There are two things in life I could never be.

One. A waitress at Hooters.

Two. A vegetarian.


NOTE – I considered putting “rock star” on that list. But you know what? I could totally be a rock star.
To be frank. The whole Hooters thing has nothing to do with my disdain for that fine dining establishment. (What? You mean people don’t just go there for the wings?)

And more to do with the fact that they would want nothing to do with me.

Well. You win some, you lose some. I also won’t be modeling for Victoria’s Secret anytime soon (which really is a shame because then I bet I would get some sweet discounts).

Unless they come out with some kind of “Hey, I don’t have implants!” line. Which is why I’m not crossing it off the list entirely. A girl can dream, can’t she?
As for this vegetarian business.

I just don’t think I could ever part with pulled pork. Or salmon. Both of which I believe are definitely worth exacerbating my carbon footprint for.

Plus I feel like I make up for it in other ways. Like by walking four miles each way to the Farmer’s Market on Saturdays instead of taking the bus. (That’s not ecologic frugality, Jo. That’s craziness.)

By eating locally.

And, of course. By shoving tofu down your throats as often as I think I can before Dave stages some kind of uprising.
This dish comes from a New York Times article on how to accommodate your vegetarian friends at your next dinner party.

Even when your husband is a meat and potatoes kind of guy and your kids won’t touch anything that isn’t beige or hasn’t been deep-fried.

A pretty bold endeavor, if you ask me. But honestly. After tasting this Vietnamese caramel sauce, also called Nuoc Mau. I didn’t care whether it was served with tofu, pork, or fish. I just wanted to drink it from the saucepan. Unabashedly.

It is deep and dark. Sweet and salty. And deeply satisfying.

And if you really don’t like tofu. Go with some white fish or a nice piece of pork. You won’t be disappointed.
Braised Tofu in Caramel Sauce
Serves 4, adapted from the New York Times

1 1 lb block of tofu
1 cup sugar
5 shallots, peeled and chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
2 tbsp fresh ginger, peeled and minced
3 tbsp soy sauce
freshly ground black pepper
1 bag baby bok choy (local! from the Farmer’s Market!)
1 cup white rice

1. Slice the tofu in half lengthwise. Then slice each portion into two thick slices. Place the slices between paper towels to drain. Put an anatomy textbook (or two) on top of them to really speed the draining process along. (Finally, a USE for all of these textbooks!)

2. Dissolve the sugar in 1/4 cup water and cook in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until small bubbles begin to appear around the edges of the pan. Carefully swirl the solution. But do not stir (I didn’t listen to this. I stirred. My bad.) Continue to heat until the solution becomes a golden caramel color, about 20-35 minutes. Carefully add 1/2 cup water to the mixture. Turn off the heat.

3. Transfer the caramel sauce to a wider saucepan, turn the heat to medium and add the shallots, cooking for about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and stir again, cooking for about 1 minute. Stir in the soy sauce. Simmer and stir until the mixture is viscous, about 10 minutes.

4. Set up your rice to be cooked (per package directions). During the last few minutes of cooking, throw in your chopped bok choy so that it gets steamed.

5. Place the tofu in the sauce in a single layer. Simmer uncovered for 7 minutes. Using a spatula turn the pieces over. Simmer for 3 or 4 minutes more. Plate the rice/bok choy mixture. Put the tofu over and pour the sauce over the whole mass of food. Top with freshly ground black pepper.
This is my submission to this month’s Regional Recipes, which I am HOSTING! The theme this month is Vietnam, so please send me some fantastic Vietnamese food (to jhbruno87@gmail.com) by the end of this month. And check out the Regional Recipes website for ideas and to look at past round-ups!

You are reading this post on Eats Well With Others at http://joanne-eatswellwithothers.com. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author and or owner of Eats Well With Others. All rights reserved by Joanne Bruno.
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72 Responses to Braised Tofu in Caramel Sauce – Regional Recipes: Vietnam

  1. Joanne, this looks wonderful. I keep seeing all these delicios tofu dishes but I have yet to try it.

  2. Katerina says:

    This looks great Joanne. I have never tried tofu. Isn’t that strange. Perhaps I will give it a try.

  3. Lori says:

    I come here for my daily dose of chuckling. You crack me up! I could never be a waitress anywhere. Had to do it for a food service class in undergrad and hated every minute of it.

    I couldn’t go completely vegetarian either. I think I’ve mentioned before that I don’t like tofu, but I’m finding ways that I do enjoy it. I’m a big fan of the fried type of bean curd in Thai cuisine, and this just sounds delicious.

  4. this looks delicious! I could never be a vegetarian either. I accidentally made a caramel sauce on salmon once (cooked my gastrique too long) and was surprised by how good it was. I imagine it would be great on applications like this too.

  5. i love this Joanne! so much better than my recipe for tofu-cut into chunks and pour jarred BBQ sauce on them and bake! you make tofu look gourmet for sure 🙂
    happy saturday!

  6. oh my god, this recipe is lookin’ amazing! i’ve seen teh caramel catfish of vietnamese food. but i love tofu, so this is awesome.

    UMMMM SO WHY HAVE YOU NOT EMAILED ME ABOUT SUCH INFORMATION! i know, i’m also hoping for a 2nd date without getting my hopes up… what if hes just a playah?!?

    we are some gals with some stomachs that are TOUGH MOTHERS. =D i’m glad you got my allusion.

    i wish you could come here and do a blogger meet up!!

  7. Love the recipe and btw, you can totally be a VS girl!!!bookmarked!

  8. Martha says:

    Looks awesome! I love vegetarian foods, even eat a 90% vegetarian diet but don’t think I could ever give up that other 10%!

    Joanne the Rock star chef doctor, I like it 🙂

  9. elra says:

    yes, I can eat tofu everyday for the rest of my life. Have you tried tempe? it’s even better, unlike tofu, tempe has nice texture, and delicious too.

  10. Kelsey says:

    I really loved this post because i can totally relate- i dont think i could go back to vegan or vegetarian, i love chicken and bison TOO MUCH! and i hate saying it because i know there is so much stigma attached to saying you love meat versus I LOVE SOY MEAT haha. but i do enjoy tempeh a lot so its fun to maker a meal out of it. haha i loved the hooters comment Jo! u dont mind if i call u Jo right? …
    i used to always want to try on the hooters outfit and get into the whole character.. except the idea of loud, un-soberly men “hooting” at the workers definitely brings the dream back down to reality, that and the fact that i dont have much uptop in that department to “hoot” at in the first place lol.
    ur meal looks YUMMY tho! <3

  11. Debbi Smith says:

    The sauce looks great! I still have not found anything vietnamese that I want to make. There still is time…

  12. Julie says:

    4 miles to the farmers market? psh! i’d go with you fo sho 😉

    gah! memorial day weekend isn’t good for meee i’m in my summer cottage shack type thing all weekend out east! totes after that though! but not the weekend of june 11th haha (look at me being such a time snob) but june 11th weekend i’m in a wedding hahahaha. but soon!!!!!! slash where shall we have our meetup and who shall be invited!?

  13. Mary says:

    Bob and I first had braised tofu in Sichuan province the day of the big earthquake. Talk about a mindsticker :-). Your recipe is authentically fabulous. Have a great day. Blessings…Mary

  14. Gulmohar says:

    That looks too good…I like tofu a lot 🙂

  15. Suman Singh says:

    first time here..nice blog…love to try dishes with tofu..its so healthy…that looks delicious…thanks for sharing this!

  16. Foodycat says:

    I couldn’t go vegetarian but I do LOVE tofu! This is definitely on my list of things to try.

  17. Debinhawaii says:

    This looks delicious! As much as I would like to–could never do the veggie thing full time. I’d fish my fish and bacon too much. 😉

    Need to get working on my RR entry, the end of the month is fast approaching!

  18. Chris says:

    If it makes you feel better, I can’t be a waitress at Hooters or a VS model either. Partially because of my gender but also because of the restraining orders the establishments have against me (ha ha ha just kidding. Wait, did you believe that?)

    Believe it or not, I HAVE tried tofu. It was tolerable.

    Speaking of pulled pork, I have two butts on the smoker right now and the hickory smoke is wafting across the back yard. One is for us one is a surprise for a co-worker. Next time we’ll have to vacuum seal, freeze and dry ice ship you a pound of it.

  19. haha great post…i’ve been on a tofu kick lately too! love vietnamese caramel sauce…will need to try this soon 🙂

  20. Mari says:

    Oh this looks similar to the Pom Tofu that I made the other day…I am going to steal this recipe; I am always looking for new tofu recipes! thanks =)

  21. Justin says:

    no comment about hooters… but that tofu dish looks pretty amazing to me.

  22. PJ says:

    tell you what Joanne, you already are a rock star as far as all of us food bloggers go 🙂 the tofu dish looks anazing, something i’ll have to give a try soon.

  23. Stella says:

    Hey Joanne, this caramel sauce sounds awesome. I have two blocks of tofu in the fridge so I might try it. Hey, I’m a flexitarian, which means I live like a vegetarian and vegan too most of the time. BUT when i want a piece of, oh, let’s say free range fried chicken, I eat it! Yes!
    By the way, you did a coconut milk and rice pudding post too. Different but very nice! I need to look at it again.

  24. Shannon says:

    i’m intrigued by this caramel sauce! i’d love a pot of it right now 😉

  25. Raina says:

    This looks wonderful. I have never tried tofu, not because I do not think I will like but because I know my family will not. Plus I never really knew of a good way to prepare it. With this recipe, I will definitely give it a try.

    I love your beginning comments. You gave me a good laugh. I too would never be hired for Hooters of VS, not that I would want to. Not into flaunting my stuff. Come to think of it I really don’t have any stuff to flaunt..LOL. As far as rock star goes, you definitely rock with cooking!

  26. teresa says:

    i love this! i’ve had a hard time making tofu to my liking, but i have tried it at restaurants and love it. maybe if i made it like this i could finally feel successful with tofu!

    enjoy your weekend!

  27. Pam says:

    I don’t really care for tofu, but smothered in this sauce?! Maybe!

  28. Kerstin says:

    I love tofu and this sounds like the perfect way to enjoy it, vegetarian or not 🙂

  29. I’m a die hard meat fan but I love tofu too, actually! I usually cook it with soy, ginger, and maple — a bit boring after a while. I’d love to try this sauce and a coconut crust. Nom nom nom.

    Oh, and I love the writing in this post (as I always so — I just don’t always say so). I could never be a waitress or a VS model OR a vegetarian either.

    Can’t wait to playyyyyyy this summer!

  30. polwig says:

    What about president of the united states or first lady? no thank you…. as for the hooters job just wait all of us get them with babies 🙂 Naturally

  31. I’m SO 100% making this for dinner tomorrow. Hell, it’s 11 pm and I want to make it right now. Too late? Hmmm, not so sure I can wait.

  32. Talk about the creativity! Tofu with caramel….writing about it already makes me salivate.

  33. Karine says:

    That looks delicious!

    I would never be able to work as hooters. I don’t even want to go there.

  34. Margot says:

    This tofu looks divine!

    Talking about Hooters, I would never want to work there as well and even wouldn’t want to go there… and I had lots of chances while working on the ships (they have branches in many ports I visited).

  35. theUngourmet says:

    I really love the tofu I’ve eaten in restaurants but I seem to be tofu challenged at home. This looks amazing! Maybe I’ll give it another try or maybe I’ll just try the yummy sauce over pork or chicken like you suggested. I’m still trying to get a recipe in before it’s too late. 🙂

  36. theUngourmet says:

    p.s. Hooter’s and Victoria’s Secret won’t let me in either! ;D

  37. doggybloggy says:

    I WAS a waitress at hooters and the tips were lousy but I would still eat this tofu!

  38. Amy says:

    Hooters and Victoria’s Secret would laugh me out the door. Luckily, I have a small ass, so at least I’m balanced.

    Bacon is was brought me back from the dark side, but even in all those years as a vegetarian, I never really fell in love with tofu. I’m okay with it, but still, my family would never accept this in front of them. However, you’ve sold me on the sauce. Perhaps pork is in their near future.

  39. “Flexitarian” Stella is hilarious.

    One thing to never to do in life…Eat at Hooters…the food is vile.

    Tofu is so bland and sleepy, you must wake it up. Mission accomplished with this recipe.

    Have a great Sunday!

    Cheers!

  40. Catherine says:

    This looks very good and very healthy Joanne! I also love the looks of the coconut rice pudding from the previous post!
    Cheers~

  41. Faith says:

    This is such a unique recipe! I love tofu (and most kinds of meat too 😉 ) and I love trying new recipes. I’m bookmarking this one!

  42. gotnomilk says:

    Looks seriously good!!!

  43. gail says:

    Looks delicious Joanne! I like bok choy too. I am surprised that I didn’t see the NYT version, as it seems I am always making recipes from the site. I LOVE your photos though!!!

  44. I completely understand… I could never be a server at Hooters (without going through a few surgeries first).

    And I couldn’t part with seafood, either… which is why I’m not a full on veggie.

    This dish looks absolutely fantastic and it’ll be another example that I’ll show my friends whenever they say tofu is boring.

  45. Danielle says:

    Wow that tofu looks so flavourful! mmmmm

  46. Pam says:

    The sauce sounds wonderful. I couldn’t be a vegetarian either.

    The coconut rice down below is literally making me drool.

  47. I have a block of tofu in the refrigerator, and this looks like a great recipe to make use of it.

  48. sweetlife says:

    You are a rock star girl, cause you just rocked the hell out of that tofu!! YA(rock hands going up with)

    ps…you remind me so much of my daughter chuls..and if she grows up anything like you I’m such freaking awesome mom…
    sweetlife

  49. Donna-FFW says:

    Joanne.. That looks absolutely fantastic!!!! I love the sweet salty flavor.

    Hooters.. I think they should have a male version of hooters.. maybe they should call it lumpage.

  50. Jennifer says:

    I need to make this! I just bought more tofu today and was looking for a new recipe to use it with to switch things up! YUM! thanks for posting!

  51. At every visit I discover something interesting Joanne and this time I am amazed to see a tofu dish paired with a sweet sauce! Yummy.
    A waitress at Hooter;s sounds horribly tiring to me!

  52. The caramel sauce sounds dreamy! And your tofu looks kind of like chicken! I once tricked my Dad with tofu and told him it was chicken. He loved it. Hooters? Your too darn smart for that kind of work even if…

  53. Mimi says:

    Yum. The perfect use for a cup of sugar. I wonder if the BF will notice if I try to sneak this one by him?

  54. Jessie says:

    I think it quite interesting that the first things you though of when you thought of things you could never do were Hooters girl and vegetarian 😉 Of course you could be a rock star, because you totally rocked that tofu!! (Ok, yeah, I know that was a pretty pathetic joke…) I should try this caramel sauce on meat for Peter. I don’t think he’d touch tofu 🙂

  55. Nicole, RD says:

    I could never be a vegetarian either…I love seafood WAY, way too much! The tofu looks wonderful, and beyond flavorful! Mmm!

    Thanks for your support on my 1/2 – it was sweet 🙂 I really appreciate it 🙂

  56. sophia says:

    Ew, tofu..

    At least, that’s what I thought at FIRST. And then, I read on..caramel sauce? Oh heavens, Joanne…this is just such an absolutely gorgeous, lip-smacking dish!

  57. Luigi says:

    To be honest, I would rather eat something I found on a pavement (sidewalk) than touch Tofu!

    Although I gotta say, you did make it look VERY delicious, your a genius Joanne!

  58. tigerfish says:

    You rock with this dish! You can be a rock star! I don’t think I can ever be a vegetarian with seafood around. 😀

    Love your dish – tofu does not look bland anymore with such a sauce.

  59. Marisa says:

    Yeah you could totally be a rockstar! I’d be booking front row tickets to your shows. And demanding some caramel steeped tofu afterwards. Hey a girl can dream… 😉

  60. Looks very beautiful & tempting…

  61. Not enough rum in the world…

    Sauce sounds great on real food, say a fish or pork

  62. Dana says:

    Hmmmm. I am a vegetarian (as you know) and I love tofu, but I’m not sure about that sauce. Sounds awfully sweet to me. But you clearly did a great job with that dish – it looks so appetizing! (To me anyway.)

  63. You walk four miles to the Farmer’s Market every Saturday? That IS ridiculousness. How long does that take you?! I wish I had that kind of time on my hands. Enjoy it now, sister, for your days are numbered (although.. you still have 4+ years given the whole PhD thing.. lucky dog).

    I love tofu. I’ll make this for Boy soonish. He loves all things Asian.

  64. Danielle says:

    I think I’ll start a “Save the Tofu” rally and serve this over some pulled pork. It looks fantastic!!

  65. Kim says:

    I could definitely embrace tofu if you were to hand me a plate of this. That sauce looks and sounds fantastic!

    P.S. Love that you used your anatomy book to drain the tofu-LOL!

  66. saveur says:

    This looks delicious but I cringe when I see 1 cup of sugar!!

    If you like hoisin, I definitely recommend this similar baked tofu dish:
    http://tastespace.wordpress.com/2010/03/20/tofu-hoisin-with-baby-bok-choy/

  67. msmeanie says:

    You walk 4 miles to the farmer’s market??! Impressive! Crazy yes, but impressive too. 🙂
    This tofu looks so good, Joanne. I love the sweet-spicy marinades for tofu, because let’s face it, without a kickin’ marinade tofu just tastes like old cotton balls.

  68. Wooooooooah I have never seen tofu prepared like this before!! Must try immediately.

  69. Lauren says:

    I had a block of ultra-fresh tofu, made yesterday, purchased from a small Vietnamese shop that sells tofu, soymilk, prepared tofu and Vietnamese snacks. I was in the mood for Vietnamese food and was Googling for inspiration. I found this recipe. I’ve made fish and chicken with caramel sauce before, and this sounded perfect. I skimmed the recipe and prepped the chopped ingredients while I caramelized the sugar. But when I got to the step that called for adding soy sauce I stopped… where was the fish sauce? Vietnamese food without fish sauce isn’t Vietnamese food. Every caramel recipe I’ve seen calls for fish sauce. So I used slightly less fish sauce than the soy sauce called for (about 2.5 T) and it was excellent. If you’re going to go to the trouble to make this… don’t wimp out, use fish sauce.

  70. Joanne says:

    Lauren – Thanks so much for your feedback! I have absolutely nothing against fish sauce and didn’t even realize it was so crucial for this dish, as the recipe I used from the NY Times didn’t call for it. I will be sure to use it next time. 🙂

  71. Anonymous says:

    Lauren, I think also that if we used fish sauce for this dish, it would no longer be vegetarian 🙂

  72. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for the great recipe. We tripled this last night as part of a vietnamese feast we were making, and everyone loved it. One thing we did discover is that tripling the recipe increased the time to make caramel quite a bit. Didn’t see the comment abou fish sauce, aybe that would have made it a bit more complex delicious.. oh well. Thank you

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