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Archive for the ‘Tofu’ Category

I admit that I have a Eurocentric bias to my cooking.  Partly this is due to personal preferences, partly due to exposure, but whereas I could pontificate somewhat convincingly on the nuanced differences between, say, the cooking of the Piedmont and Emilia-Romagna regions of Italy, or at least distinguish Asturias and Andalusia on a map of Spain, I couldn’t tell you the first thing about Chinese or Japanese or Thai or Indian cuisine—apart from the fact that I love all of them.

Well, I love the bastardized American versions of all of them which I eat on a fairly regular basis.  And though I often bristle at eating Americanized, fast-food versions of Italian food, I put on no such airs when eating Chinese food.  I love cheap Chinese takeout.  (You do, too; admit it.)  And what I love most of all are those gloppy-sweet, deep fried, wholly-inauthentic-and-who-the-hell-cares concoctions like General Tso’s chicken.  I mean, what’s not to like?  It’s deep fried, it’s sweet, it’s tangy—it’s absolutely delicious.

In case your local takeout place doesn’t make a tofu version of Sweet-and-Sour Pork or General Tso’s Chicken or Kung Pao Whatever (Can you tell these dishes apart?  If so, your local takeout place might be getting a little too hoity-toity, in my humble opinion), now you can make one at home.  Again, this dish makes absolutely no claims to authenticity—with its olive oil, brown sugar, white wine and apple cider vinegar, this could be considered “fusion” cuisine, I guess.  All I know is that it tastes good, whatever I call it.

  • 1 block of firm tofu, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 3 T + 1 T cornstarch, separated
  • olive or other vegetable oil, as needed (peanut oil would probably be ideal)
  • 2 T brown sugar
  • 2 T white wine (dry sherry or Shaoxing wine would probably work as well)
  • 2 T soy sauce
  • 2 T apple cider or rice vinegar (you could probably substitute 1/4 c fresh orange juice and 1 t orange zest to make Orange Tofu)
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 t grated ginger
  • 1 handful of cashews, optional (for more of a Kung Pao effect)
  • 3 scallions, chopped

Put the tofu cubes in large mixing bowl with 3 T of the cornstarch and salt and pepper; toss to coat thoroughly.  Pour a 1/2-inch depth of oil in a large skillet and place over medium-high heat.  Meanwhile, mix the brown sugar, wine, soy sauce, vinegar and 1/2 c water in a bowl and reserve.

When the oil is hot, lift the tofu cubes out of the cornstarch in a sieve or slotted spoon.  Shake off as much excess cornstarch as possible, then add to the oil.

Once the first side starts to brown, about 2-3 minutes, rotate the cubes.  If you want to meticulously brown all six sides of each tofu cube, knock yourself out.  (Or you could use a lot more oil in a Dutch oven and deep fry the cubes.)  I just brown the second side and then stir the cubes around and brown them for a few minutes more.  After a total of 10 minutes of cooking, they become pretty uniformly golden.

By the way, the device that I’m using to lift the tofu out of the oil is called a spider, for reasons unknown to me.  It is definitely one of the Top Ten Things I Have In The Kitchen:  There’s nothing better for removing things from hot oil or boiling water; it can even be used as a mini-colander.

Drain the tofu cubes on paper towels and reserve.

Meanwhile, either heat up a new skillet or (carefully!) pour out the remaining oil from the first skillet, rinse it out, and then return to medium heat.  Add the sugar-soy sauce mixture to the skillet.

Add enough water so that the sauce coats the entire skillet.  In a small bowl, stir together the remaining tablespoon of cornstarch with 1/4 c cold water to form a smooth slurry.  Stir the slurry into the sauce and turn the heat up so the sauce begins to boil.  (The sauce needs to reach the boiling point for the cornstarch to properly thicken it.)

Once the sauce is glossy and thick (but not too thick!  Think about how your favorite Chinese takeout food looks!), grate the garlic and ginger into the sauce.  Add the tofu cubes (and the optional cashews) and toss to coat.

Add the scallions for garnish.  Serve over white rice (or, even better, brown rice).

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One might think that tofu would be a big challenge for a Militant Carnivore.  I confess that my initial encounters with it in a college cafeteria did not compel me in any way to try it, given that it seemed more like cumin-scented insulation material than food.  However, I’ve come to love tofu.  If you would also like to love tofu, you must accept the following:

1)  You should never have tofu at a college cafeteria.

2)  Tofu is not a meat substitute.

The only substitute for meat is meat.  Tofu is a wonderful foodstuff in its own right, and once you stop trying to make it behave like a hamburger or a turkey or Peking duck, your appreciation for it will greatly increase.  Here’s a good way to get into it:

  • 1 c sugar
  • one package of extra firm tofu
  • 1 lime

Put the sugar in a skillet, like so:

Put it on low heat; shake the pan occasionally, but do not stir.  Meanwhile, slice the tofu into 3/4 inch-thick prisms.  When the sugar looks like this…

… add half a cup of water, a few generous pinches of salt and lots of black pepper.  Stir until the caramelized sugar has dissolved in the water.  Put the tofu in the caramel and cook over medium heat, turning every minute or so, for about ten minutes.   Stir the juice of a lime into the caramel.  If the caramel reduces too much, add a little more water to thin it out.   When the tofu is ready, let the caramel reduce to a glaze and coat both sides of the tofu.  Serve.

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