A dish that I pulled out from the deep depths of my childhood memories this past summer that I’m looking forward to making all through the fall is something I’m going to call Chinese Style Chilled Tofu. A light, refreshing, nutrient packed, and flavorful side dish or entree, chilled tofu is something you can whip together in well under 5 minutes and still feel good about eating yourself or with friends and loved ones.
So how do you make probably the easiest dish in the world?
Let’s dive in.
I’m not going to pretend that I or my family created this simple yet delicious dish. Chilled and dressed/seasoned tofu is not unique to any single country or community - you can find it across China, but also in Japan as hiyayakko, and in a few Korean variations, especially in the form of banchan or side dishes. I’m sure it likely also exists in some form in other East Asian communities as well.
Chilled and dressed tofu in the form I’m discussing here is essentially taking a whole or sliced block of cold tofu and dressing it up with flavorful seasonings, sauces, and toppings. This can be sauces like soy sauce or spicy chile crisp, fresh herbs like green onion and cilantro, crispy bits like toasted crumbled seaweed and fried shallots, or proteins like bonito flakes or dried shredded pork (i.e. Pork Sung). Depending on the toppings you choose, chilled tofu can be made vegan, vegetarian, or gluten free, and can be an easy side dish or even an entree.
It's important to mention that the tofu is the star of this dish at the end of the day - smooth, mild, and refreshingly cool for those warm days, the toppings serve to enhance the blank canvas of the tofu without making it completely disappear.
You know that saying that sometimes the simplest dishes are the hardest to perfect? I think chilled tofu is a perfect example of this. It has only a handful of ingredients and comes together in under 5 minutes, so finding the balance of flavors and textures that makes you happy may take a few tries. When you do find it however, you will be coming back to this again and again and again.
(Yes I worked very hard on that alliteration, thank you)
- Use silken tofu for best results - While you can use soft tofu in a pinch, the softest variety of tofu you will find in most grocery stores - silken tofu - really is the best choice for this dish. You want something soft and easily scoopable, and silken tofu fits the bill perfectly. I would avoid firm tofu for this dish - especially eaten uncooked, the texture of firm tofu does not make for as nice of an experience.
- Don’t be afraid of seasoning - Silken tofu on its own is a blank canvas. The flavor is generally pretty mild, and let’s face it, pretty bland. That said, it does have a unique flavor all its own and you don’t want to drown it out completely with too much sauce. You will however probably use more seasonings and sauces that you may think you need - whether it’s soy sauce, oyster sauce, hoisin sauce, or something else, you will probably need at least 1-2 tablespoons for a full block of tofu. Make sure to also be thinking about the level of salt in the toppings you choose - Chinese style pickled vegetables, often a topping for tofu, tend to be quite salty for example, so think about if you may need to cut back on other salty ingredients so you don’t go overboard and end up needing to sit next to a pitcher of water all night.
- Play with texture - Tofu has a straightforward and monotonous texture, so think of your toppings as adding a textural dimension to the dish and not only flavor. For example, fresh sliced green onions add crispness and freshness and fried shallots can add some crunch. Texture adds to the overall experience of enjoying food, so strive to have at least one crisp or crunchy element to really bring your chilled tofu to the next level.
Well then, there is not too much more to say. As I mentioned earlier, chilled tofu is one of my go-to easy side dishes or weeknight dinners when served with some fresh rice, especially if it’s warm out and I don’t want to heat up the house or indulge too heavily and give myself the sweats. I hope you give it a try too, and please, get creative and try new flavors. The recipe below is one I go back to and is based on a version I had growing up made by my parents. Rummage through your pantry and see what looks good. If you find a combo that works for you, share it with me in the comments below!
- 1 Block Chilled Silken Tofu
- 2 Tablespoons Oyster Sauce (adjust to taste)
- 1/2 Teaspoon Sesame Oil
- 2 Scallions, thinly sliced
- 2-3 Tablespoons Pork Sung (Pork Floss)
- 1 Sheet Crumbled Toasted Nori (Seaweed)
- Sesame Seeds for garnish
- Place chilled silken tofu on a large plate - you will want the extra space for the sauce and toppings
- Top with oyster sauce and drizzle with sesame oil
- Add pork floss, scallion, nori, and sesame seeds on top of tofu
- Serve immediately with rice or congee
Serving tip: Use a larger spoon to scoop off pieces from the block of tofu, making sure to get some of all the toppings. Enjoy it with rice - the contrast of the cool tofu and toppings and warm rice is part of the fun.