Abura-age

Yikes – I’m in the final week of Japanese cooking, but not ready to move on yet! Japanese was already one of my favorite cuisines and is only becoming more so as the month continues. It combines values of artistry, simplicity and healthiness – what more could you ask for (except maybe some better dessert options)?

I wanted to introduce an ingredient that you may not be familiar with, I certainly wasn’t until I started cooking through some Japanese recipes a few years ago.  Abura-age, sometimes squeezed into one word aburage, is a form of tofu that has been sliced thinly and then deep-fried. The result is a kind of tofu “pouch” that can be used in a number of different ways.  One common method is to simmer the abura-age in a seasoned broth and then stuff it with rice to make a form of sushi called Inarizushi. I’ve demonstrated three additional ways to use the ingredient below.

You’ll probably find this ingredient in the frozen section of Japanese/Korean or larger Asian markets. A key preparation step for all of the recipes involving abura-age is to immerse it for at least 30 seconds in boiling water, then drain and pat dry. This thaws the abura-age (it is usually purchased frozen), but also removes any excess oil that may be leftover from the frying process.

The first recipe that introduced me to abura-age was from the book “Japanese Women Don’t Get Old OR Fat” – it’s a great book to introduce the Japanese relationship with food. One of the author’s recipes is called Japanese Country Power Breakfast. As a breakfast dish, it is a good balance of protein and carbs, and it uses ingredients that have likely been leftover or are otherwise readily available. Place a serving of hot rice in a bowl, top with any variety of vegetables (corn, squash, carrots, peas, cherry tomatoes, etc.), add a quartered hard-boiled egg, some slices of abura-age, and pour a miso-dashi broth (miso broth is what makes it distinctively Japanese, but you could use any available broth) over the top.

A popular recipe mentioned in a couple of the cookbooks I’m using this month is “Foxy Noodles”, or kitsune udon.  This is a basic udon noodle soup topped with triangles of abura-age that have been simmered for a few minutes in a sugary broth, resulting in a flavorful balance of saltiness from the soup broth and sweetness from the fried tofu. According to the sources, this dish gets its name from a strange old legend that foxes very much enjoy eating abura-age!

A third use of abura-age involves filling the tofu pouch with a raw egg and tying the bundle shut with some type of edible garnish (I used a piece of green onion).  Then the pouch is simmered in a seasoned broth at a very low temperature for about 20 minutes, hard-boiling the egg inside. The result was tasty and another fun way to play with my food.

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