Sesame-Crusted Tofu with Nuoc Cham

Tofu in most forms, and just about all Vietnamese dishes, are considered pretty darn healthy. This recipe mixes them together, though Alexandra has made it so delicious you won't feel particularly virtuous. Just happy and full.

Sesame-Crusted Tofu
Serves 2
1 lb. (about) extra-firm tofu
1 egg
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons panko bread crumbs
2 tablespoons white sesame seeds
1 tablespoon black sesame seeds
canola oil for frying
scallions, sliced on the bias (optional -- they're just for garnish)
Sriracha (optional -- I like adding a squirt into the nuoc cham or directly onto the tofu)

Drain the tofu for as much time as possible -- I would say for at least an hour if possible. This is how I drain it: place block of tofu in a colander. Place the package (or some other similar-sized vessel) on top of it and weigh it down with a can of tomatoes or some other relatively heavy canned good. Note: this also can be done ahead of time. I essentially leave mine out all day, but if leaving it out all day worries you, you could line a bowl with paper towels and stick the tofu on the paper towels, weigh it down as described and leave it in the fridge until you are ready to slice and cook it.

In a small shallow vessel with sides (again, I use the container the tofu came in) beat the egg (I use a fork) with 1 teaspoon of water. In another small shallow vessel with sides, stir together the salt, panko and sesame seeds.

Carefully cut the drained tofu into three slices. I stand the block up its long thin edge and slice through the block parallel to the largest face of the block, if that makes sense -- refer to the photos if this is unclear. Working with one piece at a time, submerge the tofu into the egg, then coat it in the sesame-panko mix, then place it on a clean plate. Repeat with the remaining two slices.

Heat a large nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat. When it's hot, add about 2 to 3 teaspoons of oil. Carefully lay each piece of tofu into the frying pan. Turn the heat down to medium if the slices appear to be browning too quickly. Crisp tofu slices for about 3 to 4 minutes a side, then transfer to a serving platter. I cut each slice in half and then arranged them on a platter, but feel free to present as you wish. Garnish with scallions. Serve with nuoc cham (recipe below) and Sriracha if you wish.

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Nuoc Cham
makes 1 cup
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup fish sauce
1/3 cup fresh lime juice
2 to 3 garlic cloves, sliced or minced (If you mince the garlic and chilies, the flavors will be stronger; if you slice, the flavors will be more mild.)
2 red Thai chilies, halved lengthwise, seeded or not, and thinly sliced
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes*, optional

*This was not in the original recipe, but I could not find Thai chilies, and the serrano pepper that I sliced and added was not hot enough, so I added dried chili flakes to compensate.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar, fish sauce, and lime juice until the sugar is completely dissolved. Add the garlic and chilies and crushed red pepper flakes if you are using. Let stand for 30 minutes. Taste and adjust flavors if necessary. Store in the refrigerator for up to one week (or longer, I would guess.)

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