My family always seemed to have a thing for Japanese restaurants. As kids, my Dad would take us to the little sushi bar near his office, where we’d slurp up slices of sashimi, nibble on bite-sized nigiri, and gobble California Rolls. It didn’t seem strange at all to us that you would eat fish raw. In fact, I’ve always preferred sushi to cooked fish. You might imagine how much that annoyed my thrifty, down-to-earth Mom.
Most kids might ask to go to McDonalds or Chuck E. Cheese for their birthdays, but my tastes were more exotic. When I turned fifteen I begged my parents to take me to Sushi Yoshi, a traditional Japanese restaurant in a nearby town. Unleashed with the full menu at my disposal, I went ahead and ordered the weirdest thing I could find, Unagi-Don, a broiled eel, slathered in sweet sticky sauce, over a bed of white rice.
It wasn’t exactly what I expected. No sharp teeth or slithering serpents, just a dark piece of fish in a small laquered box. Despite its mild appearance, I made the most of my meal by teasing my sisters as I ate. My Dad helped too, reminiscing about catching freshwater eels at our family camp in Maine. Stories of eels wrapping around ankles were the best deterrant for keeping children out of the water at night.
Mostly our Japanese restaurant favorites were pretty predictable. Seaweed Salad was a staple, and still one of my favorites. My Dad is fond of ordering sushi boats, so a round of miso soup and salad with ginger dressing was usually in order. We were never big on the other staples, Tempura, Shumai, or Edamame, though we did sometimes indulge in an order of Hamachi Kama.
My sisters and I started ordering Age Dofu at some point during our teenage years, and it quickly became one of our favorites. Fried tofu might not sound all that alluring, but the combination of soft, silky bean curd, crispy batter, and sweet-salty tempura sauce makes Age Dofu hard to resist. The best places top the dish with grated daikon and sliced scallion. In my experience, Age Dofu isn’t quite the same without that last little garnish.
Makes four servings
16 ounces silken tofu
oil for deep frying
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup ice water
1/2 cup dashi (or water)
2 tablespoons ponzu sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons grated daikon radish
2 tablespoons sliced scallions
- Drain the tofu on paper towel or clean kitchen towels for about thirty minutes. You can marinade the tofu, or you can leave it plain. Either way works fine for Age Dofu. Cut the tofu into 2 inch cubes.
- Heat the oil to around 350 degrees in a medium sized pot with tall sides. Don’t fill the oil more than half-way up the pot.
- Whisk together the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, and salt. Stir in the ice water until just mixed, leaving the batter slightly lumpy.
- Coat the cubes of tofu with the batter, then drop them into the hot oil, one at a time. Give each cube a moment to firm up before adding the next one. Stir them gently to make sure they don’t stick together.
- Fry until the cubes are golden brown, then remove them from the oil and drain them on a paper towel or clean (and dry) kitchen towel.
- Mix the dashi, ponzu sauce and soy sauce in a small bowl. Taste, and add salt if needed.
- Split the sauce between two or four small bowls. Add tofu to each bowl, then top with the radish and scallion.
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