Crispy Tofu with Sesame Asparagus

Great tofu is not an oxymoron. Simply put, it is tofu with a tender center surrounded by a well-seasoned, crisp crust and is one of the most satisfying bites of food which should be appreciated by all serious eaters, no matter your diet. But there’s a lot of bad tofu out there, and it’s easy to dislike when it’s soggy, mushy, or bland. Been there, done that…

The key to both crispness and browning is the removal of moisture, so the drier you get your tofu to begin with, the better the contrast will be between the crisp exterior and moist, tender interior.

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There’s all matter of ways to remove excess water from tofu. Some recipes recommend pressing your whole block of tofu to remove excess moisture before slicing. I’ve done this method often, and it works fine, but takes some time. Much easier is to slice the tofu, then lay the slices out flat on a cutting board or baking sheet lined with paper towels or a clean kitchen towel. More surface area = faster water removal = dinner on the table that much faster = happy family.

A coating of panko (Japanese breadcrumbs) is the secret to these ultracrisp tofu triangles. Hoisin sauce does double duty, adding flavor to the tofu’s coating and serving as a sweet-tangy dipping sauce.

Make sure that the pan is smoking hot before you add the asparagus, and then don’t touch it for at least a minute. You’ll get a great char on the asparagus and super flavor. One reviewer suggested that if you’re a total tofuphobe, this recipe would be fantastic on chicken tenders or long zucchini slices. Food for thought…

The dish goes well with a rice salad or an herb salad dressed with a simple Gingery Asian Vinaigrette.

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Ingredients

  • 1 14-oz. package extra-firm tofu, drained
  • 1/2 cup plus 3 Tbs. hoisin sauce
  • 4 Tbs. seasoned rice vinegar
  • 3/4 tsp. Asian chili garlic sauce
  • 2 large eggs
  • 4 tsp. Asian sesame oil
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 cups panko
  • 1/2 cup cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 Tbs. peanut oil
  • 1 lb. medium asparagus, trimmed
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tsp. toasted sesame seeds

Directions

  1. Slice the tofu in half crosswise. Slice each half once on the diagonal, lay cut side down, and cut each vertically into 3 slices, to make 12 triangles. Arrange the slices on double-thick layers of paper towels and press to remove as much moisture as possible. Repeat as necessary to dry the tofu well.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk 1/2 cup of the hoisin sauce, 3 Tbs. of the vinegar, and the chili-garlic sauce. Set aside.
  3. In a shallow dish, lightly beat the eggs with the remaining 3 Tbs. hoisin sauce and 1 Tbs. vinegar, 2 tsp. of the sesame oil, and 1/2 tsp. salt. Put the panko and cornstarch in separate shallow bowls. Lightly season the tofu on both sides with salt. Dredge each piece of tofu in the cornstarch, shaking off the excess, then in the egg mixture, and then in the panko, setting the triangles on a plate as you finish each one.
  4. Heat 1/4 cup of the peanut oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil begins to shimmer, add half of the tofu triangles and cook, turning once, until golden and crisp, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate, and season lightly with kosher salt. Repeat with the remaining tofu.
  5. Wipe out the skillet, add the remaining 1 Tbs. peanut oil and return to medium-high heat. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the asparagus, and cook, turning, until crisp-tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the remaining 2 tsp. sesame oil and toss well. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with the sesame seeds. Serve the tofu and asparagus with the dipping sauce on the side.

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Block of tofu is drained. 
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Slice the tofu in half horizontally, and then each piece in half again to make four slabs.

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Each plank is cut into triangles of approximate size.

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Triangular tofu slices are drained on paper towels several different times to extract the moisture.

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In a shallow dish, lightly beat the eggs with the remaining hoisin sauce, vinegar, and sesame oil.

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Whisking the ingredients to well combined.

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Dust each tofu triangle in cornstarch, then the egg mixture, followed by a coating of panko crumbs.

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The tofu is browned on both sides for a few minutes, and done in two batches.

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Once crisped, lay the tofu on several layers of paper towels and salt immediately.

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Wipe out the skillet before you cook the asparagus.

By Laraine Perri from Fine Cooking, from the Make It Tonight series.

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