Braised Tofu in Caramel Sauce

MAKES: 4 servings

TIME: 30 minutes

There were two things I couldn’t get enough of in Vietnam: crunchy lemongrass dishes and caramel sauce dishes. Here’s one of the latter, in which the caramel sauce essentially melted sugar, which becomes oddly bitter while retaining its sticky sweetness as it browns is used to poach the tofu. Make sure you use lots of black pepper, which is one of the characteristic seasonings of Vietnam, and serve this unusual, delicious dish with rice.

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup Fishless Fish Sauce or soy sauce

1/2 cup peeled and sliced shallot

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more to taste

Freshly squeezed lime juice to taste (from at least 2 limes)

11/2 to 2 pounds tofu, prepared by any of the methods in The Basics of Tofu or simply blotted dry, cut into 3/4-inch cubes

Chopped fresh cilantro leaves for garnish

Put a large, deep skillet, preferably nonstick or cast iron, over medium heat and add the sugar and a tablespoon or two of water. Cook, occasionally shaking the pan gently, until the sugar liquefies and begins to bubble, about 10 minutes. When the sugar has liquefied, cook for another minute or so, until it darkens; turn off the heat. Mix the Fishless Fish Sauce with 1/2 cup water; carefully, and at arms length, add the liquid and turn the heat to medium-high. Cook, stirring constantly, until the caramel melts into the liquid, about 2 minutes. Add the shallot and cook, stirring occasionally, until they soften, about 5 minutes.

Add the black pepper and some lime juice, then put the tofu in the sauce. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the tofu is slightly swollen and heated through, about 5 minutes. Taste and add more lime juice or pepper if necessary, then garnish and serve.