Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Oyster sauce abura-age

With half a package of abura-age to use up from the weekend’s random stir-fry, I decided make a fusion dish (or what passes for it in this household). Abura-age is Japanese and oyster sauce is Chinese. This recipe was adapted from a recipe in Ken Hom’s Easy Family Recipes from a Chinese-American Childhood. I got two meals out of it this time, dinner and leftovers for lunch the next day.

The original genesis of this meal was a day several months ago when The Dancer came to visit. I wanted to cook for her, but The Dancer is a vegetarian. Although I’m a confirmed carnivore, I’ve been cooking more vegetarian food lately (but that’s a blog entry in itself). I suggested the Ken Hom dish and asked if the oyster sauce would be a problem (it’s technically not a vegetarian sauce, after all). She said no and when we sat down for dinner that evening, she pronounced it excellent. That meant a lot; The Dancer has been cooking for herself, without recipes, for as long as I’ve known her. She’s sort of a role model.

Hom’s recipe calls for deep-frying firm tofu. Now, I have a thing about deep-frying; the idea of filling up a pot with lots of hot oil and cooking stuff in it gives me the willies. I made glazed walnuts once by deep-frying them in my wok, but walnuts are small and the amount of oil was manageable. When perusing the recipe, I realized that abura-age is just that – deep-fried tofu. So I dispensed with doing the deep-frying myself and used ready-made deep-fried tofu. What a relief!

Since I’ve significantly altered the recipe from Hom’s original, here’s the reworked version.

Oyster Sauce Abura-Age

6 abura-age pockets, rinsed and sliced
1 1/2 tablespoons peanut oil
7 dried shiitake mushrooms, rehydrated and sliced
3 scallions (white and green parts), chopped
1 clove chopped garlic
1 tablespoon chopped ginger
1 tablespoon Chinese light soy sauce
2 teaspoons Chinese mushroom soy sauce
1 tablespoon Shao Xing rice wine
2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup soaking water from the shiitake mushrooms

Heat a large skillet or wok; when a sprinkling of water droplets ionizes on contact or skips around the pan, it’s hot enough to add the peanut oil. Stir-fry the scallions, garlic, and ginger for about 30 seconds. Add the soy sauces, rice wine, sugar, oyster sauce, pepper, and mushroom soaking water. Add the abura-age and mushrooms and cook for about 4 minutes or until most of the sauce is absorbed, according to your taste. The abura-age in particular will soak up the sauce well. You might want to lower the heat a bit when cooking the abura-age and mushrooms so as not to burn the food, but I find myself adjusting the temperature as a spontaneous thing; if the ingredients look like they’re about to start burning, I turn it down, otherwise I just keep going on high heat. Serve with rice.

The “darker” ingredients of the mushroom soy, oyster sauce, and shiitake mushrooms give this dish an earthy, substantial taste; it approaches Chinese dishes such as Ken Hom’s “Savory Beef Chow Fun with Black Bean Sauce” (also in Easy Family Recipes).

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