Atsuage (Thick Fried Tofu)
Atsuage is a versatile preparation of tofu that's both a dish and an ingredient in Japanese cuisine. Deep frying the whole block of tofu develops a meaty golden brown skin on the outside while the inside remains tender and creamy.
When eaten fresh from the fryer, the golden brown crust is crispy and quickly absorbs any seasoning you pour over it. This makes it a delicious alternative to hiyayakko (chilled tofu) and yudoufu (boiled tofu).
As the deep fried tofu cools, it will lose its crispness, but the browned outer layer takes on a firm, meaty texture, and it will absorb the flavors of whatever you cook it with. This makes it a delicious protein-rich addition to miso soup, stews, and stir-fries.
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Why This Recipe Works?
- Salting the tofu helps remove excess water in the tofu through osmosis while lightly seasoning it. Adding weight on top of the tofu accelerates this process.
- Adding a bit of toasted sesame oil to the frying oil helps mask the soybean taste while imparting a nutty flavor.
- Frying the tofu slowly in moderately hot oil allows the outside to brown evenly while retaining the soft texture of the tofu on the inside.
Ingredients for Atsuage
- Tofu - Medium firm tofu (a.k.a. momen tofu)tends to work best for making Atsuage because it has a low enough moisture content to allow the outside to brown, while the inside stays soft. Firmer styles of tofu will work, but the inside will be drier. Silken tofu may work if you press enough water out of it, but it will be much more challenging to handle.
- Oil - Any neutral-flavor vegetable oil with a high smoke point will work. It's expensive, but rice bran oil is my favorite oil for deep-frying. I also recommend adding about a tablespoon of toasted sesame oil, which will help cover up the soybean taste of the tofu while lending a deeper flavor.
- Salt - The salt is used to draw excess water out of the tofu through osmosis. I just use regular table salt for this.
- Condiments - If you're not using the atsuage as an ingredient, it's delicious topped with condiments such as scallions and grated ginger and can be seasoned with a drizzle of soy sauce, ponzu, or one of my gyoza sauces.
How to Make Atsuage
The first thing you need to do is drain the tofu of excess water. I find that salting helps to draw the water out faster. Just sprinkle every surface of the blocks of tofu with salt and set them on a wire rack set over a try. Set another tray on top of the tofu and weigh it down with water or cans. Don't go overboard with the weight, or the tofu will crumble. I usually let the tofu drain for about an hour.
When the tofu is almost ready to fry, start preheating two to three inches of vegetable oil in a heavy-bottomed pot to 340°F (170°C) over medium heat. Use a deep pot, and not a frying pan here because the high moisture content of the tofu can cause the oil to bubble over if the pot you use is too shallow. I also like to add a bit of toasted sesame oil to give the Atsuage a nice nutty flavor.
Wipe off any excess moisture on the surface of the tofu with a paper towel and gently lower the blocks into the oil. I recommend using long chopsticks or tongs as a ramp to gently slide the tofu into the oil, so you don't splash oil all over the place.
Fry the tofu on one side for 4-5 minutes, flip it over, and fry the other side for another 4-5 minutes or until the surface of the tofu is golden brown and crisp.
Transfer the fried tofu to a paper towel-lined rack to drain off any excess oil.
The fresh Atsuage cut into bite-size pieces can be served hot with condiments such as chopped scallions and grated ginger with soy sauce. However, if you plan to use it as an ingredient in other Japanese dishes, let it cool to room temperature, and then you can store it in a sealed container in the refrigerator until you're ready to use.
Other Deep Fried Tofu Recipes
Atsuage or atsu-age literally means "thick fried" in Japanese and refers to a preparation of tofu made by deep frying a whole block of tofu. It is also sometimes called nama-age due to the fact that it's not fried all the way through. It can be eaten seasoned with condiments such as soy sauce and ponzu, but it's also commonly used as a plant-based ingredient in Japanese cooking.
The thick meaty texture of Atsuage makes it well-suited for stews and stir-fries. In Japan, it's often used to make Nimono (simmered in dashi), but I also like using Atsuage in stir-fries like Kung Pao Tofu and Mabodofu because the fried skin helps the tofu to retain its shape while absorbing all the flavors of the sauce. Another way to do use this fried tofu is in salads like my Chinese Chicken Salad, and my Soba Noodle Salad.
Atsuage is a 4-syllable name pronounced as follows (read the italicized parts).
a like aardvark
tsu like eat soup
a like aardvark
ge like get
Both Atsuage and Aburaage are types of deep fried tofu. The most obvious difference is in the thickness of the tofu. Aburaage is much thinner than Atsuage, which causes the tofu to puff up all the way through, giving the whole sheet a firm, meaty texture. Atsuage, on the other hand, is made with an entire block of tofu, so the outside develops a meaty layer while the inside remains soft and creamy.
Yes, Atsuage is fried tofu, which is made with soybeans. Provided the oil you fry it in is plant-based and any ingredients you season it with are plant-based, it is both vegan and vegetarian friendly.
- 2 blocks tofu (350-400 grams each)
- ½ teaspoon salt
- vegetable oil (for frying)
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
- Sprinkle all sides of the tofu with the salt. Set the salted tofu on a wire rack on a tray.
- Place another tray on top of the tofu and add water to weigh it down. Let this drain for 1 hour.
- Preheat 2-3 inches of vegetable oil in a deep, heavy-bottomed pot to 340°F (170°C). You can optionally add some toasted sesame oil for extra flavor.
- When the tofu is done draining, pat the surface of each block dry with paper towels.
- Gently lower the tofu into the oil using long chopsticks or tongs, and fry until golden brown on all sides (9-10 minutes). I recommend flipping the tofu over once in the middle to ensure it browns evenly.
- Drain the Atsuage on a paper towel-lined rack.
- If you're eating the Atsuage as-is, serve it immediately to enjoy the crisp exterior. Otherwise, you can let it cool and store it in a sealed container for up to a week in the fridge.