Saturday, November 7, 2009

Comforting stew chases the chills away

Boiled Chicken Soup with Ginseng, Chestnuts, J...

Now that the weather has turned cold, my thoughts turn often to a comforting stone bowl of spicy Korean soft-tofu stew, with a fresh egg cooking in the bubbling broth, and side dishes of rice and kimchi. But last night, I wanted something different and I knew what it was when I saw a large photo in the window of The Fresh Tofu Restaurant in Palisades Park.

I ordered the boiled hen soup with rice ($14.99) -- a great version of chicken soup -- and it warmed me up instantly on a night when temperatures were in the 40s. This is one of the many Korean dishes that aren't spicy. The waitress, Young, brought me seven excellent side dishes, or panchan: cabbage and radish kimchi, greens, roasted seaweed, bean sprouts, fish cakes and a sweetish vegetable I couldn't identify. I also got a small dish of salt in which to dip the chicken pieces.

Most Korean stews come with rice on the side, but in this one, the rice was stuffed into the small, whole chicken with garlic cloves, beans and nuts. Jujube -- a small, dark-red fruit that tastes a little like apple -- and chopped scallions were scattered on top. I found out too late that what looked like a piece of wood was to flavor the stew and wasn't meant for consumption.

The Fresh Tofu Restaurant, 268 Broad Ave., Palisades Park; 201-592-6400; serves lunch and dinner, including Korean barbecue and soft-tofu stew; call for hours.

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