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Panko gives tame tofu bold flavor

| David Hammond

| David Hammond

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Our first taste of tofu was in Chinatown, circa 1974. Cut into small rectangles and dropped into broth, the tofu had a simple, clean flavor, and it was low-fat and healthy-seeming, so we were fine with it, though it didn’t exactly cry out to be eaten again.

In Asia, where they’ve had tofu for millennia, they’ve come up with novel ways to make this simple food different and interesting.

In Taiwan, we discovered “stinky tofu,” bean curd marinated in vegetable or meat juices for days, perhaps months(!). The result is a particularly odorous snack much-beloved on the island. Stinky tofu is, irrefutably, a challenging and acquired taste.

Recently at Jellyfish (1009 N. Rush), Chef Jason Im explained an unusually diabolical and attention-grabbing Korean technique for preparing tofu: “Live eels are placed in hot water. Then a cool block of tofu is lowered into the water. The eels swim into the tofu to cool off. Then the tofu is immediately lifted out of the water, chopped up, and served.”

Im doesn’t make this dish, nor does he serve stinky tofu, but he did serve us very good crispy fried tofu in a vegetarian dish called Buddha’s Plate. What made this tofu so wonderful was that it was lightly dusted with panko (Japanese bread crumbs), which creates a crunchy surface on the otherwise soft curd. Im shared his recipe with us:

1. Place tofu in a pan with a weight on top to press out water; let stand, refrigerated, for 24 hours.

2. Cut tofu into cubes and lightly pan-sear.

3. Toss with togarashi-seasoned panko.

Serve crisp, panko-dusted tofu with vegetables or just soy sauce.—DAVID HAMMOND

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