess and eat it. It's so damn good though that I knew it would work really well if presented nicely. And this particular celery, that I'm about to tell you about, deserves to be recognized.
The only place I know of that still makes bleached celery is Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. And I only know of two people that make it (there could be others). There was an article printed in Lucky Peach's Spring 2012 issue about the only remaining large-scale bleached celery operation in the country and how the whole process works. The celery I got is from my friend Tom who is the most unconventional farmer I know. Which I say with great joy and admiration.
The process is a little more involved than what I'm going to cover but I want to be brief. Basically, once the celery is grown it is harvested and buried in trenches between sheets of plastic with hay and dirt covering them. They are left to mature for anywhere between 1 to 3 months. After being dug up the outer decomposing stalks and leaves are removed and the celery is washed. The result is a light greenish yellow to white celery with incredible sweetness and almost no stringiness. If you can find this stuff and try it you will never think of celery the same way again.
Like I mentioned before the celery and tofu were just cut up. I seasoned both with some good sea salt as well. The oil starts out by filling a sauce pot with a neutral tasting oil. I use grape seed oil. The pot is placed on a burner set to low. To the oil I added the following:
-Red Thai Chilis
-Szechuan Pepper Corns
-Black Pepper Corns
This whole mixture is slowly heated until it is gently bubbling. It is cooked for about 2 hours to extract all of the different flavors and the color from the chilis. Once finished it is strained. It will last for months and can be put on all sorts of things. And just about anything can be added to the oil when cooking. I experiment with it all of the time.