Pan-Fried Tofu with Caramel Sauce

Oh the weather outside is Beijing almost came to a halt because of the first measurable snowfall this season. My tutoring was postponed, traffic slowed (even by Beijing standards), and both young and old were slipping and sliding on subway steps.

I don't mind snow, having grown up in New England, where there are at least 2 or 3 blizzards a season. (Today was what New Englanders would call a light dusting.) What I don't like is nobody puts salt on the ground. They just try to sweep it away with one of those old fashion straw brooms, which are rather quaint but not too practical. So I too was slipping and sliding all the way too and from the supermarket, one of the many places in Bejing accessible by walking half a block on tiled ground. It's like ice-skating, except not as fun.

Well, c'est la vie. I will live with the slipping like other Beijingers. Back inside my apartment, by the comfort of the stove, it's easy to forget about bleak skies and sub-freezing temps.

I wanted a semi-quick meal tonight, meaning that I wanted to play around in the kitchen for awhile, without spending my whole night there. This pan-fried tofu with caramel sauce recipe from Gourmet did the trick. The caramel sauce is similar to the one in the Vietnamese Caramelized Pork I made a few weeks ago, with less of a Southeast Asian twang. This sauce has equal amounts of sweet, sour, and salty umph. It also goes well with red meat and chicken instead of tofu, and adds great flavor to sides of steamed greens and rice.

Pan-Fried Tofu with Caramel Sauce Adapted from Gourmet

Serves 4

1 block extra-firm tofu, rinsed 1/2 pound (8 ounces) shallots (4 to 5 large), finely chopped 1/3 cup (70 g) sugar 1 garlic clove, finely chopped 2 teaspoons fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped 3 tablespoons soy sauce 3 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar 1 1/3 cups water (320 mL) water 2 tablespoons cornstarch, dissolved in 2 tablespoons water 1/2 cup (120 mL) vegetable oil

Suggested sides: Rice; steamed bok choy or broccoli

Slice tofu block in half length-wise, then slice each half into 2 cm thick slices. Place slices between several layers of paper towels to drain, replacing towels as needed, until ready to use. The tofu should be as dry as possible before frying so that the oil doesn't pop up.

Caramel Sauce Heat sugar in a dry small sauce pot over moderate heat, undisturbed, until it melts around edges and begins to turn golden. Continue to cook, stirring, until all of sugar is melted and turns a golden caramel.

Add shallots; use caution, as caramel will bubble up. Cook, stirring, until shallots shrink and are very fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add garlic and ginger and cook, stirring, about 1 minute. Stir in soy sauce, vinegar, and water. Simmer and stir until any hardened caramel is dissolved, about 2 minutes.

Stir in the dissolved cornstarch to thicken the sauce. Simmer over low heat until reduced to sauce-like consistency. Work on the tofu while the sauce simmers; or wait until the sauce is done, set aside, and kept warm before moving on to panfrying.

Panfry tofu: Heat oil in wok or sauté pan over high heat until hot but not smoking. Meanwhile, blot any excess moisture remaining on tofu with paper towels, then add to hot oil in 1 layer. Fry tofu, about 4 to 5 minutes on each side, until golden and crisp. Transfer to clean paper towels to drain briefly.

Reheat sauce if it had been set aside. Serve tofu topped with sauce and with any accompanying sides