Thursday, July 26, 2012

Tofu with Savory Caramel Sauce

One of our favorite dishes at a local Vietnamese restaurant is the rice noodle salad topped with delicious pork skewers. Not entirely sure what is in the pork, but it's sweet and salty and caramelized. Sadly, the restaurant isn't in our neighborhood so we don't get to indulge in the dish as often as we'd like.

I was determined to find a recipe but I thought it would be more realistic (and somewhat healthier) to find a tofu version. I know I can always have tofu in the house; it's less certain that I'll find the cut of pork I'd need from our favorite vendor at the farmers' market.

The first recipe I tried (from the New York Times) was okay, but way too sweet. It was good enough that I knew the concept was worth pursuing. Further Internet searching led me to the Herbivoracious recipe. The fact that it is made in one pan and that it called for less sugar had me hopeful that this was the savory laquered tofu of my dreams--and so it turned out to be.

I love Michael Natkin's one-pan technique and I simplified the recipe even further by omitting the onions and scallions. I'm sure they'd be good, but I didn't have any around and I so strongly prefer garlic to any other allium that I knew I'd be satisfied even without them.

You know that even while eating your breakfast, you're counting the minutes til you can eat your lunch that you've found a winner. This and the Easier Orange Tofu will be the recipes I return to again and again.

If you do not require a vegetarian dish, you could consider adding a tablespoon or so of fish sauce to add umami.

INGREDIENTS
1/4 c. rice wine or dry sherry (I used Chinese Shaoxing rice wine but I'm sure you could use dry sake)
2 tsp rice vinegar
1/4 c. soy sauce
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
2 garlic cloves, minced or put through a press
1 tsp fresh ginger, minced
1/2 c. evaporated cane juice or white sugar
1 block (15-16 oz) extra firm tofu, cut into 12 pieces and blotted dry
2 TBSP vegetable oil
4-8 dried small chiles (optional--I didn't use)

DIRECTIONS
  1. Whisk the first 7 ingredients together in a small bowl until the sugar dissolves. Set aside
  2. Heat the oil in a 12-inch skillet, ideally cast iron, over high heat until the oil shimmers
  3. Add the tofu pieces in a single layer, driest side down (expect splutters)
  4. Fry on that side until nicely browned, about 4 minutes, then turn over
  5. Immediately add the sauce to the pan--it will likely spatter, so be careful
  6. Cook until the sauce has thickened, forming a syrupy glaze. It may help to gauge the consistency of the sauce to remove the tofu to a serving plate and then continue cooking the sauce if necessary
  7. Pour sauce over the tofu and then serve. Excellent atop Vegan Vietnamese Noodle Salad

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