Tofu lovers and newbies alike will find satisfaction in this quick-fix ingredient that promises to fill and fuel.
Whether you’re a vegetarian or a meat lover, and whether you’re conservative when it comes to diet or prefer to branch out and try new things, chances are you’ve tasted tofu at some point. It may have been tossed into a quick stir-fry or noodle dish one night, or you may have tried it scrambled as a substitute for eggs at the newest vegan brunch spot. But outside of the soft, spongy squares that are familiar to most, there is another form of tofu that’s almost exclusive to Japanese cuisine—and there’s a good chance you’ll want to give it a go after reading about its uniquely crunchy, satisfying nature.
Aburaage (literally “deep-fried oil”) is tofu like you probably haven’t seen it before. Unlike atsuage, the familiar, thick-cut pieces of tofu that almost resemble slices of white bread, aburaage is made by thinly slicing tofu into square-or rectangle-shaped pieces before deep-frying them … twice. They’re fried the first time at roughly 120 C; the second time, frying at temperatures as high as 200 C, the slices puff open to reveal a handy pouch or pocket of sorts. Then the fun begins!
One of the best things about aburaage is its culinary versatility. With a mild soybean flavour, these little protein-packed pockets are ready to stand in as the main star of the plate or adapt to a variety of broths and hot soups, soaking up the umami (the savoury taste, or quintessential flavour) of the surrounding dish. High in calories with a long shelf life, aburaage can be kept in the freezer for up to a year and pulled out to provide a quick calorie fix for those on the go.
So just where can you get your hands on this quirky ingredient, and how do you go about preparing it? Well, aburaage has become such a staple in the Japanese diet that just about anyone in the country could answer both questions. Recipes for deep-fried tofu date back to 18th-century Japan, and 1853 marked the first offcial production of tofu pouches. Since the 1980s they’ve been factory-produced to the tune of half a million pouches per year, with roughly one-third of Japan’s soybean supply dedicated to meeting the demand for aburaage. Packages of the ready-made pockets can be found in supermarket freezers across the country, and rest assured they won’t break the bank—a pack of eight pouches costs roughly ¥100, or a little over $1 Canadian.
As for the question of what to do with aburaage once you get it home from the grocery store, that’s easy: whatever you like! Stuff the pouches with sushi rice to make inarizushi, or reheat last night’s veggies to use as a filler and then grill the pockets to perfection. In the mood for soup? Fill aburaage with mochi (rice cake) to produce a classic oden ingredient, or add it to udon to make kitsune udon. Legend has it kitsune (foxes) love to eat aburaage—and you might, too.