Jako Hiya Yakko (冷奴): Chilled Tofu with Crunchy Baby Sardines

2 tablespoons canola oil
¼ cup dried baby sardines
1 pound silken tofu or medium tofu chilled
4 or 5 green shiso leaves, cut into thin strips (about ¼ cup total)
1½ tablespoons white sesame seeds, toasted 
High-quality Japanese soy sauce

In a small skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, position a mesh strainer over a bowl and have this set up near the stove; you’ll use it to quickly drain the sardines. The oil is ready when you drop in a sardine and it immediately sizzles. Add all the sardines and gently fry, stirring constantly, for about 1 minute, until they are fragrant and crisp. During cooking, they’ll darken, then turn golden. If you like, pick up the skillet toward the end to prevent overcooking.

Pour the contents of the skillet into the strainer. Give the strainer a good shake, then transfer the sardines to a paper towel–lined plate to further drain and cool. Keep at room temperature if using within hours. Or, transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to a week; return the sardines to room temperature before serving.

If using silken tofu, run a knife around the edge of the mold or package and invert onto a plate to unmold. Pour off the excess liquid or use a paper towel to blot it away. If using block tofu, drain it on a dishtowel or double thickness of paper towels placed atop a plate. Cut the silken or block tofu into husky 1-inch-thick dominoes or 2-inch squares. Arrange them on individual dishes or in shallow bowls. Before serving, pour off any whey that gathers.

Top the tofu with some shiso and sesame seeds, and a crown of the fried sardines. Serve the soy sauce on the side. If you have leftover sardines, save it for a rice topping.

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