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Making aburage at home takes practice to perfect

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Today’s recipe is for the determined cook. Someone who relishes the challenge met in making something from scratch even though it’s easily available at the supermarket.

Or someone who lives in a part of the world where aburage is scarce and expensive. “On the mainland, you can buy the ones in the can — but they charge $5!” writes Jane Lei Inouye from Archer, Fla.

Aburage is basically deep-fried tofu. In Japanese cooking it is used as a pouch to hold a variety of stuffings. It can also be simmered in soups or stews, where it absorbs the flavors of the broth and provides a nice chewiness to the dish.

Inouye has gotten as far as frying the tofu, but wanted to know how to make the aburage soft.

I found several recipes for homemade aburage, but they were vague on the details: “Slice tofu and deep-fry in hot oil” was typical. I asked my friend and cookbook partner, Muriel Miura, for better guidelines. She found a recipe in her extensive archives, although she’d never tried it.

So I did, and managed to fry up some acceptable aburage — although not as puffy as the store-bought kind. I’d probably get better at it with practice, but then again I can get cheap aburage anytime.

Do-It-Yourself Aburage

1 20-ounce block firm tofu
Vegetable oil, for deep-frying

Slice tofu lengthwise into 4 pieces (3/4- to 1-inch thick) if you are planning to stuff your aburage. If you just want cubes of fried tofu, cut block into 16 squares, 1/2-inch thick.

Press tofu to remove some of its liquid. One way to do this: Arrange tofu on a cutting board. Cover with a cake pan partially filled with water, or a baking sheet topped with something flat that weighs about a pound. Let sit 30 minutes and drain off liquid.

Pour about 1 inch of oil into deep, wide skillet or wok; turn heat to high. When temperature reaches 240 degrees, carefully slide tofu into oil. Pieces should not touch. Nudge them a few times to be sure they don’t stick to the bottom.

In a few minutes the pieces will float. Let them cook another 8 to 10 minutes, until lightly brown and firm enough to turn. Oil will be around 350 degrees. Turn pieces.

When pieces are crisp and medium brown on the bottom, turn again, reduce heat to medium-high. Fry about 4 minutes, until the other side is evenly crisp and brown. Remove slices and drain well on paper towels.

If you will be stuffing the aburage, cut pieces in half. Carefully slice into the cut surface to form a pouch. Scoop out any remaining soft tofu (you can use this in your stuffing).

Nutritional information unavailable.

To use Aburage

Soak in boiling water a few minutes to soften and remove excess oil. When cool enough to handle, drain and squeeze dry. After that:

»» To stuff: Combine 3/4 cup water, 3 tablespoons soy sauce and 3 tablespoons sugar in wide, shallow pan. Bring to simmer; add aburage. Cover and simmer 20 minutes, until liquid is mostly absorbed. Drain and press out excess liquid. Stuff with filling (ground pork mixed with shiitake mushrooms and green onions is typical). Steam until cooked through.

»» Aburage may also be sliced or placed whole in soups or Japanese-style stews such as nishime. Add to broth and simmer. 

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