Itadakimasu! – 揚げ出し豆腐 Agedashi Tofu
My first walk-in dining experience for Japanese food was probably about 15 years ago. I was in national service then and there is “food court” located a stone’s throw away from my army camp. During the days when I had to stay up late in camp, my colleagues and I would drop by the food court for dinner. There was a small Japanese food deli within the food court and it was there, that I had my first donburi. Katsudon, oyakodon and gyudon are the usual culprits, and occasionally unadon when I was in the mood for something better. It was a time when sushi on conveyor belts had just landed in Singapore and the concept of Japanese food then was very new to most of us. The slurry-like half-cooked egg that robed the donburis, the melange of both sweet and savory flavours in teriyaki sauce were all very alien to me. And then I encountered agedashi tofu. Tofu we eat a lot since young but to have it deep fried and then drenched with a broth, the textures were pretty interesting to start with!
揚げ出し豆腐 Agedashi Tofu (pronounced as ah-gay-da-shee tow-foo) is a dish which is now very commonly available in most menus at Japanese eateries and family restaurants. It compromises of 2 simple components, deep fried beancurd and a dashi-based broth. Yet it is very easy to prepare at home and you should, especially if you know that your family and friends are gonna love it!
We first start by preparing the dashi stock, a staple base for many many Japanese dishes. It involves just 2 components, i.e. dried konbu, i.e. dried kelp and katsuobushi, otherwise better known as “bonito flakes” which are essentially shavings from dried and smoked skipjack tuna. Put together, they create a clear broth packed with so much flavour that leaves little to wonder why it is so widely used in Japanese cooking.
The making of the dashi stock involves two processes as well. i.e. soaking the kelp, followed by boiling the bonito flakes. A piece of kelp, about 10 cm square is first wiped with a piece of slightly damp kitchen towel. This is to remove any excess salt and debris on the surface of the kelp. A general rule of thumb is never to wash the kelp directly as it would leach part of its much-coveted flavours in the process. 2-3 cm long cuts are then made with a pair of kitchen scissors around the perimeter of the piece of konbu, which is then soaked in a small pot of warm water for about 30 min, or as long as you can afford to do so. Afterwhich, the pot of konbu and soaking water is heated over medium-high heat until small bubbles begin to form on the sides of the pot. At this point, the piece of konbu is removed. Never allow the water to come to a boil or the piece of kelp would start to produce a viscous gelatinous (read: gooey) substance which affects the consistency and clarity of the broth. The broth may also taste bitter consequently.
Next, a handful of bonito flakes is thrown into the pot and the liquids are brought to a boil. The amount of bonito flakes added really depends on the quality of the katsuobushi used. The flame is then lowered and the broth is left to simmer for another 5-10 min with lid on. The flame is then turned off and the mixture left to steep for another 15-20 min or as long as you can afford to. The broth is carefully strained and your dashi stock is now ready for use for a wide plenitude of Japanese dishes, including 揚げ出し豆腐 Agedashi Tofu!
The ingredients for making Agedashi Tofu. 絹漉し豆腐 kinugoshi tofu is used for this dish for their soft, smooth and silky textures, but basically any soft chinese tofu (滑豆腐 or 嫩豆腐) used for steaming or soups would work too. If preferred, the firmer momen tofu may also be used but I personally like my tofu soft and custardy for this dish.
絹漉し豆腐 kinugoshi tofu or the chinese silky tofus have very high moisture content and the excess water needs to be removed before using. This can be done by simply placing the tofu onto several layers of kitchen napkins and leaving it to stand for about 20-30 min. The paper towels would become thoroughly soaked, a good sign that excess moisture from the tofu is being removed. The tofu is then cut into large cubes and carefully coated with potato starch (片栗粉) . The layer of potato starch should not be too thin or the moisture from the tofu may leak out during the subsequent deep-frying process causing the oil to splatter. At the same time, it should be too thick or one would end up eating quite a bit of flour. Basically 2-3 layers of potato starch would do, as the first layer usually gets soaked through and forms a wet cake-like layer over the tofu, which incidentally helps the next 1 or 2 layers to adhere better!
The deep-frying process is another important step for making good agedashi tofu. The layer of oil should be sufficient to ensure that the pieces of tofu are submerged for a uniform colouration. Use a mildly flavoured oil which is lightly coloured so that the delicate flavours from the tofu would not be bulldozed by the flavours carried by the oil itself. The aroma of soya beans should still be very apparent when good tofu is used.
The pieces of tofu should not be deep fried for too long. The potato starch coating would eventually form a crisp and cream-coloured crust over the tofu cubes and that is when they are ready to be removed from the oil and drained. Do not overdo the deep frying process or the tofu may start to lose too much moisture causing little pockmarks to show. The crust may also brown too much, affecting the aesthetics of the dish.
While the tofu cubes are being deep-fried, the dashi stock can be flavoured with the remaining condiments and seasoning, after which the two components just require some simple garnishing and the dish ready to be served!
揚げ出し豆腐 Agedashi Tofu Recipe (serves 2-3) adapted from here
1 box of tofu (both kinugoshi tofu or momen tofu can be used by I prefer kinugoshi tofu for the soft and silky textures)
Potato starch for coating tofu, can be replaced with corn starch
1 cup of dashi stock (see notes above for preparation method)
Cooking oil for deep frying
1 tbsp mirin
1 tbsp cooking sake
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp Japanese soya sauce (light or dark)
Garnishing （according to personal liking)
1 small piece of white radish (daikon), grated finely
chopped spring onions (negi)
A small handful of bonito flakes (katsuobushi)
thinly sliced toasted seaweed sheets (nori)
Place tofu on kitchen towels to soak up excess moisture (about 20 min)
Cut tofu into cube-like chunks and coat with potato starch.
Deep fry tofu chunks in cooking oil until the potato starch coating turns crusty and a light creamy colour develops. Drain and set aside.
To a small saucepot, add dashi stock with the rest of the seasoning, and bring the mixture to a boil. Taste test the dashi stock and adjust accordingly to personal preference.
Place deep-fried tofu cubes in a shallow serving bowl.
Pour dashi stock over the tofu and garnish with grated daikon, spring onions and bonito flakes or julienned nori if using.