Here in this classic dish we have two essential elements of Japanese coming together: Soy and the Sea.
I couldn’t say I did any historical Japanese cooking if I didn’t make something with Dashi, the ubiquitous broth of dried seaweed and smoked fish flakes that’s essential to so many dishes. The unique flavor of Dashi is said to be that of the Sea itself.
And tofu, originally invented in China, was a vital source of protein for Buddhist monks abstaining from meat, but of course other people enjoyed it too. Tofu gets such a bad rap these days, but when its treated simply, fried up perfectly to be crispy on the outside and creamy within, it’s really tasty!
Both of those things come together simply and deliciously in Agedashi Tofu, a dish still popular today but some version of which must have been eaten for many centuries in Japan. Shallow fried tofu in Dashi, or “ocean stock” if you like, garnished with some nice veggies.
Let’s start by making Dashi.
DASHI (Bonito and Kelp Broth)
4 pieces kombu (dried kelp)
3 cups Bonito Flakes
4 cups water
1/2 cup soy sauce (optional)
1/2 cup rice vinegar (optional)
2 tbsp. fish sauce (optional)
Most supermarkets these days carry kombu and bonito flakes for making this stuff. Failing that, Whole Foods is a sure bet.
Dashi is a versatile stock. You can flavor it with all sorts of things to increase its complexity. Here, a little rice vinegar,soy, and a little fish sauce turn our essence of the ocean into an umami rich broth, a great balance for the neutral tasting tofu.
To start, pour the cold water over the kombu seaweed and let soak for 45 minutes. Longer is okay, shorter is not!
Put the pot over medium high heat, gently stirring. Turn off the heat immediately when bubbles begin to simmer. Do not let it boil or even really simmer. Remove from the heat and let cool for 10 minutes.
The broth should still be hot. Stir in the Bonito flakes all at once and put the pot back on an aggressive medium heat. Once it is gently simmering, let cook for 5 minutes, then strain. Your dashi is ready, to serve or to store in the fridge.
Now prepare the tofu. Cut it into fat strips, about 1 inch tall and 4 inches long. place on paper towels, and lightly dab both sides to sop up excess moisture. It helps even more to let them air dry uncovered in the fridge for a couple hours.
Next, add enough rice or vegetable oil to a frying pan to coat at least a 1/4 inch, and preheat over medium-high until the oil is nice and hot.
Add the tofu. If it doesn’t sizzle your oil isn’t hot enough yet. Let it fry for 4-5 minutes while resisting the urge to touch or move it. When it’s ready to turn, the bottom edges will be golden brown and starting to separate from the pan. Use a spatula to carefully turn the tofu pieces over and fry the other side another 4 minutes or so.
We’re almost done. All that’s left is to cut up our garnishing veggies. I’ve got carrots, chili peppers, green onions, and of course Japanese daikon radish. More bonito flakes would also be great here but personally, I like them just in moderation.
Place the tofu in the broth and garnish to your own contentment. Serve hot!