Sometimes I think I have a freakish memory for taste. (Warning that if you’re hardcore vegetarian or vegan, you might want to skip ahead to the recipe. The recipe isn’t vegan, but if you’re creative you might be able to adapt it.) It’s been about 2 1/2 years since I was in Ecuador, but one of the things I remember is the fried chicken. I didn’t get to eat a lot there, because I spent about half my time in bed and repulsed by the scent of food with the most horrible stomach ailment I’ve ever had. I sure remember the fried chicken though.
In Ecuador, fried chicken is coated in breadcrumbs and served with a tomato hot sauce (ají) and limes. Just something about the simplicity of it all was so great: juicy chicken pounded thin and coated crispy savory breadcrumbs, with the umami enhancing tomato hot sauce on the side and fresh limes to squeeze on top. Also, the accompanying chunks of ají — basically an amazing sweet and not too hot version of a red habanero (of which I have no idea what the best American substitute would be, hence the seeds). When you’re in a foreign country and have been travelling for a while, sometimes the simple things are the most amazing things.
Last year for Christmas I was gifted some ají dulce seeds. I planted them early early early in spring in starter pots. Strangely, they grew slowly all year until late summer when they took off and finally bloomed. Now it’s November, I just turned the garden and planted winter crops, and I’ve gotten a whopping two tiny ají dulce peppers out of my potted plant and needed a way to savor them appropriately as the process of growing them has just been crazy. So…Ecuadorian fried chicken? But I’m vegetarian!? So…tofu? It actually worked out surprisingly well. Thank goodness for the invention of tofu in China 2000 years ago!
Ecuadorian Style Fried Tofu
(Serves 1, multiply as necessary for the number of people)
- 1 big slice of Extra Firm tofu (I used Trader Joe’s organic high protein super firm, and it made the perfect size slice.)
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp salt
- dash black pepper
- 4 tbsp bread crumbs (not whole wheat or panko. that just wouldn’t taste right!)
- canola oil for frying (about 1/4″ in the bottom of a pan)
Ají sauce ( You can use any other ají sauce recipe you’d like if you want, this is just my take on what I remember.):
- 1/2 cup diced or sauce style tomatoes
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 tbsp yellow onion
- 1/8 of a serrano pepper, minced
- lime juice to taste
- 1/2 avocado, cut into slices
- 1/4 lime in a wedge
Prepare the tofu first. Press as much water as you can out of the tofu– I put it between paper towels and squish it down on the cutting board as hard as I can with a glass tupperware. This will limit the crazy hot oil popping explosions. Start your canola oil heating in a pan (I used a non-stick ceramic pan), about 1/4″ layer of oil in the bottom , until it’s hot enough to fry but not so hot that it smokes (probably about medium high).
Mix the garlic powder, salt, and pepper into your beaten raw egg. Remove the egg from your pressing and paper towls and dip and coat the tofu in egg, then coat it in another bowl in breadcrumbs. Drop the tofu into the hot oil, being careful to avoid explosions of water popping in the hot oil. It should be sizzling around the edges slightly but not bubbling crazily, so adjust the heat up or down accordingly. Once you see it start to get golden brown around the edges, flip it and let it get golden brown on the other side. When the whole thing is nice and golden, carefully remove it from the pan using a spatula or chopsticks and let it drain on some paper towels.
While the tofu is cooling, prepare the sauce. Put the minced chili and tomatoes in a bowl. Press one clove of garlic (or mince it finely) and add it to the sauce, and press or mince or grate the onion and add it to the sauce. Add lime juice to taste, maybe about 1 tsp. Add salt if you feel it necessary.
Serve the tofu on a plate with the sauce in a bowl on the side, a wedge of lime, and avocado. If you happen to have an ají dulce pepper, cut that into rings and put it on top of the tofu. When eating, squeeze lime onto the tofu and dip chunks into the sauce (or spoon it over the tofu).