Korean Panfried Tofu with Mushroom and Spicy Sesame Sauce


Korean and Japanese cooks often top sliced tofu with a sautéed mushroom medley. The main differences are that Koreans panfry the tofu first, and they garnish the dish with yangnyumjang, a spicy sesame and soy sauce. The Japanese approach is to warm the tofu and then crown it with the hot mushrooms, which have a delicate coating of savory sauce. Both versions are tasty, but I prefer the textures and punchy flavors of the Korean take.

Many markets nowadays carry a good assortment of fresh Asian mushrooms. The prices at Asian market are often reasonable. I like to use little ones such as flavorful enoki and brown or white shimeji (also called beech mushrooms and pioppini) so that they retain their distinctive appearances. Small oyster and shiitake would work, too. The size, shape, and color of the mushrooms matter.


1 pound firm or extra-firm tofu
8 ounces assorted fresh mushrooms, such as enoki, shimeji, oyster, and shiitake
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 big pinches salt
2 big pinches black pepper
1/3 cup Korean Seasoned Soy Sauce (see below)


Cut the tofu into chunky matchboxes, each about  1 1/2 inches by 2 inches by 1/2 inch. Line a plate with a nonterry dishtowel or double layer of paper towels. Place the tofu on top to drain for about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, give each type of mushroom a very quick rinse under water to knock off any debris. Hold enoki and shimeji by the cluster. If you are using enoki or shimeji, trim and discard the sandy material that the mushroom grew in. The cluster should naturally fall apart. Trim oyster mushrooms at the ends and separate into individual ones. Tear large ones lengthwise into bite-size pieces. Trim and discard shiitake stems, then slice the caps a good 1/8 inch thick. Set the mushrooms aside.

Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over high heat. Blot the tofu pieces before panfrying them until golden, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a serving plate and keep warm.

Add the mushrooms to the pan and sprinkle in the salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes, until the mushroom are soft, fragrant, and about half of their original volume.

Arrange the tofu on one large plate or individual plates. Top with the mushrooms and sauce. Serve hot or warm.


Korean Seasoned Soy Sauce


2 tablespoons soy sauce, Korean or Japanese soy sauce preferred
1 tablespoon water
1 1/2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 to 2 teaspoons sugar
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon Korean red pepper powder (gochu garu)
2 tablespoons lightly packed finely chopped green onion, white and green parts
2 to 3 teaspoons sesame seeds, toasted then crushed with a mortar and pestle


In a small bowl, stir together the soy sauce, water, sesame oil, and sugar, until the sugar has dissolved. Add the garlic, red pepper powder, green onion, and sesame seeds. Set aside for about 15 minutes for the flavors to develop.The sauce can be made in advance and refrigerated for up to a week.

This sauce can dramatically change its characteristics as it sits. Right before using, taste the sauce again and make any last-minute weaks. You want a strong savoryspicy-slightly-sweet finish because the tofu that will be served with this is not highly seasoned.

YIELD: Makes 1/3 cup

SOURCE: Asian Tofu: Discover the Best, Make Your Own, and Cook It at Home (Ten Speed Press, 2012), by Andrea Nguye

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