Growing up, East Bay chef Kevin Tang stole his mom’s copies of Better Homes & Gardens and Bon Appetit, but when he went to recreate a recipe, the pantry was filled with different ingredients. “This dish,” he said of the heirloom tomato and peach salad you see here, “is an ode to that … reading American cooking magazines, but only working within an Asian pantry.”
Tang has a Michelin-starred background, previously coming through vaunted SF restaurants like Nari and Mister Jiu’s. These days, he runs the popular East Bay pandemic pop-up Claws of Mantis, and recently joined the team at Oakland’s neon-electric cocktail bar Viridian. There, he’s expanding the menu with his distinct flavor of Asian American nostalgia.
He first met Eleana Hsu, the co-founder of fermented goods company Shared Cultures, when she was personally dropping off an order, and the two instantly started chatting like old friends, bonding over a hectic day as small business hustlers. Tang fell in love with the company’s miso and koji, and has been a regular customer ever since.
“If a dish needs a little something more, I just add a spoonful to a sauce, soup, marinade, braise, or whatever, and it adds a nice boost of flavor,” Tang said. “That’s why I call them my cheat codes.” (Hopefully you’re cooler than the writer of this story, but if not, that’s gamer speak for an insider trick to level up.)
Currently on the menu at Viridian, for instance, the Shared Cultures shio koji helps to tenderize both the strip loin and the pork chop, which take sous vide baths in tallow or duck fat, respectively, before searing off until crispy. The shio koji “is like liquid umami, anytime you need that tasty smack,” Tang said as he made a satisfied noise. The chanterelle miso adds wild earth to the duck confit croquettes with bing cherries and black garlic, which “I can’t take it off the menu, it would cause an uproar,” he said.
Tang isn’t the only chef who’s added Shared Cultures-infused dishes to a menu. The company has foraged and fermented its ay to a funky reputation, and these days, you can also find their unusual misos at Oakland standbys like Daytrip and Snail Bar. They recently dropped a fresh round of fall flavors, including urfa and ancho chile miso, wild chanterelle miso, and koji salt with porcini and garlic.
These exceptional pantry staples offer a rare opportunity to play chef at home, but if you haven’t worked with miso and koji before, at least not in this wild array of flavors, you might not be quite sure where to start. That’s where Tang comes in: he’s here to help guide you toward our ideal umami.
While the chile miso adds a sweet and smoky undertone to a salad that showcases the best of true summer in the Bay Area, respectfully known as autumn to the rest of this country. “For the tomatoes, I highly recommend Early Girls,” Tang advised. “They’re like sugar bombs right now.”
So instead of burrata, in solidarity with the lactose intolerant, he whips silken tofu until creamy. Rather than a vinaigrette, he combines Chinese black vinegar and fish sauce, then generously drizzles Japanese chili oil until it pools. And it’s hard to miss croutons when he makes it rain crispy fried shallots and fresh herbs. The cheat-code ingredient miso slides in with the whipped tofu for that umami oomph, which thrums like the base through each bite.
Kevin Tang’s heirloom tomato and peach salad recipe
This late-summer salad is simple to toss together at home. The restaurant torches the peaches for a little char, but you really don’t have to. There are a few components, but they’re easy to make ahead of time, whether you’re inviting friends over for dinner, or craving a few days of lunches. Then it’s quick to swipe the miso-tofu whip, pile with juicy peaches and tomatoes, drizzle with crimson chili oil, and shower crispy shallots and fresh herbs over the top.
For the crispy fried shallots
- Canola oil
- ½ cup thinly sliced shallots
For the miso-tofu whip
- 1 pack (1 lb) silken tofu
- 2 tablespoons Urfa Ancho Chile Miso from Shared Cultures (see note below)
- ½ teaspoon MSG or kosher salt
- Extra-virgin olive oil
For the black vinaigrette:
- ¼ cup Chinese black vinegar or balsamic vinegar
- 3 tablespoons fish sauce, preferably Red Boat
- 1 lb heirloom tomatoes, such as Early Girls
- 1 lb yellow peaches, preferably from Frog Hollow Farm
- Chili oil, preferably La-Yu
- Flaky sea salt, such as Maldon
- Fresh Thai basil leaves
- Fresh cilantro, mint, or shiso leaves (optional)
Shared Cultures’ misos can be found on shelves at Tokyo Fish Market in Berkeley and Preserved Goods in Oakland, as well as select retailers throughout the Bay Area. Or you can get delivery or shipping through Shared Cultures website, although they’ll be on break for a few weeks in October. Shared Cultures’ misos are small batch and highly seasonal; so if the chile miso sells out, Hsu recommends subbing in the new sun-dried tomato or corn.
To make the crispy fried shallots, in a saucepan over medium-high heat, pour in canola oil to about ½ inch deep. When it shimmers, add the thinly sliced shallots, and fry until golden and fragrant, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels and let cool. (You can make the shallots up to a day in advance, transfer them to an airtight container, and store at room temperature.)
To make the miso-tofu whip, drain the silken tofu. In a high-powered blender, combine the drained tofu, chile miso and MSG. Drizzle in 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil and blitz until velvety and smooth. (You can make the miso-tofu whip up to a day in advance, transfer it to an airtight container, and refrigerate.)
To make the black vinaigrette, in a small bowl, whisk together the black vinegar and fish sauce.
Core and cut the tomatoes into bite-size pieces. Remove the pits from the peaches, and cut the peaches into bite-size pieces. In a large bowl, combine the tomatoes and peaches, drizzle with the black vinaigrette, and toss to coat.
To plate each salad, place a generous dollop of the miso-tofu whip on a plate, and spread in a circle leaving at least an inch of border from the rim. Pile some of the dressed tomatoes and peaches on top, drizzle with a healthy dose of the chili oil, and sprinkle with a pinch of flaky salt. Scatter with the crispy fried shallots, basil, and cilantro, if using, and serve.
Makes 6 servings
Featured image: Kevin Tang’s heirloom tomato and peach salad, with Shared Cultures chile miso