Tofu. You either love it or hate it. Me? I LOVE IT SO. SO. MUCH. I actually eat it plain and raw, like you would with carrot sticks or cucumbers. Yep – I rip open the package, cut a few squares, and happily munch away. You might be thinking, “WHAT KIND OF ANIMAL DOES THAT”, but I grew up eating and loving tofu and it’s always been one of my favourite food things. One of Mark’s nicknames for me is “Soon Tofu” (soon tofu is the softest tofu, almost custard-like in texture) – because I have ghostly white skin resembling tofu and I eat so much of it. Does my consumption of tofu have anything to do with my skin tone? Hmmmm… you gotta wonder.
Tofu gets a bad rap for being tasteless, almost like styrofoam, something that only vegetarians (“those hippies!”) eat [*note: no offense to vegetarians – I used to be one and I love all humans]. That hurts tofu’s feelings, you know. Tofu is a wonderful sponge that takes on any flavour you bestow upon it. It comes in a variety of textures, ranging from extra firm to super soft, to somewhere in between.
My favourite way of eating tofu (besides in all its naked glory) is to pan-fry it until it’s super crisp on the outside while still maintaining tofu’s trademark soft texture on the inside. My mom used to make this Pan-Fried Tofu Side Dish (called “Dubu Buchim” in Korean) often during my childhood. It sometimes features at some Korean restaurants as part of their “banchan” set, or you can actually order it as an appetizer.
For this side dish, I opt to use Firm tofu as it holds up the best to pan-frying. It also works with Medium tofu, although it’s a bit harder to get it crispy due to the moisture content and softness.
The great thing about this side dish is that it only requires a few simple ingredients. The most important, of course, is the tofu. As mentioned above, I use Firm for this dish. I normally just buy what’s available at the local supermarket, but you can buy a specific Korean brand if that suits your fancy. To me, all tofu tastes the same (DELICIOUS), so I’m not picky about brands. The other ingredients are for the sauce that’s lovingly drizzled over the tofu – green onion, garlic, sesame seeds, sesame oil, soy sauce, and hot chili flakes.
Lay the squares flat on a couple of pieces of paper towel. Get a bit of salt and sprinkle each slice (not too much though). This part is crucial as the salt draws the excess moisture out of the tofu, which ends up in a much crispier product. Let the squares hang out for about 5 minutes.
While the tofu gets ready, mix up the sauce ingredients. Thinly slice the green onion and add everything into a small bowl. Ta-da! The sauce is very easy to put together. It’s actually a great dipping sauce for dumplings too.
After 5 minutes, press each square of tofu with paper towel to remove the moisture on the surface. Heat up some oil (canola works just fine) in a non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Add the tofu slices, making sure not to crowd the pan (if your frying pan is on the smaller side, fry the tofu in batches – you don’t want to overcrowd the pan and the tofu ends up steaming instead of searing). After you get the tofu into the frying pan, don’t touch it for at least 5 minutes. Let the golden crust form. Mmmm… crispy golden crust. You may also need to watch that your tofu slices don’t burn, so cooking them on medium heat works the best.
Pan-Fried Tofu Side Dish (recipe adapted from this version)
- 1 package firm tofu, drained
- 1-2 tbsp canola oil (or another oil of your choice, for pan-frying)
- 3 tbsp soy sauce
- 1/2 tbsp hot chili flakes
- 1 green onion, finely chopped
- 1 clove garlic, finely minced
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- 1 tsp roasted sesame seeds
Cut the tofu in half and slice each half into 8 equal slices. Place each slice on a couple of layers of paper towel and sprinkle with some salt. Let sit for 5 minutes.
To make the sauce, mix together the soy sauce, chili flakes, green onion, garlic, sesame oil, and sesame seeds in a small mixing bowl.
Heat a non-stick frying pan over medium heat and add the canola oil. Press each tofu slice with paper towel to remove excess moisture. Place the tofu in the frying pan and let sear for 5 minutes until the bottom of the tofu creates a golden crust. Flip each slice and continue frying for another 5 minutes until golden.
Stack the tofu slices on a plate and drizzle the sauce over. Serve warm.