Friday, August 12, 2016

Tofu for Tofu-Haters

Fried tofu bao, plus one bao with fried eggplant, just because.
I know there are those out there who say they will eat tofu no how no way. "It's yucky," or "it doesn't have any flavor" are common complaints. For one thing, it's not at all yucky, and for another, the lack of inherent flavor is one of the things that makes tofu so versatile. You might have heard that it absorbs the flavors around it, but that's not necessarily true unless you simmer it in a very flavorful sauce for a long time. However, a neutral protein like tofu can really make other ingredients shine because they will stand out in contrast to the soy's bland smoothness. One of my favorite tofu recipes is very simple and very delicious. In it, bold garlic, soy sauce, and chile flavors are emphasized by the milky tofu, which also provides a silky and soothing foil to the palate.

Another thing one can do with tofu is to fry it until it's crispy crunchy, like potato chips or fried chicken. It becomes all about terrific texture and works really well in something like Taiwanese-style steamed buns, or bao. You can buy frozen bao in Chinese supermarkets, or you can make them at home, or, you can totally cheat by using refrigerated biscuit dough (find that recipe here). Pillowy buns, crispy tofu, a bit of creamy Sriracha mayo or sweet hoisin sauce, sliced cucumber, cilantro, and an optional topping of crushed peanuts and sugar (to which I added black sesame seeds), makes a mighty tasty snack.

If you don't want to go to all that trouble, just mix up a dipping sauce of mayo, sriracha, a bit of sugar, some minced green onion, and a pinch of salt. Dip in crispy tofu squares and enjoy.

Super Crispy Fried Tofu

1 14- to-16-pounce package extra firm tofu (the refrigerated kind)
Corn starch
Vegetable oil for frying

Remove the tofu from the packaging and discard the liquid. Wrap the tofu in a layer of paper towels and place on a plate. Put another plate upside-down over the tofu and weight plate with a jar or can. Refrigerate for at least four hours, changing the towels at least once during that time.

When you're ready to cook the tofu, remove the soggy towels and discard. Cut the block of tofu in half lengthwise, then cut each half into 5 or 6 slices.

Put a half cup or so of corn starch in a bowl. Dredge each slice of tofu in the cornstarch, patting it into each piece and shaking off excess. Put dredged tofu pieces on a plate until you finish coating the rest of them.

Add a couple tablespoons of oil to a large non-stick skillet and heat over high heat. Add the tofu pieces in one layer and cover the pan. Cook until crisp and brown on the bottom, 4-5 minutes. Check the browning process occasionally (it will seem to brown slowly at first) by picking up a piece with kitchen tongs. (Be careful when lifting the lid off the pan! Condensation will have accumulated and will drip off the pan into the oil, causing spattering. It's best to lift the lid straight up, not on an angle, and move it away to the side quickly.)

Once tofu is browned on the bottom, turn pieces and cook an additional 4-5 minutes until the other side is brown. If you feel the tofu is browning too quickly, turn the heat down a bit. (If it browns too fast, not only can it burn, but it won't be as crisp because there will still be moisture inside.)

Remove tofu pieces from the heat and drain on a paper towel-lined plate. Season tofu with a pinch of salt while still hot.

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