Sunday, September 28, 2008

Doing the Zen Thing - Agedofu (Fried Japanese Tofu) with Dipping Sauce


It is a refuge like no other, a special stillness that belies the screeching and scolding of the world you left behind, just on the other side of the door. If you are lucky, the sound of delicate waters trickling over grey rock trickles into your ear to tell you things only imagined in your sweetest dreams. If you are very lucky, the precise, fragile and ethereal tones of the koto and shakuhachi* hover in a resonating cocoon over every inch of you for the next two hours.

As you slide into the hushed and clean pale woods of minimalist seating, you are given a hot and steamy washcloth to chase the soot and tension from your fingers. A cup of mellow, nutty genmaicha is offered for cradling in your born-again hands.

The menu, filled with nary a hibachi-grilled anything, beckons you to luxuriate in the gentle art of contemplative selection. Your stomach pangs give over to a higher power, now, a quiet patience, while your meal is prepared to order. You contemplate eternity in a tea cup, a shade of taupe on the wall, or the sensual curve of a sake bottle gleaming in the shadows.

These are the treasured succors of a traditional Japanese restaurant. Not all recipes are easy to replicate in the home kitchen, but once you commit to undertaking the culinary rituals involved, even the most instant gratification at a fast food joint will feel a disservice to you. With Japanese cuisine, eating is a journey before it is a destination.


Agedofu with Dipping Sauce – My own recipe, with technical frying assistance from the Black Moon abura-age recipe


2 blocks firm tofu (water extracted by wrapping in paper towels and weighing down for at least 1 hour under a heavy skillet; discard water or use it toward making mushroom stock. If choosing later method, strain water first.)
Cornstarch or flour
Flavorless oil for frying, enough to fill a depth of halfway up the side of your skillet
1 large bowl boiling water (used to drop the fried tofu into to set the crust. Discard this water after use.)
¼ cup black sesame seeds (toasted in a skillet for a few minutes, then spread on a large plate.)
Sea salt
Chopped shiitake mushrooms, for garnish (from the broth below)


Dipping Sauce


¼ cup shiitake mushroom stock (made by simmering 2 cups of sliced mushrooms in 3 cups of water until ¼ cup water remains)
4 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons mirin
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 scallion stalk, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
A few drops sesame oil
A few strips of nori
1 teaspoon ponzu sauce (optional) or
A pinch hot pepper flakes (optional)
(Quantities for soy sauce, mirin, vinegar, garlic and ginger can be fine tuned for your particular taste.)


Prepare sauce. In a small bowl, mix all ingredients together except the nori.

Blot tofu with additional paper towels, then cut each block in half, then cut each half into four equal cubes. Dredge in cornstarch or flour. Heat water in a kettle, keeping it simmering while you fry the tofu. Heat oil in a large, heavy skillet until it thins, but before it smokes (about 20 seconds). Add enough tofu cubes without crowding and fry until golden brown and blistered on the bottom (check by lifting with metal tongs). Turn over to fry the opposite side. Check periodically for browning. As soon as the tofu is sufficiently fried, turn off the heat under the oil, as well as the water. Pour the boiling water in a bowl. Lift each tofu cube with tongs from the skillet and immediately release into the boiling water bowl. Transfer each cube to the sesame seeds, pressing top side until well covered with seeds. Work in batches, refreshing the boiling water as needed.


Divide tofu cubes into bowls, leaving space between them. Spoon just enough sauce around the cubes to create a very shallow pool. Float nori strips in the sauce. Garnish cubes with chopped shiitake mushrooms and a few grains of sea salt. Serve immediately while hot. Serves 2 as main course or 4 as a starter. --


This post is for Lucy, hosting My Legume Love Affair - Third Helping. Today, September 28, is the last date for submissions. Stay tuned with Lucy for her round-up, coming very soon.


  1. omg Susan... you make the most amazing looking agedashi tofu, which is one of my fave Japanese dishes. The black sesame seeds atop the tofu is a fantastic idea. Luv the music too ... it is the perfect music to accompany the perfect tofu in a perfect zen setting ;)

  2. I've ever had this dish but yours looks so elegant that I absolutely have to try it! The black sesame seeds, which I always have in my pantry, really add a bit of drama.

  3. One of my favorite things about a Japanese tea ceremony is the *ceremony* part of it. It sounds like the meal can be just as relaxing and meditative. Fabulous descriptions, Susan!

  4. This is right up my alley. Love agadashi tofu!

  5. p.s. Loved the Utube video and Japanese music, wonderful touch! Thank you Susan. :-)

  6. This is beautiful to read and to listen to. And your photos are, as always, enchanting.

  7. We love to get agedashi dofu when we go out to eat sushi. Normally it comes with the bonito flakes on top. The black sesame seeds are striking.

    What's the difference between black and white sesame seeds?

  8. I feel very honoured to have received your first exquisite dish of the beautiful wobbly stuff for my hosting of your event.

    I can't tell you how calm and gentle your post has made feel this morning. (Well, I can. And, obviously, did. But you know what I mean...)

    Those photos. So divine. The Oriental focus on quietude, contemplation and beauty is all here. Lovely entry.

  9. Hi Susan,
    Your agedofu is very elegant. It's one of my fav dishes at Jap restaurants. Your dipping sauce sounds yummy. I'd be sipping it :-)

  10. Such a beautiful, exquisite recipe!! How beautiful your blocks of tofu are, transformed into art with their casing of black sesame seeds! Gorgeous!

  11. Everything about this post is fabulous, from the photos to the writing to the recipe. Great job.

  12. I quiver at the thought of deep frying but I want some tofu in that dipping sauce - maybe I could cop out and bake the tofu - love the black sesame seeds - they just are so stark!

  13. As I was reading your post, I was living the experience!! Doesn't the firm tofu get quashed under the skillet? (I use mori-nu)

  14. What an exquisite dish of tofu! They look ethereally perfect.

  15. Lovely post as always! On my wish list!

  16. This looks really good! Nice photos! Bookmarked

  17. dear susan,
    i just found martin yan's recipe for homemade ponzu sauce and was looking for a good use for it. thanks a ton.

  18. Awesome recipe... Love the black sesame seeds on top :)
    Japanese cookery is such good therapy. :)

  19. Cynthia – Thanks, but less is more. ; )

    Thank you, sweet Wiffy. I love the music, too. It instantly makes you want to slow down.

    Lydia – Thanks. But, of course, you have black sesame seeds in your pantry. That’s a given.

    Thanks, Ruhama. I’ve known about the tea ceremony for a long time. It is on my list of to-do experiences.

    Dear Meg – I knew you would like it…and the music.

    Simona – Thanks so much. I really enjoyed pulling this post together. I’m glad you enjoyed it, too.

    Nate and Annie – Thanks. I’ve always known the various agedofu dishes with bonito flakes, too, either on top or brewed in a dashi. Black sesame seeds have a somewhat bitter flavor, less nutty and mellow than the white. I thought they would be a good match for the lively sauce.

    Lucy – Thank you. Though I am late in this “discovery,” tofu really is a perfect blank canvas for all kinds of delights.

    Thanks, Nora. I love the sauce, too. It really can stand alone.
    Astra – Thank you. I’m so glad you like it.

    Thank you, Kalyn. That is fine praise. I appreciate it.

    Johanna – Thanks. No worries. With a relatively high frying heat and the water bath, these tofu cubes were not even slightly greasy. Yes, you could bake them, but I can’t vouch for the results.

    Harini – Thank you. I didn’t have any problem with the tofu. I lost a fraction of an inch to water extraction, but it remained firm and well shaped. If anything, it became less fragile.

    Hi, Eating Club – Thanks! They were out of this world. ; )

    Thanks, Sra!

    Thank you, Kevin. Good to see you.

    Bee – I’d been toying with the idea of homemade ponzu sauce myself, but it would have required a special trip for the yuzu. A dash of the bottled worked just fine.

    Thanks, Jude. You are so right – it is good therapy.

  20. susan! it is wrong looking at these photos at this time of the day..
    here in Italy it is one o'clock pm....
    just lunch time!!!
    wanderful dish...fabulous photo!

  21. i'm salivating. I really fancy trying this recipe. I'll let you know how it goes.

  22. This looks so beautiful in it's presentation. Japanese food is like no other in it's (sometimes complicated))))simplicity, form, texture and more. Your printer friendly option worked great. Thank you. Great blog.

    I am assuming one takes the fried tofu and places it in the water, so it may receive the seeds. Does it also rehydrate or serve another purpose. I will find out anyway, as I plan to make this very soon.

  23. Gardeningbren - I have just amended the recipe (highlights in orange) to clarify all the waterworks. Hope this helps and that you enjoy the recipe. Please e me if you need further assistance.

  24. Thank you for so kindly visiting my blog and your comments. I thought the step of putting the tofu in the water was important and just didn't know why so thank you so much for saying it sets the tofu. With all the holiday food, I haven't made this yet, but will shortly. So yummy sounding and beautiful photos as always.