Quick and easy dish of firm tofu, pan-fried in hot oil to give it a crispy exterior. Served drizzled with a thick, sweet soy sauce and topped with scallions. The perfect dish in your arsenal for your tofu-skeptic friends, or for an exciting Meatless Monday dinner.
It wasn’t until I accepted tofu for itself instead of as a meat substitute that I started to actually enjoy eating tofu. And that makes sense, right? No matter how much of the General Gao’s sauce you drench deep-fried tofu in, it’s still going to taste like tofu and not like chicken. Calling tofu a meat substitute is setting tofu up for failure. Because, tofu does not taste like chicken. Tofu does not even taste like poor man’s chicken. The texture of tofu is just too different, not to mention its unique flavour. That being said, unless it is steamed and dressed, or added to soup, I do not care much for tofu that has not made contact with hot oil. Deep frying, which excellent, is a pain, so I didn’t cook tofu much. That is, until I started pan-frying it. And then, suddenly, I could not have enough of it.
Getting K on board the tofu train was a whole different story though. For years, whenever I cooked tofu, K and I ate separate meals. Once, a Japanese restaurant was a tad too generous with those tiny cubes of tofu in their complimentary miso soup. Instead of being a big boy and eating his tofu, K fished out little each tofu cube with his soup spoon and slipped it into my soup before having any of the soup. Heaven forbid he accidentally eat some tofu. Isn’t he charming? It wasn’t until I discovered Yotam Ottolenghi’s Black Pepper Tofu in his book, Plenty that K finally started eating tofu without me having to threaten him with medieval torture contraptions.
But, I mustn’t complain. He did spend 4 hours cleaning every nook and cranny in my kitchen today so I could have a clean work area for my new jam-making project.
This recipe comes from Jaden Hair’s Steamy Kitchen Cookbook, which draws its inspiration from the theme of her blog, Steamy Kitchen, which focuses of fast and easy (largely) Asian recipes. The recipe below has the minor modification of cooking the garlic with the pan-sauce. Other than that, I did not fuss with the recipe.
- One 400 g (14 oz) block of firm tofu
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 tablespoons Chinese dark soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 1 teaspoon rice vinegar
- 1 teaspoon sambal oelek or Sriracha sauce
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic (1 fat clove)
- ¼ teaspoon roasted sesame seed oil (optional)
- 1 tablespoon scallion, green parts only, thinly sliced
- In a small bowl, stir together the dark soy sauce, honey, rice vinegar, minced garlic, and the sesame seed oil until you get a uniform mixture.
- Set a heavy-bottomed pan on medium-high heat. While the pan is heating up, cut the block of tofu (1.25 cm) ½-inch thick slices. Place 3 layers of paper towels on a dry kitchen surface. Arrange the tofu on the paper town and press down on the tofu using another layer of 3 paper towels to squeeze some of the excess liquid out. Be mindful that you do not break the tofu slices.
- Add enough oil to coat the surface of the pan. When the oil shimmers and you see the first wisp of smoke rising, spread tofu slices in a single layer in the hot oil, making sure that the pieces do not touch.
- Fry the tofu on one side until the surface in contact with the hot oil is a deep golden brown, 2-3 minutes. Flip the slices over and fry other other side in the same way. The tofu will splutter when you turn it. Fry the tofu in batches if you cannot fit all the tofu in a single layer, adding a bit of oil, if needed, to the pan before frying the second batch. Remove to a plate lined with paper towels to soak up the excess oil.
- Hold the pan off the heat for a minute so it cools down slightly. Give the sauce ingredients a final mix and add it to the pan. Stir continuously. Reduce until the sauce just comes together after you run a spoon through it. Drizzle the sauce over the tofu. Top with scallions and serve with hot rice or cold noodles.