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almost agedashi tofu with sauce

September 6, 2012

“Ra. Ri. Ru. Ro.”

We repeated the sounds dutifully after our teacher, trying to read along with the Hiragana characters written on the blackboard.

“Ra.” Curled up like a rabbit looking over its shoulder. Ears flapping in the wind.  

“Ri.” Two reeds sitting in a river.  

“Ru.” A hand holding a precious ruby.  る

“Ro.” A hand without the ruby – stolen by a robber. ろ

We were sitting in Year Three language class. A motley crew of kids living on the edge of suburban and rural.

Today we would try to write our names.

“Sheryl?” said my teacher. “Hmm. That’s tricky. There’s no shuh sound and there’s no rrrehl sound either. How about we call you Sa-Ru.”

“What does that mean?” I asked, all of maybe 3 and a bit foot tall with a fringe far too long for my forehead.

“It means monkey!” she laughed as she moved on to the next student.

Armed with my very own real live Japanese name I proceeded to apply myself to my studies.

I started working out how to write different words using Hiragana symbols.

Sa-ka-na, meaning fish.

Ra-me-n, my favourite noodles.

And of course, to-fu. A toe with a stub in the tip and a flurry of snot flying out of a sneezing nose.

I was distraught when our teacher left and we switched to French the next year.

I made good my lack of Japanese classes by bugging my parents for food.

Sushi rolls – an exotic, hardly seen delicacy at the time – became a mild obsession. I’d keep an eye out for them in the lunch time bento boxes of a classmate from time to time, begging to switch them for my chicken nugget & tomato sauce sandwiches.

And then, when visiting my dad at his fancy city offices, my very first taste of sashimi (resulting in a screwed up face and a confusion as to why people would eat fish raw in the first place).

One thing I took to straight away though, was agedashi tofu.

“Age” – meaning to fry (as in kara-age chicken, those lovely crunchy nuggets of crispy fried chicken).

“Dashi” – the delicious, savoury stock that forms the base of so many Japanese dishes, flavoured with kombu and dried bonito flakes.

I loved the texture of a crisp exterior, soaked in that salty broth, giving way to a creamy silken interior. I loved the way the bonito flakes danced on top of the hot tofu. The mingling of green shallots with grated daikon and a slight smattering of ginger.

It became my must-order dish each time I ate out.

My general dislike of deep frying left me with an odd conundrum when trying to replicate this dish at home. I wanted a crisp outside and that lovely slightly browned flavour, but without the hassle of all that hot oil.

So I improvised, employing a technique used in Chinese cooking to sear tofu off before coating it in a sauce. Kombu was replaced with little curls of dried wakame that I keep a constant supply of in the pantry (they are great for adding a burst of flavour to noodle soups).

Oh, and a little (a lot of) extra ginger. Because I like ginger.

We ate it for dinner one cold weeknight and I ate the leftovers for lunch the next day. The tofu can be stored in the fridge after step one and fried as needed, and the stock kept ready to be reheated and poured over the top.

Almost, not quite, age-dashi. But just as delicious.


almost agedashi tofu
Serves: 4-5
 
Ingredients
  • one 900g packet of firm tofu
  • 2 tbsp dried wakame
  • one handful of dried bonito flakes
  • 1L boiling water
  • 1tbsp light soy sauce
  • 2tbsp mirin
  • 1 small knob ginger (optional)
  • 1 small know daikon (optional)
  • 1 green spring onion (optional)
How to make it
  1. Remove the tofu from the packet. Lie the tofu in a single layer on a chux wipe or similarly absorbent cloth and use a second chux wipe to wrap it all up like a parcel. Place a chopping board on top and something heavy (like a cookbook) on top of that so that the tofu gets squished. Leave it like that for 20 minutes. You'll have a nice puddle of water to clean up and some lovely extra firm tofu that won't break up in the pan.
  2. (If you don't want to do step one, stick your tofu in a sieve or something with holes and leave it to drip dry for at least 5 mins. It won't have the same effect but it'll at least dry it up enough for step 4).
  3. Put the dried wakame, bonito flakes and boiling water into a bowl and leave to infuse for 10 minutes or so. Add the light soy and mirin.
  4. Grate the ginger and daikon finely. Chop the spring onion up into little rounds.
  5. Heat up a frying pan over medium heat. Place the tofu in a single layer in the pan and dry fry it until a crisp lightly golden brown crust forms. Flip and repeat for the other side. You may need to do two batches depending on the size of your pan.
  6. Place two or three pieces of tofu in each bowl and top with the broth, a dollop of ginger and daikon and a sprinkling of spring onion.


  • #1
    September 6th, 2012

    Mmmm yum! Agedashi is one of my fave things to order out at Japanese – but I love this lighter version to make at home! Thanks for sharing !

  • #2
    September 6th, 2012

    yum! the daikon makes a nice crunchy addition

  • #3
    September 6th, 2012

    I don’t cook much deep fried food at home either because I don’t know what to do with all the leftover oil but sometimes I’ll see if I can get away with shallow frying with just 1-2cm of oil in the saucepan.

    I generally cook all my tofu this way too by searing the outside!

    Ai-Ling

  • #4
    September 7th, 2012

    Fantastic job at recreating the dish shez – love the fact it’s a lighter version than your normal. I love the final touches of the benito flakes – it just wont be the same without it 😉

  • #5
    September 9th, 2012

    Great recipe! And LOOOOL can’t believe your teacher called you monkey in class. So awesome of you to share a story like that on your blog hahaha… LOVE IT. Really enjoy how there’s so many ways you can prepare tofu. This is great for me to use up my mirin, which I never use enough of. Have a great week, Sheryl and look forward to catching you at the conference… WEE-HEEE

  • #6
    September 11th, 2012

    I always wish I had learnt Japanese – oh well, I’ll have to be content with eating Japanese at least 3 times a week! I like how you improvised so that you didn’t have to deep fry it. I must try this!

  • #7
    September 12th, 2012

    Love your idea of searing the tofu instead of deep frying. By the way, my name means plate in Japanese, hours of entertainment when dining out with my Japanese colleagues. ‘sara san may I pass you a sara?’ I think you get the picture 😉

  • #8
    November 4th, 2012

    Hello, Sa-ru! I LOVE agedashi tofu and good on you for making this, I reckon it’s just as good as the “real” one! Oh, and congrats on winning best narrative!

  • #9
    November 7th, 2012

    Hello Monkey – I love your Japanese name! Lovely post – a well deserved winner at #EDB2012. Agedashi tofu is one of my favourite must orders too…love it.

  • #10
    November 8th, 2012

    […] Writing Award: Sheryl Lee from One Bite More for Almost Agedashi […]

  • #11
    November 13th, 2012

    […] Lee, from One Bite More, won the narrative writing prize at the recent Eat Drink Blog conference in Adelaide for this blog […]

  • #12
    November 13th, 2012

    […] Lee, from One Bite More, won the narrative writing prize at the recent Eat Drink Blog conference in Adelaide for this blog […]

  • #13
    November 13th, 2012

    Congratulations on the writing award from EDB. Well deserved ; D

Shez