Thursday, February 4, 2010

Braised Tofu in Caramel Sauce


I absolutely love sweet Chinese sauces, so when The Gastronomer saw this recipe on The New York Times website, she knew it was perfect for me. This was my first foray into caramelizing sugar; unfortunately I haven’t quite mastered it yet. The first time I cooked it a bit too long and the end product tasted slightly burnt, while the second time I was overly conservative and ended up with a sauce that was tasty but ridiculously sweet. It didn’t help that descriptions in the recipe weren’t terribly clear.

Despite my imperfect sauce, we enjoyed the dish and were impressed by how well the tofu soaked up the flavors. The Gastronomer makes caramelizing look so easy when she makes Vietnamese thit kho—I suppose I’ll learn eventually.

Recipe by The New York Times Magazine
  • 1 1-pound block firm tofu
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 5 shallots, peeled and minced
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 2 tablespoons peeled and minced ginger
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1/2 bunch scallions, white and light-green parts only, thinly sliced
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Cooked jasmine rice, for serving (optional).
Slice the tofu in half along its length and then each portion into two thick slices. Place the slices between paper towels to drain, replacing towels as needed.

Meanwhile, dissolve the sugar in 1/4 cup water and cook in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until small bubbles begin to appear around the edges of the pan. Carefully swirl the solution, but do not stir. Continue to heat, as bubbles move inward toward the center of the pan [it didn't happen like this when I made it] and the solution turns darker, 20 to 35 minutes, until the syrup has become a deep, golden caramel color. Carefully add 1/2 cup water to this mixture. (It will sputter violently. If some sugar crystallizes at this point, carefully stir the mixture with a metal spoon. The sugar will remelt.) Turn off the heat and allow to cool slightly.

Transfer the caramel sauce to a wide saucepan, turn the heat to medium and add the shallots, cooking for about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and stir again, cooking for about 1 minute. Now stir in the soy sauce. Simmer and stir until the mixture is viscous and the vegetables are well coated, about 10 minutes.

Place the tofu in the sauce in a single layer and simmer uncovered for 7 minutes. Using a spatula, turn the pieces over. Simmer for 3 or 4 minutes more and then transfer to a warmed platter. Pour the sauce over the tofu and sprinkle with scallions and black pepper. Serve with white rice.

Yield: 4 servings
Estimated start-to-finish time: Not given
Actual start-to-finish time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Substitutions: I used onions instead of shallots and cooked them for 4 minutes instead of 2 to make sure their flavor wasn't too sharp.


  1. we've seen so many different ways to caramelizing proteins from using regular sugar/water, sugar/oil, coconut water, premade caramel sauce..but regardless caramelized anything is so good..

  2. caramelizing sugar is definitely an art more than a science. i find it easier to do with brown sugar.

  3. Yeah, guess I just need to keep practicing. I love brown sugar--I'll definitely try caramelizing it sometime.

  4. Just hungrily going through your posts...
    This looks like a good first-tofu dish for my fiance. Looks tasty as hell :D

  5. Diet Plaid -- It definitely has a lot of potential; it's the kind of thing I often order at restaurants, but I had trouble getting it to taste just right. Give it a try and let me know how it turns out.


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