Garlic-Marinated and Fried Tempeh
1 block (8 ounces) plain tempeh
5 cloves garlic
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1½ cups hot water
Peanut oil, for frying
Use a sharp knife to cut the tempeh crosswise into 3 equal pieces, then cut each one in half horizontally, to create a total of 6 square pieces. Lightly score both sides of each piece with four diagonal cuts -- two in one direction, and two in the opposite direction -- being careful not to cut too deeply, or the tempeh might fall apart when fried. This step will allow the marinade to better penetrate the tempeh.
Smash the garlic cloves with the flat side of a chef's knife. Peel, then smash again so the cloves become juicy. Combine the garlic, salt and hot water in a large, shallow bowl, stirring until the salt has dissolved. Place the tempeh pieces in the garlic water; marinate uncovered at room temperature for 15 minutes, turning the tempeh every so often to make sure it absorbs the marinade evenly.
Remove the tempeh from the marinade and lightly pat dry with paper towels. (You don't want it to be completely dry, but it shouldn't be so wet that the hot oil will splatter when the tempeh goes in.) Discard the marinade.
Set a wire cooling rack over a baking sheet or platter lined with paper towels.
Pour the oil into a large skillet to a depth of ½ inch and place it over medium-high heat; the oil should be hot but not smoking, and it should register 365 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. (Alternatively, test by spearing one piece of tempeh on a fork; slip a corner of the tempeh into the oil. If the oil is ready, it will immediately bubble vigorously around the tempeh.)
Gently slide as many of the tempeh pieces into the oil as will fit without their touching each other. Fry for 2 to 3 minutes, depending on the thickness of the tempeh and the oil temperature, using tongs or two forks to turn the pieces until they're uniformly golden and crisp. Don't let the tempeh get darker than golden, or it will taste bitter. Use the tongs or forks to transfer the tempeh to the cooling rack to drain. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Serves two to four.
Adapted from "Cradle of Flavor" by James Oseland (W.W. Norton, 2006)