This is a wonderful Japanese way to combine the softness of tofu with a contrasting crunch of tiny fried sardines. Called chirimen jako, the dried young sardines are pearl gray, about a millimeter wide and less than an inch long. They are sold at Japanese markets in plastic bags. Out of the packaging, they are slightly soft, but they perk up in hot oil and turn wonderfully crispy — like oceanic bacon bits.
Shreds of shiso add earthiness and crushed toasted sesame seeds contribute richness; if shiso is unavailable, subsitute thinly sliced green onion, just like with regular hiya yakko. A light drizzle of Japanese seasoned soy sauce brings it all together. This preparation is spectacular with homemade tofu.
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- 1/4 cup dried baby sardines
- 1 pound silken or medium firm tofu
- 4 green shiso leaves, cut into very thin strips
- 1 1/2 tablespoons white sesame seeds, toasted and slightly crushed with a mortar and pestle
- high-quality Japanese soy sauce
- In a small skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, position a mesh strainer over a bowl and have this set up near the stove; you’ll use it to quickly drain the fish.
- The oil is ready when you drop in a fish and it immediately sizzles. Add all the fish and gently fry, stirring constantly, for about 1 minute, until they are fragrant and crisp. During cooking, they’ll darken, then turn golden. If you like, pick up the skillet toward the end to prevent overcooking.
- Pour the contents of the skillet into the strainer. Give the strainer a good shake, then transfer the fish to a paper towel–lined plate to further drain and cool. Keep at room temperature if using within hours. Or, transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to a week; return the fish to room temperature before serving.
- If using silken tofu, run a knife around the edge of the mold or package and invert onto a plate to unmold. Pour off the excess liquid or use a paper towel to blot it away. If using block tofu, drain it on a dishtowel or double thickness of paper towels placed atop a plate.
- Cut the silken or block tofu into husky 1-inch-thick dominoes or 2-inch squares. Arrange them on individual dishes or in shallow bowls. If using tofu pudding, scoop up large shards with a metal spoon, putting them into a shallow bowl or individual dishes. Before serving, pour off any whey that gathers.
- Top the tofu with some shiso and sesame seeds, and a crown of the fried fish. Serve the seasoned soy sauce on the side. If you have leftover fish, save it for a rice topping.
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