As someone who spent a large chunk of the pandemic perfecting Superiority Burger’s famous fried tofu sandwich from the comfort of my home kitchen, I’m thrilled to see folks giving tofu the love and respect it deserves. If you’ve already incorporated this versatile ingredient into your stir fries, sandwiches, and scrambles, you probably already know about the helpful accouterments — corn starch for coating, a cutting board and heavy books for pressing, and oil — to have on hand. Go ahead and add vodka to that supporting line-up, because as beloved food writer and chef J. Kenji López-Alt describes in his newest cookbook, “The Wok: Recipes and Techniques,” the bar cart staple is the key to the crispiest tofu you’ve ever enjoyed.
“If tofu is destined for a Chinese American saucy stir-fry, you’ll want to give them a crispy coating that can both absorb a bit of sauce and provide a layer of protection so that the tofu can stay crisp even after saucing,” López-Alt writes. “A flour based coating like I’d use for beef or chicken had a hard time sticking to tofu, but what about a wet batter instead? I’d spent a long time working out the batter recipe for my Korean fried chicken. Would the same coating work on my tofu?” Dredging cubes of tofu in dry cornstarch followed by a quick dip into a mixture of cornstarch, water, and vodka before plunging them into an oil-filled wok proved to be the ticket to sauce-friendly fried tofu.
See below for a show-stopping tofu that puts this vodka tip to the test — and make yourself a Cosmopolitan while you’re at it.
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Crispy Fried Tofu With Broccoli and Garlic Sauce (FromJ. Kenji López-Alt’s “The Wok”)
For the Sauce
- ¼ cup Shaoxing wine or dry sherry
- ¼ cup homemade or store-bought low-sodium vegetable stock or water
- 2 tablespoons light soy sauce or shoyu
- 2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
- 1 tablespoon fermented black bean sauce
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 2 teaspoon roasted sesame oil
For the Cornstarch Slurry
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- 2 tablespoon water
For the Tofu
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- ½ cup cornstarch
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ cup cold water
- ½ cup vodka
- 2 quarts neutral oil
- 12 ounces extra-firm tofu cut into ½ by 2 by 1-inch slabs, blotted dry with paper towels
For the Broccoli
- 1 pound broccoli or broccolini cut into bite-sized pieces
For the Stir-Fry
- 2 teaspoons minced garlic (about 2 medium cloves)
- 2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
- Steamed riced for serving
- For the sauce: Combine the wine, stock, soy sauce, vinegar, black bean sauce, sugar, and sesame oil in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside. Combine the cornstarch and water in a separate small bowl and stir with a fork until the cornstarch is dissolved.
- For the tofu: Whisk together the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, and salt. Add the water and vodka and whisk until a smooth batter is formed, adding up to 2 tablespoons of water if the batter is too thick. It should have the consistency of thin paint and fall off the whisk in thin ribbons that instantly disappear as they hit the surface of the batter in the bowl. Add the tofu slices and carefully fold to coat.
- Heat the oil in a wok over high heat until it registers 350 F on an instant-read thermometer, then adjust the heat to maintain the temperature. Working one piece at a time, lift the tofu and allow excess batter to drip off. Carefully lower into the hot oil. Repeat with the remaining tofu until the wok is full. Fry, using a metal spider or slotted spatula to rotate and agitate the pieces as they cook, until evenly pale golden and crisp all over, about 6 minutes. Remove the tofu with a spider and transfer to a paper-towel-lined bowl to drain.
- For the broccoli: Strain the oil through a fine-mesh strainer into a heat-proof container. Wipe out the wok with a paper towel and add 1 quart of lightly salted water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Add the broccoli, stir well, cover, and boil, shaking the pan occasionally until it is green but still quite firm, about one minute. Drain the broccoli and spread into a single layer on a sheet tray or large plate.
- For the stir-fry: Return the wok to high heat until lightly smoking. Add 1 tablespoon of the strained oil and swirl to coat (save the remaining oil for another use). Add half of the broccoli and stir-fry until tender-crisp, about 1 minute. Return it to its tray. Wipe out the wok and return it to high heat until lightly smoking. Add another tablespoon of the strained oil and swirl to coat. Add the remaining half of the broccoli and stir-fry until tender-crisp, about 1 minute.
- Return all of the tofu and broccoli to the wok along with the garlic and ginger. Stir-fry until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
- Stir the sauce and add it to the wok. Stir the cornstarch slurry and add a splash. Cook, tossing, until the sauce thickens. Adjust the sauce consistency with more slurry if it is too thin, or a splash of water if it is too thick. Transfer to a serving platter and serve immediately with rice.