Pan-Seared Sesame-Crusted Tofu with Nuoc Cham
This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure policy.
When my paleo friends arrived at my doorstep carrying a Dean and Deluca bag, I suspected my fears about my non-paleo olives were for naught. And when they were as eager to open the bag as Ben and I, my suspicions were confirmed. With it still being pre-2013, we all had one last hurrah with the spoils, snacking on Vahlrona chocolate brownies and an assortment of cookies the size of frisbees for a good day and a half.
It was awesome, but when New Year’s Day arrived, I, as many of you can relate I am sure, was ready to detox. I made a grocery list. Wrote out some resolutions. Ate tofu. Watched Happy. Cried a lot. Wrote out a few more resolutions. Went to sleep, for the first time in a long time not feeling stuffed, early. And woke up, for the first time in a long time, feeling like a million bucks.
About this time of year every year, I go on a little tofu binge. I know, I know. There are lots of ways — moderation, namely — to eat healthy without taking extreme measures. But, and I’m not just saying this, I have two tofu recipes in my repertoire, one of which I’ve already shared with you and could genuinely eat nearly every day, both of which I would serve to company without apology.
This is my tofu recipe number two, which I like very much as well most especially because it means I can douse each bite in nuoc cham, the spicy, sweet, sour condiment ubiquitous at nearly every Vietnamese meal. While the crispy sesame-and-panko coated cubes of tofu are quite good on their own, this dish is all about the sauce. If you like nuoc cham, you’ll like this dish, but be warned: one bite of it might make you call up your local Vietnamese restaurant and order a few fresh spring rolls, some grilled grape leaves and a plate or two of bahn xeo, just, you know, to enjoy alongside your tofu. Fortunately, I have no such temptation nearby and thus happily drink my nuoc cham with my tofu. You know what I mean.
Happy detoxing Everyone.
If you like Vietnamese food, chances are you like nuoc cham, the spicy, sweet, sour condiment served with nearly every Vietnamese dish from spring rolls to grilled meat to stir-fries. To me it is heaven. Here are the ingredients:
Pan-Seared, Sesame-Crusted Tofu with Nuoc Cham
- Total Time: 40 minutes
- Yield: 2
Tofu recipe inspired by a recipe in The New Mayo Clinic Cookbook.
Nuoc Cham adapted from The Asian Grill.
Note: The original recipe calls for an additional tablespoon of sugar, so feel free to taste and adjust seasoning as you wish. Also, author Corinne Trang notes that you can make the sauce more mild or bold depending on how you treat the garlic and chilies: If you mince the garlic and chilies, the flavors will be stronger; if you slice, the flavors will be more mild.
for the tofu:
- 1 lb. (about) extra-firm tofu
- 1 egg
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3 tablespoons panko bread crumbs
- 2 tablespoons white sesame seeds
- 1 tablespoon black sesame seeds
- canola oil for frying
- scallions, sliced on the bias, for garnish
- Sriracha, optional
for the nuoc cham:
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup fish sauce
- 1/3 cup fresh lime juice
- 2 to 3 garlic cloves, sliced or minced
- 2 red Thai chilies, halved lengthwise, seeded or not, and thinly sliced
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, optional (use if you cannot find Thai or other hot chilies)
- Drain the tofu for as much time as possible — 20 minutes to an hour. This is how I drain it: place block of tofu in a colander. Place the package (or some other similar-sized vessel) on top of it and weigh it down with a can of tomatoes or some other relatively heavy canned good. Note: this also can be done ahead of time. I essentially leave mine out all day, but if leaving it out all day worries you, you could line a bowl with paper towels and stick the tofu on the paper towels, weigh it down as described and leave it in the fridge until you are ready to slice and cook it.
- Meanwhile make the nuoc cham: In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar, fish sauce, and lime juice until the sugar is completely dissolved. Add the garlic and chilies and crushed red pepper flakes if you are using. Let stand for 30 minutes. Taste and adjust flavors if necessary. (Sauce can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week.)
- In a small shallow vessel with sides (again, I use the container the tofu came in) beat the egg with a fork and with 1 teaspoon of water. In another small shallow vessel with sides, stir together the salt, panko and sesame seeds.
- Carefully cut the drained tofu into three slices. I stand the block up its long thin edge and slice through the block parallel to the largest face of the block, if that makes sense — refer to the photos if this is unclear. Working with one piece at a time, submerge the tofu into the egg, then coat it in the sesame-panko mix, then place it on a clean plate. Repeat with the remaining two slices.
- Heat a large nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat. When it’s hot, add about 2 to 3 teaspoons of oil. Carefully lay each piece of tofu into the frying pan. Turn the heat down to medium if the slices appear to be browning too quickly. Crisp tofu slices for about 3 to 4 minutes a side, then transfer to a serving platter. I cut each slice in half and then arranged them on a platter, but feel free to present as you wish. Garnish with scallions. Serve with nuoc cham and Sriracha if you wish.
- Prep Time: 30 minutes
- Cook Time: 10 minutes
- Category: Dinner
- Method: Stovetop
- Cuisine: Asian
Keywords: tofu, nuoc cham, sesame, panko
This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure policy.
84 Comments on “Pan-Seared Sesame-Crusted Tofu with Nuoc Cham”
Hey… Just an FYI…. This isn’t really vegetarian as most people would consider the fish in the nuoc cham as a meat…. I kinda had my hope up until I saw that….
Yes, of course. I think you could probably sub soy sauce without too many ill effects.
This is amazing! I tweaked it a bit and added some spices (paprika, chilli flakes & coriander) in my sesame crumb and used brown rice flour as I can’t have gluten. Also added some black tahini to my egg mix to add some more sesame flavour! So so tasty! Thanks for sharing. Xx
Yay! Wonderful to hear this! Love all of your additions/variations. So nice for people who can’t have gluten.
I wanted to pass along a tip for tofu draining we gleaned from a vegan friend. If you freeze it first, it releases a lot more liquid, and more quickly, once it thaws (this is for extra firm only – untested on other firmnesses). I’ve had success actually pressing down on blocks of thawed extra firm tofu with my bare hands and a towel around the block.
For the silken tofu, my MIL uses it in Ma Po Tofu and I’ve read you can blend it to make fake chocolate pudding, but it lacks the structural integrity for this (delightful) recipe.
Rebekah this is a great tip — thank you! Will totally try this next time.
I have heard about tofu in desserts but have yet to try … you are inspiring me to give it a go 🙂
I’ve made vegan chocolate pudding many times using silken tofu, and I can attest to its absolute deliciousness! Depending on the brand, you can get a slight tofu-y flavor, but to me, it didn’t interfere with the dish. The texture is heavenly.
This is a good recipe:
But I prefer to use melted chocolate chips instead of cocoa powder for extra creaminess. Best of luck!!
Yum! Thanks so much for sending the recipe, which sounds delish!
I made this tonight and it was AMAZING! Thank you for this awesome recipe!
I was in the mood for fish tacos, so I re-directed this a little. I marinated the tofu in the nuoc cham, then dredged it through the eggs, etc.
Then mixed up some pico de gallo and homemade mayo + Sriracha. Added red cabbage and avocado slices and laid it all over corn tortillas. DEEE-LICIOUS. I’m from southern California, and Asian (esp Korean, but any cuisine is popular!)-Mexican fusion is huge there.
I hope you don’t mind me describing my variation. Thank you so much for posting your delicious recipe, I can’t wait to make it again.
I only had tofu in the fridge and luckily had the other ingredients in your recipe and it was a huge hit! I served it with a rice and quinoa mix and asian slaw. Thank you!!
Yay!! So happy to hear this!
Thanks for the recipe! I found this post from a Greatist article because I bought some tofu (total newbie here) and wanted a way to cook it that didn’t involve stir-fry. I’ll be trying this tonight with some sauteed spinach to help absorb the sauce.
Does any one know a sub for the egg to make this a vegan recipe? It sounds good otherwise and i would like to try it.
I’ve used that energ-e egg replacer (or something like that), but I’ve heard about a flax and water mix you can make — I would google it … it is out there!
do you know the nutritional value of this meal? I’m more so looking for the carbs…
I don’t, I’m sorry. I don’t keep track of this info
So easy and SO delicious! Very elegant.
Wonderful to hear this!
This was soooo delicious! And easy to make. We are definitely adding this to our regular dinners. Thanks for the recipe.
Yay! So happy to hear this!
Gorgeous pictures, makes me want to eat this right now, looks so yummy!
Made this tofu tonight and it was incredible! I used my gluten free bread crumbs instead of panko. I did not make the sauce tonight since I had rice noodles. I will be fixing my tofu this way from now on. Thank you for another meal that I can eat that tastes great and does not make my stomach hurt. It was easy too.
Wonderful to hear this, Sandra! Nice call on the gf bread crumbs.
Would love to try this. Do you really have to make the sauce a week in advance though and leave in the fridge for a week?
No! Definitely not… just meant that you can store the sauce for up to a week … editing it now 🙂
A new Meatless Monday favorite! Like another gluten-free reader suggested, I used rice flour. Also added a pinch of white pepper to the sesame seed mix to give it a little bit of a kick.
Love this idea! I’ll have to try the rice flour, too.
OH MY GOD THIS WAS SO EASY AND GOOD!! I didn’t have Thai chilies so I used 1/4 a jalapeño diced very small. I also only had white sesame seeds, so used 3tbs. Turned out amazing!
Wonderful to hear this, Katie!! Thanks so much for writing 🙂 🙂 🙂
Very good, both the tofu and the sauce. I ate the cold leftover tofu the next day and it was again very delicious 😍👍.
Great to hear, Simone! Thanks for writing 🙂