For my first recipe, I’ll begin with the dish that started it all — a simple yet delicious recipe with only a few ingredients. I’m talking about tofu. Not the pale and slightly mushy blocks of fermented soy so often connected to this Asian ingredient but a delightfully crisp yet melt-in-your-mouth morsel of deep-fried goodness.
I’m a fan of healthy foods and foods don’t get much healthier than tofu. I do admit that deep-frying probably makes it that much less healthy but at the same time, it creates a wonderfully unique texture that’s the perfect balance between silky and crisp. Tofu isn’t for everyone, I’ll admit that. But for those who enjoy tofu, this recipe is a must-try.
Although fried tofu is ubiquitous all across Asia, each cuisine has distinct ways of preparing it. In soups, deep-fried, sauteed, or in desserts — tofu’s uses are endless. In Japan, agedashi tofu is a classic dish, combining what I believe are fundamental trademarks of the cuisine. Preparation is sparse, no heavy seasonings or long marinades. Just a simple coating of cornstarch and a very basic broth.
The word age means deep-fried and dashi is a kelp stock used as the basis for many soups and sauces in Japan (I think the best way to describe the taste of dashi is to say that it tastes like sea breeze — yes, like that first deep breath of the fresh salty seashore).
Extra-firm silken tofu, cut into 1 to 1 and a half inch cubes
Cornstarch for coating
Oil for frying
about 12 inches of konbu dashi or kelp
2 cups of water
2 to 3 tablespoons of soy sauce
2 tablespoons of mirin (Japanese rice wine used for cooking)
3 tablespoons of tsuyu (Japanese dashi-based seasoning liquid)
Sugar, to taste
Scallions, chopped for garnish
1. First, dry the cubed extra-firm silken tofu by patting it with paper towels. Setting the tofu on a dish lined with paper towels and then covering it with additional paper towels and setting a cutting board on top is a good way of making sure all the excess liquid is drained out. I let it sit for about ten minutes.
2. Heat oil in a pan (or a wok) on medium-high to high heat — you can tell when the oil’s ready when bubbles appear if you insert anything into it. After lightly coating the tofu cubes in cornstarch, drop them into the oil two or three at a time and deep-fry for about 5 to 6 minutes, flipping halfway through, or until golden brown. Remove and drain on a plate lined with paper towels.
3. For the soup, on high heat bring 3 cups of water to a boil with the konbu dashi. Once the water is boiling, turn off the heat. Add the soy sauce, mirin, tsuyu and sugar to taste.
4. In a small bowl, with a few deep-fried tofu cubes, add the soup so that it covers up to about half of the tofu. Sprinkle with scallions to garnish, and serve.
If the tofu doesn’t seem to be browning, don’t worry; it seems as though they continue to get darker after you’ve removed them from the oil and while cooling. Although you can’t re-use the konbu dashi (kelp) again for stock, once the pieces have been reconstituted you can use them in other dishes. Or, after finely slicing them into thin pieces, they can be used as additional garnish to the agedashi tofu, sprinkled on top with the scallions.
Don’t be discouraged by deep-frying, it’s not as intimidating as it may seem. Just start in small batches. Once you’re done frying, don’t pour the oil down the sink; let it cool, pour it into a plastic bag, tightly tie and discard in the trashcan.