Although there are so many varieties of tofu, I have only cooked with three — firm, silken and tofu skin. Firm tofu is what I usually fry and add to meat and vegetables to make stir fried dishes. Tofu skin or bean curd sheets, sometimes referred to as tawpe, is the wrapper for the very popular Chinese-style meat loaf known as quekiam or kikiam. Silken tofu goes into miso soup and mapo tofu.
I’ve become proficient at handling tofu over the years. Except for one thing. I can’t fry silken tofu. I don’t know how cubes of delicate silken tofu can be lowered into a pan of hot oil without breaking them. But it can be done. Just what the technique is, I still have to discover. There is a restaurant in Quezon City called Kopi Tiam where we’ve enjoyed a dish of crispy silken tofu. Just tofu cubes, breaded and deep fried, served with a dipping sauce. They look so plain and simple but only a master cook can execute a dish like that to perfection.
When Speedy tried to cook a Luke Nguyen tofu dish several weeks ago, he tried to fry silken tofu since that was what the recipe called for. But he got the same result that I did every time I tried to fry silken tofu — a terrible mess. So, he substituted firm tofu and came up with a delicious meatless dish. Salty, sweet and spicy. The colors are like a garden in bloom. I’m a serious cilantro lover but if you’re not a fan, you can just substitute onion leaves.
Adapted from Luke Nguyen’s Crisp Tofu Cooked In Tomato Pepper Sauce: Dau Hu Sot Ca
- Heat the cooking oil in a wok or frying pan until fine wisps of smoke start to appear.
- Cut the tofu into cubes. How large or how small is entirely up to you. Fry in hot oil until golden brown (see tips).
- Pour off the oil except for a tablespoonful or so.
- Heat the tablespoonful or so of oil again. Saute the garlic, chili and onion or shallots until fragrant, about a minute.
- Add the tomatoes, fish sauce, sugar and black pepper. Cook over high heat, stirring, until the tomatoes start to soften.
- Pour in about a third of a cup of water. Once the liquid boils, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, uncovered for about seven minutes or until the liquid is reduced. This step will allow the flavors to develop and, at the same time, concentrate the flavors.
- Turn up the heat. Add the tofu cubes. Toss. Cook for 30 seconds to reheat the tofu.
- Turn off the heat. Taste the sauce and add more fish sauce, sugar or pepper, as needed.
- Tip the tofu, vegetables and cooking liquid into a shallow bowl. Garnish with the cilantro. Serve hot.
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