Braised Tofu with Hoisin Sauce
Braising is one of the best cooking methods to increase the flavor of tofu. In this particular dish, I braised the tofu in a hoisin sauce-based mixture for its caramel color and subtle sweetness. To this, I added several vegetables such as wood ear mushrooms, button mushrooms, carrots and Japanese eggplants.
If you've been following my culinary adventures, you know I married a vegetarian. I'm not saying it as though it's a flaw, but I have to admit that when we first got married, I was a little nervous about what I was going to feed my sweetie. I really didn't have any familiarity with vegetarian cuisine. I love Lulu so much that I was determined to learn how to prepare flavorful vegetarian meals. Since then, I've tried boiling tofu, pan-searing it, grilling it, braising it and deep-frying it. I think I've gone through every possibility, but If you have any other methods you like for cooking tofu, please drop me a message.
Yields: 6 servings1 (12-ounce) package firm tofu
3 tablespoons canola oil (or any neutral oil), as needed
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 shallot, thinly sliced
2 Japanese eggplants, sliced
1 cup button mushrooms, sliced
1- ½ teaspoons mushroom seasoning salt (or regular salt)
4 fresh wood ear mushrooms , sliced
1 (1-inch) chunk fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
1 carrot, peeled and sliced
1-½ tablespoons chili garlic sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
4 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon dried fried shallots (store-bought)
1 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil (optional)
2 tablespoons green onions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons Thai basil leaves, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons sesame seeds (optional), slightly dry toasted
Cut the tofu into ½-inch slices. In a wok, heat the canola oil. Pan-fry the slices on both sides until golden. The tofu should have a nice fried outer crust and still be moist inside. Transfer the tofu onto paper towels. Sprinkle with salt. Allow to cool a little. As soon as the tofu is not too hot to handle, cut each slice crosswise into thirds.
In the same wok, add the eggplant slices. Ensure that the eggplant pieces are coated in oil. Toss and cook until soft and tender. Add green onions. Transfer to a platter.
In the wok, add the garlic and sliced ginger. As the garlic becomes slightly golden, add the mushrooms slices and wood ear mushrooms. Cook for about 2-3 minutes. Season with mushroom seasoning salt. Transfer to a platter with the mushroom juice.
Add more oil if necessary. Once the wok is hot, add the shallots and cook until golden. Add the carrot slices. Add about ½ cup of water and cook until tender. Once the water evaporates, check doneness (add more water if not fully cooked) and transfer the carrots to a platter.
Note: Don't over-cook the vegetables as they will continue cooking in the hoisin sauce. Set the plates aside.
Bring the wok back on to high heat. Add the tofu pieces, sugar, hoisin sauce, soy sauce, dried fried shallots and chili garlic sauce. Stir constantly until all the soy sauce is absorbed. Add ½ to 1 cup of water. Once the liquid evaporates, add the carrots, both mushrooms and eggplants. Toss well. Add Thai basil. Drizzle with toasted sesame oil (if used). Check seasoning (the saltiness from the soy sauce should be sufficient). Add black pepper. Turn off the heat. Keep on the stove for about 5 minutes. Transfer to a serving platter. Garnish with toasted sesame seeds (if used).
Remove and discard the ginger slices (if you want).
Serve with jasmine brown rice (it's healthier and as delicious as regular jasmine rice) and nước chấm dipping sauce.
Eat with chopticks!
If you like you, you can add stir-fried beef flank steak slices.
I use Thanh Son tofu brand. If you live in the Bay Area, you have to try it. They sell in almost all the Asian markets in downtown San Jose, and their main shop is on 2857 Senter Road, San Jose. It's a very little shop but everything is very good. Their tofu has the best texture; it's made fresh daily. I also like Golden Gate tofu brand; just make sure to look for the firm version.
My favorite soy sauce is the Da Bo De brand. It has a very nice flavor and is not too salty. You can find this particular sauce at, for example, Dai Thanh Asian market on 420 S 2nd St, in San Jose. Make sure the bottle says nước tương chay, which means vegetarian in Vietnamese.
You can use store-bought chili garlic sauce, like the one from Lee Kum Kee. It's just that my husband grew habanero and Thai chiles during the summer and we got a whole box full this year. I always make batches of chili garlic sauce. It's called tướng ớt (click on link for the recipe), literally spicy dipping sauce in Vietnamese; it's ultra easy.
To guarantee good absorption of the hoisin sauce by the tofu, make sure you don't add too much oil to the mixture. After deep-drying all the tofu slices, just discard the oil.
Mushroom seasoning salt brings a very distinct, earthy flavor to the veggies. If you don't have any, you can always substitute with regular salt. You can get mushroom seasoning salt at any gourmet specialty store or in most Korean stores. I get mine at the Marina -10122 Bandley Drive -Cupertino, CA 95014.
I use Thai basil which has a more potent, earthy fragrance.
The addition of the sesame oil at the end is optional but brings a nice fragrance to the dish.
Fresh Wood Ear Mushrooms.
You can find wood ear mushrooms in most Asian stores. I was pleased to find that my local Asian market now carries fresh wood ear mushrooms (I usually use the dried version). They're grown locally in Half Moon Bay (CA) and they're sold in 6-ounce packages. They're flavorless but they give an interesting, chewy texture to the dish.
I buy dried fried shallots at the Asian store. They're crunchy and very strong in flavor. You can also make your own by frying thinly sliced shallots if you like.
You can find all the ingredients listed in most Asian stores.Published By: on January 27, 2010.