Freezing tofu allows the moisture inside the tofu to expand, and thawing it ensures that those spaces remain expanded. This results in a texture that’s more spongy and amenable to marinade than tofu that is just pressed. Freezing-then-thawing firm or extra firm tofu, coating it, and frying it results in a chewy, dense texture not unlike a chicken nugget. Consider this recipe a basic formula, but feel free to experiment with different marinades and sauces.
1 lb firm or extra firm tofu
½ cup cornstarch (or ¾ cup if using only cornstarch)
¼ cup potato starch or tapioca starch, optional
2-3 cups neutral oil
½ cup soy sauce
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp rice wine vinegar or mirin
1 tsp brown sugar
2 cloves garlic, grated
Any remaining marinade, or 2 tbsp soy sauce
4 tbsp ketchup, banana or tomato
2 tbsp honey or sugar
1 tbsp rice wine vinegar or mirin
½ tsp cornstarch + 2 tbsp water
Prep the tofu
The day before you plan to eat the tofu, put the tofu in the freezer to freeze fully. (Taking the tofu out of the water-filled container and putting it into another one will make it slightly easier to thaw though you can freeze the package as-is.)
The day you want to eat the tofu, thaw it fully, either in the fridge or in short increments in the microwave. When you’re ready to cook, give the block of tofu a few big squeezes above a sink or rimmed container to remove the water. (Be careful with microwaved tofu since the water can be hotter than you think). It’s fine if the block cracks from the squeezing.
Tear the tofu into two-bite chunks; ragged, torn edges are ideal here for crispy craggy edges after frying.
In a large bowl, add soy sauce, sesame oil, rice wine vinegar, sugar, and garlic. Mix well, then add the tofu to the marinade. Let the tofu sit for 30 minutes, flipping the chunks halfway through to ensure that they soak on all sides.
In another bowl, add cornstarch and potato/tapioca starch. (I think the addition of tapioca or starch improves the texture of the fried coating but isn’t essential.) Toss the marinated tofu chunks in the starch mixture until covered on all sides and in every crevice; you might have to do this in batches, depending on the size of your bowl.
Let the coated tofu rest for 5-10 minutes until the coating looks less powdery. You may want to spread the tofu on a plate or baking sheet to prevent clumping.
Fry the tofu
Heat 2-3 cups of neutral oil in a deep cast iron pan or Dutch oven over high heat.
While the oil heats, prepare the glaze ingredient: Iin a separate saucepan, without turning on the heat, add remaining marinade, avoiding any pieces of tofu that may have broken off, plus ketchup, rice vinegar, and honey. (Depending on how much marinade you have left, add soy sauce to taste, going 1 tablespoon at a time.)
Once the oil is shimmering, test the temperature by flicking in a bit of cornstarch; if the oil is hot enough (around 350 degrees if you have a thermometer), it’ll immediately bubble around the starch. Gently lower the coated tofu into the oil one at a time, keeping an inch of space around each chunk. You may have to fry in batches to avoid crowding the pan.
Using chopsticks, a slotted metal spoon or tongs, or a wire skimmer, flip the tofu as needed until all sides are equally golden brown. Once the chunks are well browned, transfer to a wire rack over a baking sheet or a paper towel on a plate. (The crispy fried tofu can be eaten just like this, with your favorite dipping sauce.)
Make the glaze
Place the saucepan containing the glaze mixture over medium heat. Stir until well combined, and let the sauce simmer gently but not boil.
In a small cup, make a slurry by mixing the cornstarch and water and pour into the glaze mixture. Raise heat to medium-high and bring to a steady simmer, stirring continuously until you see the mixture thicken. The glaze should coat the back of a spoon, staying separate if you run your finger down the center.
Add the fried tofu back into a large bowl. Start by adding half the glaze. Toss the tofu in the glaze until it’s covered on all sides and crevices, and continue to add glaze as desired. Garnish with sesame seeds and scallions if you’d like.
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