Fried Tofu with Sichuan Peppercorn

One of my favorite cuisines is Asian, in all its variations. This began years ago when the family lived in Spanish Harlem. We would trek down to the Hong Fat restaurant in Chinatown. Anybody recall Hong Fat's? It was on Mott Street for over 30 years. Now it's long since gone. But those memorable Friday night meals remain with me. It was American-Chinese cooking; and It wasn't till my palate expanded that I discovered the joys of genuine Chinese cuisine in all its glory (and not just bland Cantonese fare). I also discovered other Asian cooking: Thai, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, etc. Today I experiment with them all.

Along the way I came across Tofu, or bean curd. I've been an aficionado of it ever since. The recipe given below is simple friend tofu with a chili-Sichuan peppercorn mix. Sichuan is a style of Chinese cooking noted for its emphasis on spice, specifically peppercorn. You can find Sichuan peppercorn in any Asian market. The recipe also calls for gochu garu, Korean red pepper powder. Also available in most Asian markets.  Gochu garu is a Korean national treasure. It is normally used as dip or garnish for poached chicken and steamed vegetables. In this recipe I team it up with the fried tofu. This is a quick endeavor. It takes maybe 5 minutes to prepare the peppercorn mix, and maybe 10 minutes to cook up the tofu. Served with steamed white or brown rice, it can't be beat So, what to experience something different? Here's you chance for a unique Asian meal.

Chili-Sichuan Peppercorn Mix
3 tablespoons gocho garu
1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorn, toasted and ground
3/4 teaspoon white sesame seeds
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons canola or peanut oil
1/2 teaspoon sugar

1. In a small bowl, combine Korean red pepper powder, Sichuan peppercorn, sesame seeds and salt. Put the oil in a small saucepan or skillet and heat over medium-high heat until just smoking.
2. Pour half the oil over chili powder mixture. This will render a foaming action in the mixture. Give it a quick stir with a spoon. Pour in remaining oil, and continue stirring to moisten ingredients. Finally, stir in sugar.
3. Let it cool a few minutes, taste and adjust the flavor with extra salt or sugar if needed. The mixture is now ready to use. You can store remainder in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days or refrigerate for up to a week.

FRIED TOFU
1 block (14-oz) extra firm tofu, sliced into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 cup unbleached flour
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
3 tablespoons olive oil

1. In a small bowl, combine tofu with remaining ingredients except for the olive oil. Toss gently to coat tofu well. Or place ingredients (again, except for olive oil) in a zip-lock bag or covered container and shake well to coat.
2. In a large skillet or fry pan, heat oil over medium-high heat and add the tofu. Cook for 4-6 minutes, turning occasionally, until golden and lightly crispy. Serve with chili-Sichuan peppercorn mix and steamed rice.
    Yield: 2 servings.
Note: You can double the recipe to serve 4 or more.

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