Thursday, February 11, 2010

Pan-Fried Tofu with Dark Sweet Soy Sauce

So once upon a time, I was a total tofu skeptic.  No matter how many times I tried it, it never satisfied me.  Then I went to China.  And while there I realized that there were hundreds of different preparations for tofu, as well as several kinds of tofu.  Being the adventurous eater that I am, I tried a few of them.  And then I found out that tofu can actually be really really good.  But every time I tried to make tofu at home, it always ended up being a disappointment.  So I relegated tofu to the category of restaurant-only foods which also includes soft-shell crabs and various other ingredients that I am either too lazy to prepare at home, or for lack of space or proper equipment I cannot prepare at home (e.g. an immersion circulator to sous vide various meats).  There aren't a lot of items in the restaurant-only category, but there are enough to curtail my kitchen experiments somewhat.  Since tofu isn't exactly difficult to prepare I would periodically consider taking it off my personal version of a no-fly list, only to chicken out.  Actually, it wasn't so much that I chickened out, but there just aren't that many must try recipes I came across involving tofu to make me reevaluate my stance.  Then I purchased The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook late last year, and found several tofu recipes that looked very promising.  I decided I had to give tofu another try.  Our first tofu experiment from the cookbook was Jaden's Spicy Korean Tofu Stew.  It was delicious.  After that, tofu was officially back on my kitchen roster.  Without this cookbook, I don't know how long it would have taken me to try tofu again!

Jaden describes this tofu recipe as being ideal for beginners and I think that while beginners would love it, more seasoned tofu eaters would be equally enamored.  The sauce is the perfect mix of salty, sweet and spicy.  The tofu is sliced thin before being pan-fried so that the exterior is nice and crispy, so that gave the dish a wonderful texture.  Jaden lets her tofu fly solo, but I wanted to get a few more fresh ingredients into my lunch so I served the tofu on top of a bed of baby spinach and then drizzled the tofu with the warm sauce, which ended up dressing the spinach as it pooled underneath.  Yum.  It was the perfect healthy midweek lunch!

Recipe after the jump!

Pan-Fried Tofu with Dark Sweet Soy Sauce
Adapted from The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook
By Jaden Hair

2 tbsp tamari (dark soy sauce)
2 tbsp honey
1 tsp rice vinegar
1 tsp sambal oelek (aka chili-garlic sauce)
14-oz block firm tofu
2 tbsp peanut oil
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 tsp minced ginger
1 green Thai chili, minced
1 scallion, chopped
large handful baby spinach (about 1 cup unpacked)

In a small bowl, combine tamari, honey, rice vinegar and sambal.  Stir to combine.  Set aside.

Cut the block of tofu into 3 slices that are each 1/2 inch thick.  Drain thoroughly using paper towels, pressing down on tofu to squeeze out additional water.  Set a large saute pan over high heat until screaming hot (i.e. when a bead of water sizzles immediately upon contact and evaporates).  Pour in 1 tbsp oil, or enough oil so that it coats the surface of the pan.  Carefully add tofu slices to pan so that they aren't touching each other.  Be careful when adding tofu because if there is any water left in the tofu the oil might splatter.  Fry the tofu until the bottom is golden brown, about 3-4 minutes.  Carefully flip the tofu over in the pan and fry the other side for 2-3 minutes, or until golden.  Remove tofu from pan and drain on another paper towel.  If pan is dry because the tofu has absorbed all of the oil, add a touch more, or if there is a lot of oil left in the pan, pour off all but 1 tsp.  Add the garlic and ginger and stir-fry until fragrant, about 15-20 seconds.  Pour the soy sauce mixture in and stir to combine.  Allow sauce to thicken slightly, about 20-30 seconds.  Remove from heat.

Arrange baby spinach as the bottom layer on a serving plate.  Top with tofu slices.  Pour sauce over the tofu.  Top with fresh chili and scallion.  

Serve immediately.

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