Authentic Agedashi Tofu
Agedashi Tofu (揚げ出し豆腐) literally means “fried tofu in dashi,” and it’s one of those magical dishes where a few simple ingredients come together in a harmonizing synergy that elevates the dish from humble to the divine. It’s made with blocks of soft tofu that are coated in a thin layer of potato starch before being lightly fried. Then, the tofu is served in a savory dashi broth with a few garnishes, like scallions, daikon, nori, or ginger.
I know it sounds stupidly simple, and you’re probably wondering how it could possibly be as good as I describe. Still, a great Agedashi Tofu is like a perfect warm custard that melts on your tongue into a creamy pool of savory dashi, lightly accented by the garnishes. The magic is in the way the coating absorbs the flavorful dashi, seasoning the tofu, while also releasing some residual oil into the broth, imparting a hint of richness without being greasy.
How to Make Agedashi Tofu
Although it’s simple to prepare, it’s also easy to get wrong, and I’ve seen too many versions of this dish that are just plain awful. Agedashi Tofu should not be a tasteless pile of gummy mush, drowning in an insipid broth. Nor should it be a soggy battered grease bomb that tastes like stale donuts. It most certainly shouldn’t be a tough crispy sponge, smothered in a cloyingly sweet teriyaki sauce. If any of this sounds familiar, keep reading, and I’ll tell you how to make amazing Agedashi Tofu at home.
Like any simple dish, the most important thing is the quality of the ingredients. If you haven’t already, read the sections above on each component of the dish.
To prepare the tofu, I like to salt every surface of the tofu and let it sit while I prepare the other ingredients. This does two things. The first is that it helps rid the tofu of extra water through osmosis, this not only helps the starch coating crisp, it also prevents the tofu from splattering excessively when you fry it. The second benefit of salting the tofu is that it lightly seasons the tofu, which allows you to make the dashi less salty so that you can enjoy it as a soup along with the tofu. Once the excess water has come out, you can pat the tofu dry with paper towels and give each cube a light even coating of potato starch before frying them.
When frying the tofu, it’s essential to use fresh oil. Agedashi Tofu is not the kind of dish to make with oil that you want to get one last fry out of before you toss it out. It has a very delicate flavor profile, and if you use old oil, it will end up greasy and taste like all the things that have been fried in the oil before it. The temperature of the oil should also be relatively high. This ensures that the coating fries up crisp, without frying the tofu itself (which would give it a spongy texture).
Finally, when serving the Agedashi Tofu, I like to fill the bowl with just enough dashi, so it comes up about two-thirds of the way up the sides of the tofu. This allows the top to stay crisp, and you can choose whether you want to soak it in the dashi or not as you eat it.
Agedashi(揚げ出し) literally means “fried and soaked in dashi stock. It’s most commonly used to refer to a preparation for tofu, but other ingredients such as eggplant can prepared in this style (though it is usually referred to as Agebitashi when made with vegetables).
Agedashi tofu is typically made with soft tofu (also sometimes called “silken”). The problem is that every manufacturer seems to have a different definition of “soft,” and I know of at least a few brands in the US where their “soft” is harder than the firm tofu we get in Japan.
The difference is that soft tofu is supposed to be produced using a different method from soft tofu. Making firm tofu is a bit like making cheese, where the soy milk is heated, and a coagulant is added. When it starts to form curds, it’s strained into a cloth-lined mold and then pressed with weights to remove excess water from the curds. This results in firm tofu with a chunky texture and strong soybean flavor.
Soft tofu, on the other hand, is made by adding the soymilk and coagulant to the mold and gently steaming it until it sets like a custard. This gives it a mild creamy flavor and a silky smooth texture that melts in your mouth.
Before frying, the tofu is coated in potato starch. This crisps up after being fried and absorbs the sauce like a sponge to season the tofu. Potato starch works so well because the grains of starch are much larger than the grains of starch in cornstarch. It also has a higher ratio of amylopectin to amylose, which keeps it from getting gummy when soaked in the sauce. After soaking in the dashi, the potato starch will lose its crispness, but it absorbs the dashi in the process, creating a flavorful, nearly transparent skin that’s a bit like those translucent wrappers used for dim sum.
As the name implies, Agedashi Tofu is served with dashi broth that has been seasoned with soy sauce, salt, and a bit of sugar. The key to making a great sauce is using great dashi, so go check out my dashi recipe for more specifics on how to make dashi from scratch.
The traditional recipe for Agedashi Tofu calls for a fish-based dashi stock which makes it Pescatarian-friendly, but not vegan. The thing is, it is straightforward to make Agedashi Tofu vegan-friendly by using a shiitake mushroom dashi. You can check out my Kenchinjiru recipe for my method to make shiitake mushroom dashi. The ratios and seasonings stay the same, making it a one to one substitution.
Popular Japanese Appetizers
- 400 grams soft tofu
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- vegetable oil (for frying)
- 1/4 cup potato starch
- 1 1/2 cups
- 2 teaspoons soy sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 140 grams daikon (peeled)
- 1 scallion (finely chopped)
- 1 small pack katsuobushi (optional)
Slice the block of tofu in half one way, and then in half the other way to make 4 cubes. Sprinkle all sides of the tofu with the salt and then place the tofu on a wire-mesh tray or cooking rack to drain for 20-30 minutes. This step is very important as excess water will make the oil spatter when you fry it.
While you wait for the tofu to drain, season the dashi, by putting the dashi, soy sauce, sugar and salt into a small saucepan and heating the mixture until the salt dissolves. Cover to prevent evaporation and keep it warm over low heat on a back burner.
Grate the daikon using the rasp side of box grater (or a dedicated daikon grater if you have one), and then pour it into a small wire-mesh sieve, pressing on the solids to drain off any excess liquid.
When you're ready to fry the tofu, add 1 1/2 to 2 inches of vegetable oil into a heavy bottomed pot that's large enough to accommodate all the tofu and preheat to 360 degrees F (180 C). Prepare a wire rack lined with a triple layer of paper towels to transfer the tofu to when it's done frying. Add the potato starch to a plate.
When your oil has reached the correct temperature, dry the tofu off thoroughly using paper towels, and then roll each block of tofu in the potato starch to coat every side with a thin even layer of starch. Dust off the excess starch and gently lower each block of tofu into the oil.
Fry the tofu until the sides have crisped and then use chopsticks or tongs to gently roll each piece of tofu over onto the other side. The tofu is done when all sides are crisp and the tofu looks slightly puffy. It should not be browned.
Transfer to the prepared rack and let it drain for a few moments before plating each block of tofu into a small bowl.
Top with the katsuobushi, daikon, and scallions and then pour the hot dashi around the tofu.