Panfried Stuffed Tofu with Fresh Tomato Sauce
1/3 pound ground pork, coarsely chopped to loosen
1 scallion, white and green parts, finely chopped
2 dried shiitake mushrooms, reconstituted stemmed and finely chopped
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon fish sauce
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon cornstarch dissolved in 2 teaspoon water
1 large block regular or medium-firm tofu, 16 to 19 ounces
Canola or other neutral oil for panfrying
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups peeled, seeded, and finely chopped ripe tomato
¼ cup water
1 tablespoon fish sauce
To make the filling, in a small bowl, combine the pork, scallion, mushrooms, egg, fish sauce, pepper and cornstarch mixture and beat vigorously with a fork until well blended. Set aside.
Drain the tofu and cut into 1/2 –inch-thick pieces each about 21/4 inches square. You may have to cut the tofu in half crosswise. There will be 8, 10 or 12 pieces, depending on the size and shape of the block. Lay a piece flat on your work surface and a horizontal slit in it, stopping ½ to ¼ inch shy of the opposite side to avoid splitting the piece in half. Make sure the cut is equally deep on both sides. Repeat with the remaining pieces.
To fill each tofu piece, hold it in one hand an use the other hand to open it up carefully like a tiny book. If the top flap naturally lays open, let it rest on the soft part of the thumb. Otherwise, use the thumb to keep the flap peeled back. Use a fork or small spatula to spread a layer of filling about ¼ inch thick on one side. Lower the top flap an press the filling gently into place. Don’t worry if the tofu tears a little. As you work, Place the stuffed tofu squares in a double layer of paper towels to absorb excess water.
Preheat the oven to 175°F to 200°F for keeping the tofu squares hot once they are fried. Pour enough oil into a 12-inch nonstick skillet to film the bottom (about 4 tablespoons) and heat over a medium heat. Panfry the tofu in 2 batches to avoid crowding, and give each stuffed square a final blotting on a paper towel before you lay it gently in the skillet. Fry for 4 to 6 minutes or until the bottom is golden brown; the timing will depend on the density of the tofu. Using 2 spatulas carefully flip the tofu over and fry the second side for 4 to 6 minutes, or until golden brown and the filling is cooked. Transfer the cooked tofu to a plate and place in the oven. Repeat with the remaining tofu.
Lower the heat slightly and pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the oil from the pan. To make the sauce, add the garlic to the pan and sauté for about 15 seconds, or until fragrant. Add the tomato, water and fish sauce, bring to a simmer, and cook for about 5 minutes, or until the tomato breaks down and the flavors have blended. (Extra water may be needed, depending on the juiciness of the tomato.) When the sauce has thickened slightly, taste and season it with a little salt to deepen the flavor and with a little sugar to balance the tartness.
Remove form the heat and spoon the sauce into the center of a platter or 2 serving plates. Arrange the stuffed tofu on top and serve.