If you’ve ever eaten at a vegetarian Chinese restaurant, you probably didn’t miss the chicken in the kung pao — with the same sauce as the original, the poultry stand-in barely affects your pleasure and nostalgia.
Pan-fried tofu, seared until crisp outside, develops a nice chewiness reminiscent of chicken. The more water you can drain from the tofu slices, the better the texture after cooking.
What really makes this dish, though, is the ginger-scallion sauce. Every version combines minced ginger and scallions with oil. Some cooks keep everything raw for a bracing brightness. Others stir-fry the aromatics to nearly caramelize them. I strike a balance between the two, briefly sizzling the mix with hot oil to take the edge off the ginger and scallions, then pulling the mix from the stove quickly to maintain some freshness.
Savory and fragrant, this sauce tastes good on anything, whether its tofu, greens or noodles (and, of course, chicken, eggs and fish too).
Sizzling ginger scallion sauce with pan-seared tofu
Takes: 15 minutes.
Makes: 4 servings.
Be careful when pouring the hot oil into the ginger and scallions as it’ll splatter a bit.
This recipe makes a lot more sauce than you need for one package of tofu, which is great because it keeps well and extra tastes wonderful on just about anything. You can halve the quantities below for a smaller yield if you’d like.
1 box (14 ounces) firm tofu, drained well
1 5-inch hand of ginger, peeled and minced
1 large bunch scallions, trimmed and minced
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons safflower or other neutral-tasting oil
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar, preferably white balsamic
Steamed rice, for serving
1. Cut the tofu into 3/4-inch-thick slices crosswise. Press between layers of paper towels to remove as much liquid as possible. Let stand between more dry paper towels to keep draining.
2. Combine the ginger and scallions in a medium heat-proof bowl and sprinkle with the salt. Heat 1/2 cup oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering, about 2 minutes. Carefully pour the hot oil over the ginger-scallion mix in the bowl. It will sizzle, bubble and splatter, so try to do it at arm’s length.
3. Coat the same skillet with the remaining 2 tablespoons oil and heat over medium-high heat until shimmering. Carefully add the tofu slices in a single layer. Cook, turning once, until deep golden brown on both sides, about 7 minutes.
4. While the tofu cooks, stir the vinegar into the ginger-scallion sauce. Taste and season with more salt if you’d like.
5. Divide the hot rice among serving dishes and top with the tofu, then the sauce. Serve with more sauce on the side. Reserve any remaining sauce for another meal.
Variation: Spicy sizzling ginger scallion sauce
Add 1 minced hot fresh chile, seeded if you’d like, to the ginger and scallions in the bowl.
The sauce can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week.
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