This Japanese tofu that I’m talking about isn’t Japanese, strictly. It’s actually a tofu that’s made with egg added to the soybean milk before it is packed into little tubes and allowed to curdle. I know that doesn’t sound all that appetizing, but actually, this soft and creamy tofu is one of my favorite kinds of tofu. The egg makes the tofu especially silky and smooth, with a richness that normal silken tofu doesn’t have.
This stir-fry is a variation on a common dish that we eat in the Chinese restaurants in our neighborhood, known as riben doufu (Japanese tofu). Sometimes it is braised in a clay pot with mushrooms, wood ear fungus, and (I know this is unexpected) sliced up hot dogs. Sometimes it’s stir-fried with green chilies and a hong shao sauce, a delicious red sauce that is one of my favorite ways to eat almost anything. Almost always, when we order Japanese tofu, it is double fried – first pan-fried to give the silken chunks of tofu a deliciously browned skin, and then stir-fried with the rest of the ingredients and the sauce.
This version is a simple but savory stir-fry with the tofu, green peppers and fresh shiitake mushrooms, coated with a rich brown sauce. If you want it a bit more spicy, use green chilies instead of bell peppers, and if you want some meat in it, add some sliced pork. By the way, I know that often tofu is considered a vegetarian dish, but in Chinese cooking it’s freely mixed into meat dishes. I’m not sure how the oyster sauce used in the brown sauce fares on the vegetarian front, so if you’re in doubt, you can substitute something else – perhaps some more soy sauce or some savory-spicy fermented bean sauce.
Stir-Fried Japanese Tofu (Egg Tofu)
250g Japanese Egg Tofu
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 green bell pepper, cut into chunks
12 medium fresh shiitake mushrooms, sliced
1 tsp dark soy sauce
1 tbsp oyster sauce
½ tsp MSG-free granulated chicken powder (or vegetable bouillon)
1 scant tsp cornstarch
2 tbsp water (and more for thinning sauce)
Neutral tasting cooking oil (not olive oil)
In a small bowl, stir together soy sauce, oyster sauce, chicken powder, cornstarch, and water. Set sauce aside.
Remove tofu from package and cut into ¾ inch chunks. Heat 2 tbsp of cooking oil in a skillet over high heat. When oil is hot (it should shimmer), add the tofu. Panfry, stirring occasionally, until tofu is browned on all sides, about 4 min. Remove the tofu with a slotted spoon and set aside.
In the skillet with the remaining oil, reduce heat to medium-high. Stir-fry the mushrooms until they start to soften, and then add the green bell peppers and minced garlic. Toss the mixture around a few times to cook the peppers, but make sure they’re still crisp, about 30 seconds. Add the fried tofu and stir-fry carefully, making sure you don’t break the chunks of tofu, just until heated through, less than 1 minute.
Add the sauce, and stir into the mixture until bubbly and thickened, less than 30 sec. If sauce is too thick, add a little more water and stir it in thoroughly.
Serve immediately with steamed white rice.