Its appearance is puzzling to most and puts off others entirely. A shame… for abura age is a versatile, flavorful, cheap source of protein to add to most any meal.
Abura age is sold either by the single slice (at stores that usually sell fresh tofu and other soy bean products) or in clear cellophane packages (usually 2 slices to a pack; costs around 30-50 yen).
Each slice is about 5 or 6 inches long and half as wide, about 1/4-inch thick. The color is a pale golden one outside, white inside.
Abura age should be given a rinse of boiling water on both sides before using. Lay the slices in a strainer and pour boiling water over them.
Flip the slices and repeat. Allow the slices to drain and pat them dry with paper towels. This will remove excess and unwanted oil (better flavor) and make prying open the slices for stuffing much easier.
A cut across the length of each slice will yield two pieces. Each piece, when gently pried open, makes a pouch or small bag. These may be stuffed with a variety of fillings.
There are two schools of thought as to the next procedure—those that insist that the abura age bags be inverted (the smooth golden surface then lines the bag; use, and those that insist that the pouches remain as they are (smooth surface outside; rough inside).
Either is acceptable.
Today’s recipes are for two very different fillings-one a rice preparation to be eaten cold (called inari-zushi), and the other a vegetable and meat filling (called age fuku-bukuro) to be served warm.
AGE FUKU-BUKURO (8 pieces, 2 per serving)
- 4 slices, abura age
- 2-3 fresh shiitake (black mushrooms)
- 1/4 cup carrot, slivered
- 1/2 cup shirataki
- 150 grams lean pork or chicken
- 1 1/2 cups dashi
- 2 tablespoons shoyu
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 2 teaspoons sake
1. Prepare abura age bags as described in the introduction. Put them aside.
2. Prepare the filling by slicing the shiitake very thinly, about 1 1/2 inches long. The carrot should be sliced in thin slivers of the same length.
3. Pour boiling water over shirataki that has been cut into 2-inch lengths. Let the shirataki drain well before adding it to the cut vegetables.
4. Slice the pork or chicken in thin slivers the same dimensions as the vegetables. Toss the meat slices in with the vegetables and shirataki.
5. Divide the filling into eight portions and holding the abura age bag in one hand, stuffing each with the meat and vegetable filling, (each bag will be slightly more than half full—don’t overstuff them)
6. The bags are most decoratively held together by edible strings made of konbu (kelp) or ribbons of kanpyo (dried gourd). See illustration for tieing up.
7. Combine the nijiru ingredients in a small saucepan and heat thru until the sugar has melted and the ingredients are well combined.
8. Add the stuffed bags and braise them over medium heat (use an otoshi-buta or dropped lid) 15-20 minutes, or until the braising liquid has been reduced to 1/3 the original volume. Turn the bags carefully a few times during the braising process.
9. Serve warm, with a bit of the remaining braising liquid poured over.
1. Shirataki are thin gelatinous-like noodles, sold by the clump (or occasionally in larger clear plastic tubes). Cost about ¥50-80 a clump.
2. Konbu strings can be made from the softened konbu that remains after making dashi. Cut very thin strips, lengthwise, with a sharp knife or scissors.
3. Shoyu is regular soy sauce; sake is rice wine.
4. Kanpyo, sold in long pale beige (almost white) ribbons, in a cellophane package or bound together with string or a rubber band. One package or bunch costs around ¥70-100. Soak the kanpyo for 20-30 minutes in cold water to which a pinch of sugar has been added. Gently scrub the kanpyo under running cold water. Pat dry before using. 1 foot should tie about 3 bags.
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INARI-ZUSHI (8 pieces; 1 or 2 per serving)
- 4 slices abura age
- 1/2 cup dashi
- 2 tablespoons sake
- 4 tablespoons sugar
- 3 tablespoons shoyu
- 1 tablespoons mirin
- cooked rice, still warm (about 3 cups cooked)
- 3 tablespoons sushi su
- 2 teaspoons dry roasted white sesame seeds
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped amazu shoga
1. Prepare the abura age bags as described in the introduction.
2. Combine the nijiru ingredients and heat them thru in a small saucepan. Add the abura age bags and braise them over medium heat about 10 minutes or until the liquid is reduced by half. Turn frequently while braising (use an Otoshi-buta or dropped lid for best results while braising)
3. Allow the abura age to cool to room temperature in the remaining braising liquid. Drain of excess liquid.
4. Make the filling: Mix sushi su with the warm rice. With a wooden paddle (shamoji) gently toss to insure that each grain has been seasoned. Toss in sesame seeds and chopped amazu shoga (pink pickled ginger).
5. With fingers dampened in cold water, divide the filling into 8 portions; form each into an oblong.
6. Stuff each braised abura age bag with an oblong of rice and roll up as illustrated, placing finished oblong seam-side top. Decorate the top with a sprinkling of sesame seeds or a few slivers of beni-shoga (red pickled ginger).
1. Sushi su is a sweet vinegar preparation used to dress warm rice. A small bottle, put out by Mitsukan, costs about ¥135.