Monday, May 9, 2011

Seared Pepper-Salt Tofu

I have a bad habit of picking up blocks of tofu and then leaving them in my fridge and forgetting about them.  They always disappear into the depths of the back of the middle shelf, where they languish until I go on a fridge cleaning kick and find them.  Generally this happens about a week after the tofu has already expired.  Oops.  I swear our fridge isn't that messy.  I am actually fairly conscientious about going through it and throwing out old produce, etc. fairly regularly.  However, tofu is somehow the one thing that habitually goes bad on us.  I guess that means I need to make a greater effort to cook more tofu recipes, or to only buy tofu when I have a recipe that I want to cook.  But the great thing about tofu is that if you have some in the fridge you never have to worry about whether you have a protein defrosted or not - the tofu is already ready and raring to go.  Tofu is equally perfect in dishes like this where it is simply stir fried and seasoned as it is in dishes where it braises or cooks for much longer.  A few minutes in a screaming hot wok and you have a really nice dish.  I only had two complaints that kept this from being a wonderful dish.  My first is that the salt and Chinese Pepper-Salt didn't distribute evenly so you had some bites that were perfectly seasoned, some that were a little bland, and some that were a little on the salty side.  My second (and final) complaint is that I wish the tofu had seared a little better.  Maybe next time I will try a nonstick pan (which isn't a perfect solution because things don't sear very well in nonstick), or use a little more oil.  The tofu kept sticking to the wok as it would sear up, and the nice golden bits would end up stuck to the wok.  But all things considered, it was a nice light dish that I really enjoyed.  We served it with rice and a funky vegetable that we picked up in Chinatown called sun choy (aka saan choi and Malabar spinach) for a satisfying vegetarian meal.  I promise to post more on the funky vegetable later, but as a lovely preview to that post, the adjective that best describes sun choy is slimy. 

Recipe after the jump!

Seared Pepper-Salt Tofu
Adapted from Hot Sour Salty Sweet: A Culinary Journey Through Southeast Asia
By Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid

14 oz. firm tofu
peanut oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp Chinese Pepper-Salt (see below)
2-3 tbsp chopped scallion greens or chives
1/4 cup cilantro, roughly chopped

Thinly slice tofu into 2x1/2-inch slices.  Pat dry as thoroughly as possible with paper towels, pressing down gently to remove more liquid.  Heat a wok over high heat.  Add oil.  Swirl oil around to coat.  Add tofu slices and reduce heat to medium-high.  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.  Once tofu starts to turn golden brown, add salt, Chinese pepper-salt, and scallions.  Stir-fry another 30 seconds.

Serve topped with cilantro.

Chinese Pepper-Salt

Hot Sour Salty Sweet: A Culinary Journey Through Southeast Asia
By Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid

1 tsp Sichuan peppercorns
1 tbsp kosher or sea salt

In a small heavy skillet, dry-roast the pepper and salt together until slightly aromatic.  Transfer to a mortar or spice grinder or coffee grinder and pound or grind to a powder.

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