Age Dashi Tofu is a classic Japanese side dish that is positively heavenly. When I was living in Japan, I used to eat this weekly at the Waseda Dining Hall, where they have perfected the art of this subtle dish.
Sadly, since returning, I’ve found that very few restaurants in the states can actually replicate it’s delicate combination of flavors or properly fry the tofu. Instead, I’ve learned to make it on my own with the help of Cooking with Dog. It’s surprisingly easy to make, but you need the right ingredients on this appetizer/side dish or it will not turn out properly.
1 pack of firm tofu (This will make 12 pieces, so plan accordingly)
Potato starch (This is the ESSENTIAL ingredient. Whatever you do, DO NOT use any other kind of starch or flour. It will still taste ok, but the texture of the tofu will be all wrong. I think this is the mistake most restaurants make.)
Oil, for frying
150 ml dashi stock (You can use vegetable or chicken stock, but dashi is actually a combination of fish and seaweed stock. Most groceries will have a little box of “instant dashi” in their ethnic section. Hondashi is the most common brand of this, and it is what I use most of the time. FYI, this is the only non-vegetarian ingredient in this entire recipe. If you are a vegetarian, use vegetable stock or seaweed stock instead of dashi.)
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp mirin
2 tbsp of finely grated daikon radish, for garnish
1 tbsp of finely grated ginger, for garnish
Bonito flakes, for garnish
1/4 cup green onion, sliced, for garnish
Alright, let’s dive into this recipe 🙂
Start by removing the tofu from the packaging, wrapping it in a few paper towels, and setting it on a plate with another plate and a heavy object (like the soy sauce bottle) on top. This will push the excess water out of the tofu. You should leave the tofu sitting like this for about 30 minutes. While you wait, you can make the sauce and prep the garnishes.
To make the age dashi tofu sauce, start by bringing the dashi stock to a boil in a small pot. Once it’s boiling, add the soy sauce and mirin and boil for another 2-3 minutes. Set this aside, but make sure to keep it warm until you are ready to serve.
The prepping of the garnishes is also another really important step in this recipe. Normally, I’m too lazy to use garnish; but this particular dish needs the garnish for the full flavor profile. I usually put the garnishes on a separate dish for people to select the amount they like, as everyone has a different ratio they prefer.
When I say “finely grated”, I actually mean to use daikon and ginger “Oroshi”, which is a Japanese term I’m having trouble accurately translating. Please watch the cooking with dog video (link is above) to see how she grates these items. A Japanese grater looks like a flat panel with a bunch of sharp, nub-like protrusions that are used to break up the fibrous texture of the many roots used in Japanese cooking. You can use a normal American grater, just use the smallest part of the grater.
Ok, now that everything is ready, let’s fry our tofu. You probably want to start by heating your oil, as this generally takes time. Using a small frying pan with high sides, fill the pan with oil until the oil depth is a little more than 1/4 of the depth of the tofu. We are going to slice the tofu through the middle to make smaller pieces, so this will eventually be about 1/2 the depth of each tofu piece.
Heat the oil on medium heat. You want the oil hot, but not as hot as when you are frying meat. The tofu is far too delicate for a normal frying temperature. Instead, make sure it sizzles nicely with a droplet of water, but no popping and exploding occurs. If the drop of water pops violently, your oil is way too hot.
Unwrap the tofu and place it on a cutting board. Turn the tofu on it’s side and cut through the middle, slicing it neatly into two tofu sheets. You will want to keep the tofu pieces together, as it makes the other cuts easier. Next, you will place the tofu flat on the cutting board and cut it in half length-wise. Then cut it width-wise into three equal parts, creating 12 individual blocks of tofu. Place these carefully on a plate covered by a dry paper towel.
Put 1/2 cup of potato starch into a bowl. You may need more, so keep it handy. Take a piece of tofu and cover it thoroughly in the potato starch. Then, using a finger or pastry brush, wipe off the excess starch (this is important).
Place the tofu immediately into the hot oil. Don’t let the tofu sit while you finish putting starch on the other pieces, this will ruin the texture. Each piece must go right into the oil to fry once it’s coated. Also, don’t crowd your tofu pieces, leave a good amount of space between them in the pan. For example, my pan only fits 3 pieces at once.
Allow the tofu to fry until it starts to turn a light brown. Just keep checking it every 2 minutes, as the cooking time varies with the heat of your oil as well as how old the oil is. Once it’s browned, flip the tofu to the other side and do the same. When it’s light brown on both sides, place the tofu on a plate or rack covered in dry paper towels. Flip it over a few times to soak up the excess oil, then place it on your serving dish or somewhere dry and safe to sit. Cook all of the tofu in this manner.
When you have finished cooking the tofu, it’s time to assemble your dish. Stack the tofu neatly in a bowl, place the desired garnishes on top, then drizzle the sauce over top until there is enough sauce to just cover the bottom of the dish. Now, serve and enjoy. Mmmmm, this makes me hungry 🙂