Cooking tips often come when you least expect them. Last week I drove to the Ritz Carlton in San Francisco to do a tasting of the Asia Society’s fundraising dinner. Japanese food and matcha green tea expert Eric Gower (the Breakaway Cook), restaurateur Hanson Li, and I comprised the panel of local Asian food experts that Asia Society invited to sample and critique the hotel’s proposed menu. It’s the organization’s biggest event of the year. About 400 people attend and Asia Society always wants to offer guests Asian inspired fare.
We were seated at a table near the kitchen with Asia Society’s lead development officer and the Ritz Carlton’s catering director. One of the first courses featured tofu atop a tangy sushi rice-like platform. The silken tofu was unusually outstanding, creamy and rich. The chef had put a little glaze with yuzu on top and added a cashew for crunch. The micro greens had a cashew and tofu sauce accented by chile oil.
I asked if the restaurant made the tofu and the answer was no. The chef looked up the source and it turned out to be a San Francisco Chinatown tofu shop called Wo Chong. She wrote it down on a card for me because she knew I was into tofu. (I was a taster last year.) How nice and smart of the Ritz Carlton to use a tofu maker that is literally within walking distance of the hotel!
Hanson pointed out that the cashew seemed out of place, like it stood out too much visually and texturally. The chef offered to create a chopped cashew mixture. Then Eric suggested this novel idea: Grind up raw rice, coat both sides of the tofu then sear it?
I followed up with: Why not toast the rice and grind it up – Southeast Asian style like Pok Pok’s Thai pantry ingredient and use that to coat with?
Eric and I must have had crazy eyes or something because the chef coolly responded, “I could do that for 100 but not 400 guests.”
Ah, got it. We backed down and moved on. Eric’s rice idea stuck with me. The next day, I gave it a try and think you should too. It’s an easy, healthy snack with a crispness that holds nicely. It’s great for those of you who suffer from a fear of frying.
I dusted some pieces of the tofu with ichimi togarashi and dipped it in soy sauce. Later on, I snacked on a cold leftover piece with soy sauce and homemade Sriracha sauce.
Then I realized that the tofu reminded me a bit of the chicken-fried tofu and sriracha pimento cheese sandwich that I made last summer.You could totally use this tofu for that recipe. I also contemplated dipping the crisp tofu in Thai sweet chile sauce or gutsy jaew dipping sauce. My point is that this is an easy-going, versatile way to eat tofu. Go for it!
Which rice should you use? Tofu coated with Pok Pok’s ground toasted rice looked the best but it didn’t have as deep a flavor as the other rice – probably because it was already browned and required less cooking. The sticky rice looked a little whitish but had a nice crunch. The beige, medium-grain rice produced the most flavorful crust but it softened slightly as it cooled (I refried it on both sides to refresh). I imagine you could use any kind of rice.
Rice Coated Crispy Tofu
Yield: 1 large, single serving or 2 snack-size portions
- 8 ounces (225 g) extra-firm tofu, such as Trader Joe’s, Wildwood, or Whole Foods
- 2 tablespoons raw sticky rice, beige (partially milled) rice, ground, toasted rice
- Salt and pepper, optional
- Splash of canola oil
- Cut the tofu into 1/2-inch-thick (1.25 cm) slices. I used Place the tofu atop several layers of paper towel or a clean dishtowel. Let it drain for about 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, grind about 2 tablespoons of raw rice in a clean spice grinder or coffee grinder used for grinding spices.
- Heat a nonstick skillet with a splash of canola oil over medium-high heat.
- If you like, lightly season the tofu on both sides with salt and pepper. Coat both sides with the ground rice, then gently fry it for 3 to 5 minutes total, flipping when you notice a golden crust. You can refry a side to re-crisp it. As needed, add oil to maintain a gentle sizzle.
- Cool on a rack and eat warm or at room temperature with a dipping sauce of your choice.
Try this nifty trick and let us know what you do with it.