Chicken-Tofu Tsukune

I’ve been a Weekday Vegetarian for over five years and though now it feels easy, a lot of that is because I’m not cooking for my college-age children on a daily basis anymore. When I was just getting started, with younger kids who weren’t always, shall we say, receptive to the plan, I remember how much I appreciated coming across a recipe like these chicken-and-tofu meatballs from Rie McClenny’s wonderful — and wonderfully easy — cookbook Make it Japanese. In the recipe, McClenny uses tofu in place of the usual breadcrumbs and to stretch out the chicken. “In Japan it’s common to mix in tofu,” she writes. “…As it’s more affordable than meat and considered healthier. Since tofu is mild in flavor, it doesn’t affect the taste of the dish. It also gives the meatballs a lovely soft texture and adds moisture to the chicken.” When I was cooking for kids, I was grateful for these kind of transitional recipes, meals that let me dial back meat without eliminating it completely. McClenny and her co-author Sanaë Lemoine, were nice enough to let me share the recipe.

Chicken-Tofu Tsukune
From McClenny: “I like to eat the meatballs dipped in raw egg yolk, but if you’re worried about eating raw egg, you can try a poached egg. Serve the meatballs with a bowl of rice or cucumber and fennel salad.” (You’ll have to pick up the book for that recipe.) Reprinted with permission from Make it Japanese: Simple Recipe for Everyone, by Rie McClenny, with Sanaë Lemoine.
Serves 4

Sweet Soy Sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons sake
2 tablespoons mirin
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon sugar

8 ounces firm tofu
1 pound ground chicken
2 scallions, finely chopped
2 tablespoons potato starch or cornstarch
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons neutral oil, such as canola or grapeseed
Toasted white sesame seeds for garnish

Make the sweet soy sauce: In a small bowl, combine the soy sauce, sake, mirin, and sugar. Whisk until the sugar is completely dissolved. Set aside.

Make the meatballs: Place the tofu on a plate lined with paper towels. Set aside for 10 minutes and gently press to remove excess water.

Transfer the tofu to a medium bowl. Using your hands, a whisk, or a potato masher, break apart the tofu and mash until finely broken down. The texture should be similar to ground meat.

Add the ground chicken to the tofu and mix until fully combined and sticky. The mixture should hold together. Add the scallions, potato starch, salt, and pepper. Mix well until fully combined.

Shape the meatball mixture into large balls (about 3 tablespoons per meatball). If the mixture sticks to your hands, lightly wet your hands with water. Slightly flatten the meatballs to a 1-inch thickness. You should have 14 to 16 meatballs.

In a large cast-iron skillet or nonstick skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Working in batches, cook the meatballs until golden brown, about 2 minutes per side. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook until the meatballs are cooked through, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer the meatballs to a plate.

Wipe the skillet clean with a paper towel. Add the sweet soy sauce and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Cook until the sauce is thick and syrupy, about 2 minutes. Return the meatballs to the skillet and coat with the sauce. Sprinkle with sesame seeds, if desired, and serve immediately.

Photo by Jeni Afuso

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