Deep-Fried Tofu

MAKES: 4 or more servings

TIME: 20 minutes

Deep frying is a standard precooking preparation for tofu, used throughout Asia to produce a nice crust and tender interior. It’s faster than baked tofu, but needless to say a little bit messier. Fried tofu can be simply sauced and served, as in the variations or used later in stir-fries, sandwiches, salads, whatever you like.

There are two ways to prepare the tofu for frying. One is to cut it in half horizontally; this is easy and fast, but it exposes less of the surface area to frying, so you have fewer crisp edges. The other is to cube, slice, or cut it into rectangles, triangles (traditional), or circles for that matter; this takes a little more effort initially, but it reduces cooking time and gives slightly better results. Either way, pat the tofu dry before frying to reduce spattering.

Neutral oil, like grapeseed or corn

1 to 2 pounds tofu, cut in half horizontally, cubed, or sliced (see headnote), and patted dry

Salt

Heat oil to a depth of 2 inches or more in a deep, heavy skillet or saucepan over medium heat to 350В°F.

When the oil is hot, slide in the tofu in batches if necessary and fry, turning occasionally, until golden brown and puffy, just a few minutes; do not overcook or the tofu will toughen. Remove with a slotted spoon, drain on paper towels, and sprinkle with salt if you like. Use immediately or cool, wrap, and refrigerate for up to 3 days.

Variations

Slightly More Refined Deep-Fried Tofu. Many Japanese prefer to rinse the tofu after frying, to remove traces of oil; this practice does yield a cleaner (and obviously less oily) taste, and it’s not much more work. There are two ways you can proceed: Bring a pot of water to a boil; after the tofu has drained for a minute, poach it in the water for 30 seconds or so; you can repeat if you like. Alternatively, simply put the fried tofu in a colander and rinse it for a minute or so with hot water (as hot as you can make it), straight from the tap. Drain, pat dry, and use immediately or cool, wrap, and store.

Agedashi Tofu. A staple appetizer of Japanese restaurants, best with firm or extra-firm silken tofu: Before frying the tofu, combine 1 cup Kombu Dashi, 2 tablespoons good soy sauce, and 2 tablespoons mirin (or 1 tablespoon honey or corn syrup) in a small saucepan. Heat until steam arises, then keep warm. Cube the tofu before frying, then fry as directed. Put the fried tofu in a bowl and pour the sauce over it (or use the sauce for dipping). Garnish with minced or shredded scallion, grated daikon, toasted sesame seeds, crumbled toasted nori, and/or peeled and grated fresh ginger.

10 Ideas for Precooked Tofu

Starting with bottled ketchup (or, if you’re feeling more ambitious, one of your own; see Homemade Ketchup) and ending with I don’t know what there must be scores of ways to top precooked tofu. Some of my favorites:

  1. Plain soy sauce
  2. Soy sauce mixed with garlic, chile, ginger, and sugar; with sesame seeds or sesame oil; or both if you like
  3. Peanut Sauce
  4. Ponzu Sauce
  5. Any of the miso sauces
  6. Soy and Sesame Dipping Sauce and Marinade, Korean Style
  7. Ginger-Scallion Sauce
  8. Seaweed Mayo especially with Deep-Fried Tofu
  9. Black Bean Ketchup
  10. Peanut or Miso Tomato Sauce