Photo/Illutration Grilled thin deep-fried tofu served with grated daikon radish (Photo by Masahiro Goda)

Editor’s note: The theme of Gohan Lab is to help people make simple, tasty “gohan” (meals).

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When added to miso soup, the ingredient gives umami and full flavor. Rich in protein, it also makes a nice main dish.

In a four-part series starting this week, the appeal of the familiar “abura-age,” thin deep-fried tofu, will be explored.

Kyoto-based cooking expert Setsuko Sugimoto oversees the cooking aspect of the recipe.

Endearingly called “oage-san,” thin fried tofu is a must-have dish on the dinner table in Kyoto.

First up is the simple grilled version that allows you to genuinely enjoy the fried tofu.

Abura-age varies in texture and shape depending on what goes in the mixture or how it is heated.

Different regions and manufacturers offer fried tofu with various characteristics.

Although the recipe is applicable to fried tofu of your choice, Sugimoto recommends the “Kyo-age” this time. Kyo-age is a moist, relatively heavy type where the core is still tofu-like as shown in PHOTO A.

Grilled on high heat, it turns crispy on the outside and moist within.

When you bite into the piping-hot grilled abura-age, the toasty flavor of the surface is followed by the sweetness of beans emerging from the center.

We will also introduce how fried tofu can be cooked in a frying pan or a fish grill attached to the cooking stove.

The arranged version is “nuta,” a dish where various ingredients are dressed in vinegar and miso, featuring grilled fried tofu.

It makes a smart side dish or something to nibble on while you drink.


Setsuko Sugimoto, who oversaw the cooking aspect of the recipe, grew up in one of the “kyo-machiya” traditional wooden townhouses found in Kyoto, which are designated as a nationally important cultural property.

Cooking expert Setsuko Sugimoto (Provided by Setsuko Sugimoto)

After graduating from a two-year college, she studied at a culinary school before training under a cooking expert. After a stint as an editor of cooking books, she has been studying the culinary culture of Kyoto based on records kept by the Sugimoto family that used to deal in kimono.

At the households of merchants in Kyoto, people were devoted to thrift and drew a line between what was served on special occasions known as “‘hare’ days” and other typical days.

“On usual days, you could satisfy yourselves by drawing out the intrinsic features of the ingredients and enjoying them without using lavish ingredients,” she says.

Fried tofu is a reassuring ally of everyday meals. The series will highlight its versatility.


(Supervised by Setsuko Sugimoto in the cooking aspect and Midori Kasai in the cookery science aspect)

* Ingredients and cooking utensil (Serves one)

1 thin deep-fried tofu (abura-age), 3 Tbsp grated daikon radish, some soy sauce, grill rack

About 325 kcal and 0.4 gram salt per portion

1. From the moist ones to fluffy ones, there are a wide variety of fried tofu. A moist type will be used for the recipe (PHOTO A).

PHOTO A: The abura-age on the left is a moist type where the core remains tofu-like. The one on the right is fluffy with bigger holes. (Photo by Masahiro Goda)

2. Absorb excess oil from fried tofu with kitchen paper (PHOTO B).

3. When grill rack is heated, place fried tofu and grill both sides on higher medium heat until crisp. Cook until toasty outside and moist inside in a short time (PHOTO C).

*When using a frying pan, fried tofu will turn crispy when cooked in a small amount of oil. When cooking in a fish grill, preheat so the tofu does not lose too much water.

PHOTO B: Sandwich the fried tofu with kitchen paper and press down lightly to remove excess oil. (Photo by Masahiro Goda)

4. Cut into an appropriate size, serve with grated daikon radish and pour soy sauce on top. Squeeze sudachi citrus juice to taste.

PHOTO C: Check how the heat reaches the fried tofu and move it around occasionally to cook evenly. Grill to desired degree. (Photo by Masahiro Goda)
How to make grilled thin deep-fried tofu (Video by Masahiro Goda)

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Setsuko Sugimoto is a Kyoto-based cooking expert who explores the culinary culture of the historical capital.

Midori Kasai is a professor emerita at Ochanomizu University and former chairwoman of the Japan Society of Cookery Science.


“Nuta” of grilled abura-age and long onion (Serves two)

“Nuta” of grilled abura-age and long onion (Photo by Masahiro Goda)

While white miso and the leafy green onion called Kujo-negi are popular choices in Kyoto, the recipe can be made with the miso you have and the common long onion (“naga-negi” or “shiro-negi”).

Use a half of grilled thin deep-fried tofu. Cut into rectangles that are 3 to 4 cm long and 1 cm wide. Cut 2 long onions into 4-cm-long pieces and cook on grill rack. Mix 1 Tbsp miso, 1 and 1/2 Tbsp sugar, 1 and 1/2 Tbsp vinegar, 1 and 1/2 tsp water and 1/2 tsp Japanese mustard paste to make mustard-vinegar miso. Dress fried tofu and long onion with dressing.


Abura-age is made by deep-frying thin layers of tofu twice. It dehydrates during the first frying and the moisture vapor escapes through the coagulated protein of tofu, creating holes and causing the tofu to expand. The second heating creates a film of protein that closes the holes. This prevents the fried tofu from deflating when cooled and it becomes spongelike.


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From The Asahi Shimbun’s Gohan Lab column