I’ve been grappling with this recipe for some time. It’s totally easy but the first time I made it a couple years ago, thinking that it would be great for Asian Tofu, it was bleh. Mediocre tasting and not very special. I dropped it. Never would I put a recipe into a book that I didn’t like.
But I kept thinking about it, primarily because ginger pairs well with tofu in classics like Japanese chilled tofu with grated ginger and soy sauce, or Chinese tofu pudding with ginger syrup. Then I came across a nearly unused copy of Fragrant Harbour Taste: The New Chinese Cooking of Hong Kong. Published in 1991, it was written by Ken Hom who was born in Chicago and is expert in Chinese food and culture. He recorded some excellent recipes that evoke Hong Kong’s culinary scene at that time. Leafing through the cookbook, I came across a recipe for “stir-fried pickled ginger with bean curd.” Ah-ha, paydirt.
Hom’s recipe was a little funny because among usual imperial measurements, ingredients were also measure in “dessertspoons.” I had to look that up and the old-fashioned term refers to approximately 2 teaspoons. The book was published in the UK so maybe that was the style of recipe writing used. It was initially confusing but turned out to be a bit of trivia to keep in my back pocket. In Hom’s later works that I own, I’d not seen dessertspoons.
With a partially used block of leftover tofu in the fridge, I halved the recipe and used the homemade pickled ginger I’d prepared a while ago. Hom calls for a Chinese version of pickled ginger that includes garlic but the Japanese kind I'd made worked fine.
The little dish turned out remarkable – the tofu retained a crisp chewy texture and the ginger went from delicate to earthy, with a salty-sweetness from the seasonings. You’d think that the combination would dance with delicate flavors but it instead had satisfying gravitas. In other words, it had oomph.
I didn’t expect to eat it all but I did. The tofu was part of a semi-healthy lunch along with a raw kale salad and a bowl of rice that I’d cooked with chicken fat.
Panfried Tofu with Pickled Ginger
Yield: 1 serving
- 8 ounces firm or extra-firm tofu
- 1 tablespoon packed pickled ginger, homemade or purchased
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 teaspoon sugar
- 2 teaspoons Shaoxing rice wine
- 1 teaspoon regular soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon dark soy sauce, or 3/4 teaspoon regular soy sauce plus 1/4 teaspoon dark molasses
- 1 tablespoon chopped green onion, white and green part
- 1 tablespoon Canola or peanut oil
- 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
- Cut the tofu in domino-like pieces. Transfer to a dry non-terry dishtowel or several layers of paper towel. Let drain for 10 to 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, cut the ginger into narrow ribbons (think dried linguine or banh pho/pad Thai rice noodles). In a small bowl, stir together the salt, sugar, rice wine, and both kinds of soy sauces. Taste and make sure you like it, or tweak for a salty-sweet finish. Add the green onion. Set the ginger and liquid seasoning near the stove.
- Blot the tofu dry with paper towel. Heat a medium nonstick skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Swirl in the oil. Panfry the tofu until golden and crisp on both sides, about 4 minutes total. Transfer to a plate, leaving any oil behind.
- Lower the heat slightly, add the pickled ginger. Cook, stirring for about 30 seconds, until aromatic and heated through. Add the liquid seasonings and tofu. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring, until the tofu has absorbed most of the seasonings. Off heat, stir in the sesame oil to aromatize. Serve immediately.