- Prep time 3 hours 15 minutes
- Cook time 15 minutes
- Serves 2
My friends are obsessed with the seared tofu dish at Congee Village that I never really thought twice about. It’s soft/silken tofu that’s seared golden brown and doused in a red onion/scallion soy sauce. It’s simple, it’s served hot and photographs well, but the magic is in the golden crust on the outside and the improbably tender inside.
I see this recipe as an answer to the age-old adage of tofu being a meat substitute; I’m specifically referring to firm tofu, pressed between kitchen towels, marinated with soy sauce, and pan-fried to look like chicken. I think that approach fails to acknowledge the textural wonder that is this product.
To do this, we'll approach tofu with two traditional techniques: The first is just to fry silken tofu, which when done patiently, creates a delicate texture that is surprisingly hard to break up in a sauce. The second is to freeze firm tofu, which helps extract the moisture of tofu without having to go through the process of pressing the tofu. —Lucas Sin
(16 ounces) firm tofu OR silken tofu, drained
shallot, sliced thinly cross-wise
cloves garlic, sliced thinly length-wise
Thai red chile or similar, sliced thinly
scallions, cut into 2-inch segments, making sure white and green parts are separated
light soy sauce
rice wine (Mijiu or Shaoxing wine)
MSG or mushroom powder
If working with FIRM TOFU: Remove the firm tofu from the packaging and drain well. Place tofu in a sealed container or on a tray wrapped with plastic and freeze for at least 3 hours and up to 6 months. When fully frozen, the tofu will turn a darker shade of yellow/brown and become slightly translucent.
When ready to cook, fully thaw the tofu, at least 3 hours at room temperature or 8 hours in the fridge. Gently squeeze the tofu between your palms to express as much water as possible without damaging it. Cut tofu into 10 equally sized pieces.
If working with SILKEN TOFU: Remove the silken tofu from the packaging and drain well. Cut tofu into 10 equally sized pieces and lay the pieces flat side down on a tray. Season the tofu with ½ teaspoon salt and let sit for at least 15 minutes to extract some of the water.
When ready to cook, drain well.
- To cook either kind of tofu: Heat a flat-bottomed non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of neutral oil and heat until barely smoking. Carefully slide drained pieces of tofu into the pan, one by one. Turn the heat down to medium-low. Using a spatula, gently press on each piece of tofu to ensure even searing. Let the tofu sear until a golden crust is formed, about 3 min. Using a fish spatula or a thin rubber spatula, carefully flip each piece of tofu over so both sides are seared well. Remove and set aside.
- In a small bowl, combine the light soy sauce, abalone sauce, rice wine, white sugar, MSG, and 1/4 cup water to form a sauce. Stir until the white sugar and msg are dissolved.
- Prepare a starch slurry by combining potato starch and 1 tablespoon water in another small bowl and stirring well to dissolve.
- In the same pan you used to sear the tofu, add another 2 teaspoons of neutral oil and heat at high heat until barely smoking. Add shallots, garlic, chiles, and scallion whites. Stir fry until aromatic, about 30 seconds. Return the tofu to the pan. Pour over the combined sauce. Mix the ingredients together by swirling the pan. Simmer until the flavors have melded, about 3 minutes. Add more water if the sauce is drying up. Carefully remove the tofu from the pan and plate. Thicken the remaining sauce with the potato starch if necessary until the sauce coats the back of a spoon. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt, sugar, and MSG. Pour the finished sauce over the tofu and serve warm with rice.