This past weekend my friend Missy flew down from San Francisco to visit me. Missy and I have been friends since the very first minute of the very first day of high school, and though our friendship has ebbed and flowed over the years, it always remains a constant undercurrent in my life. If I am feeling down or just need a good laugh, her smile is infectious and she has vast stores of hilarious comments at the ready. (She knows I love to hear, "Petrie do not feel sad. Many things do not fly...Rocks, trees, sticks, Spike...") We also share all our happy moments with each other and she is my most loyal friend, and such a huge part of my past and my present. No matter what we are doing, there will always be laughter and fun...and often cheese (of course with wine). Time with her always recharges my happy batteries.
When she was here this past weekend, we had a long laundry list of things we wanted to do, and naturally, we only got around to about a fourth of them. Eh, it happens. Of course, food and eating featured predominantly on the list, but we also managed to sneak in a trip to beautiful Torrey Pines Beach. Before I tell you about the awesome Spiced Tofu Katsu that we made, I thought I would share a few photos.
Late afternoon Torrey Pines sun.
Footsteps in the sand.
Basking in the glow of the sun, and watching the pelicans overhead.
Sandstone comes in many colors at Torrey Pines.
Beachcombing for seashells.
Missy spotted the tiniest jellyfish sparkling on the sand.
A closer inspection of the jellyfish.
Sun setting below the clouds.
Missy and I actually visited a lot of different restaurants while she was here (unusual for me since I don't eat out that often), but we also made time to do some cooking at my place. Since Missy is a vegetarian, we decided to make Spiced Tofu Katsu so she could try out a completely new recipe. If you are a carnivore, this recipe is a riff off of a traditional Japanese chicken or pork katsu, with a little added spice to give the tofu some punch.
To dry out my tofu, I place it on paper towels and weight it with my pasta canister.
Shichimi, or Japanese 7-spice.
Normally, chicken or pork katsu is just dredged in plain flour for battering, but this tofu gets a bit of spice from shichimi. Also known as shichimi togarashi or Japanese 7-spice, this spice blend contains chili pepper, black pepper, dried orange peel, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, nori seaweed, and hemp seeds. It is a fantastic spice for heating up the flavor of soba dishes and I love the vibrant color. The shichimi, plus salt, garlic powder, and onion powder make for a spiced flour that coats the tofu, followed by the beaten egg, and finally a layer of panko breadcrumbs.
Bowls lined up in order for breading the tofu: first spiced flour, then beaten egg, followed by panko.
Breaded tofu before frying.
After breading, the tofu is deep fried to give the crust a lovely golden color and crispy texture. I know some people have a bit of a fear of frying, but even Missy was surprised just how easy it was. She was also curious about what I did with all that oil once I was finished, and I told her I save it! Vegetable or canola oil for frying can be 'recycled' many times. It can start to pick up odors depending on what you fry (fish for example, is quite pungent) and over time the color will darken, but don't throw it away until it gets very dark or the layers start to separate. This tofu only needs a quick fry to brown the crust, since the tofu doesn't actually need to be 'cooked' in the oil.
We actually tried breading the tofu either with a single layer of flour-egg-panko, or by double breading it - you can see the difference in the photo below, and we decided we preferred the single layer of breading. The double layer was almost too thick, and the soft tofu started to slide out from the breading when we tried to eat it. On the other hand, the single layer of breading adhered really well to the tofu, and gave just the right amount of crunch and flavor.
Single layer of breading on the left, double layer of breading on the right.
We actually topped our Spiced Tofu Katsu with Sweet Chili Sauce, but it would also be delicious with traditional katsu sauce. This recipe will make 8 slices from one block of tofu, which makes it the perfect size for an appetizer for a party, or for a healthy dinner paired with sauteed veggies or a crunchy salad. And carnivores, this recipe isn't just for vegetarians - I promise you will swoon over the warm, silky texture of the tofu inside the crispy katsu crust. I have a weak spot for sweet chili sauce, so that just made me love this dish even more. And really, isn't everything better fried?
One year ago: Almond Amaretto Cookies
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Spiced Tofu Katsu
Inspired by a recipe from The Wagamama Cookbook
14 oz of firm tofu
1 1/2 tbsp shichimi, or Japanese 7-spice (get it here, got mine from MarketSpice); add more or less shichimi depending on preference
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp onion powder (optional)
1 tsp kosher salt
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups panko breadcrumbs
Canola oil, for frying
Sweet chili sauce for serving
First drain the tofu, and place the entire block on a plate or board lined with 2 absorbent paper towels, then place another layer of 2 absorbent paper towels on top of it. Top the tofu and towels with a heavy plate or dish, and let the towels absorb water from the tofu for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare 3 wide shallow dishes lined up in order:
1.) flour mixture (shichimi, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, flour, mixed well)
2.) beaten eggs
3.) panko breadcrumbs.
Once the tofu is drained, use vertical cuts to slice the tofu into 8 rectangular-shaped pieces, each about 1/2-inch wide. (Think about slicing it like a loaf of bread.) Bread the tofu by dredging it first in the flour mixture, then in the beaten egg (let excess drip off), and finally in the panko breadcrumbs. Pat the breadcrumbs on to help them adhere.
Fill a large heavy-bottomed pan or skillet with at least 1-1 1/2 inches of oil, and heat the oil until it reaches 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Add the tofu slices 4 at a time to the skillet, being careful of the hot oil. (The tofu should be immersed in the oil.) If the temperature drops when you add the tofu, adjust your burner heat to keep a constant frying temperature between 330-350 degrees. Fry the tofu until golden brown, turning it over if necessary to evenly brown all sides. Carefully transfer the tofu slices to a plate lined with paper towels, and repeat the process for the remaining 4 slices of tofu. Let the tofu set for a few minutes to cool before serving, tofu retains a lot of heat when fried. Serve with sweet chili sauce or katsu sauce for drizzling or dipping.