Monday, March 14, 2011

Happy Peanut Noodles with Crispy Tofu

I discovered the wonderful world of Asian-style peanut sauces during my first job as a line cook.  Since then, I have made it with lots of variations and enjoyed them all - you almost can't go wrong!  Peanut butter adds a wholesome richness to the sauce, while soy sauce gives it that signature salty, umami taste. 

For all of you out there who insist that tofu sucks, don't be scared away!  Tofu, in fact, does suck when you don't prepare it right.  Some people are perfectly happy with some plain-tasting, soggy bits of un-prepared tofu thrown into any old stir fry but, well, that's just not the way we do things here!  Pressing the tofu allows it to acheive a more chewy, toothsome texture so for best results, do this step well-ahead of time.  The better you press it, the tastier the tofu will be!

Happy Peanut Noodles with Crispy Tofu
makes 2 large or 3 regular-sized servings

1/2 a package dried Udon noodles (about 5 ounces)
peanut oil, for frying
1/2 lb. extra firm tofu
1/4 cup flour
1 carrot, cut into matchsticks
1 large red pepper, cut into matchsticks
3 cups baby bok choy, sliced
1 bunch scallions, sliced thin
3 cloves garlic
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup peanut butter (unsweetened)
2 T rice vinegar (or white vinegar)
1-3 T sriracha chili sauce (to taste)

Slice the tofu into 4 thin squares and very gently squeeze to remove excess water.  Place a towel (or a couple of paper towels) on a cutting board, then top with tofu squares.  Add another towel and another cutting board on top of the tofu.  Place a large pot, or any other heavy item, on top of the cutting board and allow tofu to squeeze dry.  If using paper towels, you may have to change them out once or twice until most of the water is absorbed (at least an hour or more if you have time).

Once tofu is ready, fill a large, shallow, flat-bottomed pan with about 1/4 inch of peanut oil and place on medium heat.  Once oil is heated, gently place the tofu squares in the pan.  Fry each side until nice and golden, about 4-6 minutes per side.  Remove tofu from pan and drain on a paper towel.  Dump all but a couple of teaspoons of the oil from the pan and set aside. 

Meanwhile, cook udon noodles according to package directions and drain in a colander.  Set aside.

Make peanut sauce.  In a blender, add garlic, soy sauce, peanut butter, vinegar, and chili sauce and puree until smooth.  Add a little water to thin the sauce to desired consistency.  Set aside.

Return the tofu pan to medium heat and add the pepper and carrot.  Stir fry until just a little tender, about 3 minutes.  Add bok choy and remove from heat.  In a large bowl, combine noodles, vegetables, scallions and half the peanut sauce and toss well to combine.  Cut tofu squares in half diagonally.  Place them on top of the noodles and drizzle some or all of the remaining sauce directly on the tofu. 

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