Sunday, November 2, 2008

Salt and Pepa Tofu

I don't know about you guys, but I lately I'm having more and more of those weeks where time escapes me. Suddenly I look in the fridge only to find I haven't been to the grocery store in a week ... maybe two? And by the time I realize my error, I'm too hungry and tired to leave the house again.

So I was cringing at the thought of yet another meal of Larabars, beans and red wine, when I located a block of vacuum-packed tofu in the pantry. Then I remembered the PPK recipe for salt and pepper tofu -- the list of ingredients doesn't go far beyond salt, pepper and um, tofu.

I had all that on hand! Dinner was saved!

Here's the recipe. It serves four regular people, or two vegans. I recommend listening to Salt & Pepa while you prepare it.

Crispy Chinese Salt and Pepper Tofu
Cooking time: 40 minutes

This crispy fried tofu features the simple yet stunning flavor combination of red pepper, black pepper and salt that usually reserved just for seafood in Chinese cuisine. While it’s fried this recipe still uses far less oil than its more traditional counterparts and far less than anything you’ll ever encounter in a restaurant.

For the tofu:
1 lb firm tofu, drained
1 tablespoons dry sherry or rice wine
2 teaspoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons corn starch
3-4 tablespoons of peanut oil for frying

For the stir-fry:
1 tablespoon peanut oil, optional
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
¼ inch cube ginger, peeled and minced
1/4 teaspoon or to taste red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt, such as kosher salt
2 teaspoons rice vinegar
1 scallion, thinly sliced

Press the tofu first: slice tofu into ½ thick slices and layer between sheets clean dish towels or paper towels. Lay on a cutting board and weigh down with another cutting board or other heavy items. For best results place entire assembly in a sink and allow liquid to drain from tofu for 20 minutes. When ready, gently separate tofu from towels and cut into ½ inch cubes.

In a medium bowl combine sherry and soy sauce. Add cubed tofu and toss to combine. Set tofu aside for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

When ready to fry tofu, heat peanut oil over medium-high in a large, heavy skillet or wok. Sift cornstarch into a shallow bowl. Drain tofu from marinade, shake off any excess liquid and roll tofu into cornstarch. Using a slotted spatula, carefully lower tofu into oil and be carefully of splattering. Fry tofu for 3-4 minutes, not stirring to allow it brown on one side, then carefully turn cubes and fry for an additional 3-4 minutes on the other side to brown. Turn and fry cubes an additional 1-2 times to brown sides, if necessary. Remove browned tofu from pan and place in a large dish or bowl. Remove skillet from heat and allow it to cool for 10 minutes. Drain or wipe away any excess oil or browned bits.

Pour 1 tablespoon peanut oil into skillet and heat to medium high. Add garlic and ginger, stirring quickly for 30 seconds till sizzling and fragrant. Add red pepper flakes, black pepper, salt and tofu and fry for 1 minute, stirring constantly and gently breaking up any chunks of tofu that stick together. Remove from heat, sprinkle with rice vinegar and scallions and move to a serving platter.