Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Taming of the 'Fu

Meet Mr. Fu. He's a pretty good friend of mine.


Now, I know that 'fu has been given a pretty bad rap over the decades as "Hippie Food", a bland spongy or even slimy mass of congealed bean matter that no one but unshaven vegan radicals and Asian restauranteurs would consider a food product. I've been there - I used to live there. You would never convince my 14-year-old self to go near anything close to soy in any way, shape or form, yet now I'm a staunch consumer of the bean both in processed and baby forms. Good thing, too - with all the protein and nutrient rich things I can't eat (eggs, dairy, meat, nuts, wheat products), soy products are pretty much the last remaining thing on my list aside from beans that's readily available and versatile. Not to mention pretty darn photogenic!

The trick to taming the 'fu, I've learned, is in drying it out. Counter intuitive, I know - but that's how a lot of the veggie-serving restaurants out there prepare their soy for marinading and stir-fries. Drying out the tofu makes it more receptive to the flavours of marinades and sauces, not to mention stewing liquids! When I first started poking around for preparation ideas and methods for this otherwise alien ingredient, most of what I found involved coating the whole brick in (usually) a soy sauce based mixture and baking the heck out of it. I tried that, and though it did work in terms of flavour, the result was too salty and spongy for my tastes.
So I kept looking, and came across this brilliant method. When I started reading it, I felt that "instant duh" thought bubble forming. It was so obvious, yet for some reason it was beyond my scope of reason at the time. Needless to say it works like a dream, and I've done this a good 8-9 times (each batch makes 4 servings - and I'm the only tofu freak here) without ever having a problem. For seasoning, I've just been using kosher salt and coarse ground black pepper, though I have some Montreal steak spice I'll probably try soon. Maybe the next block!

I didn't really like the result I got the first time when I finished the slices with a home made sweet and sour sauce. Ketchup (yes, I know) has become my dip of choice - it gives the pieces an almost "chicken nugget" type appeal (especially when I pair it with oven fries!).

So here's the basic run down of what I do:
  • Get a block of firm or extra firm tofu (I like love the President's Choice Blue Menu Extra-Firm Low Fat kind - say that 5x fast!).
  • Unwrap it from the plastic and wrap in a clean cotton cloth (not terrycloth) towel.
  • Between two flat surfaces - I use two cutting boards - weight the block down to press it slightly without crushing it. Leave it for about an hour.
  • Unwrap the block and slice it into 8 pieces - I usually make triangles for simplicity's sake. You will want them fairly thin - see the photo.
  • Generously - and I do mean generously - season both sides with whatever you like (I usually just use S&P).
  • Take a large, non-stick frying pan and place it over medium heat. DO NOT ADD ANY OIL OR FAT. Hear me? JUST SAY NO! Fat of any kind will immediately suck into the slices and kill any chance you have of drying them out.
  • Stick the slices in the pan in one layer (as you can see, I had to make 2 batches) and leave them there for about 1 minute without moving them.
  • Then, with the back of your spatula, squash the slices down to extract as much water as you can. I usually take 6-8 minutes per pan for this, especially since I also love getting the crust on the surfaces.
  • Flip the pieces over and so the same thing for the other side.
  • You don't have to, but I also like lightly crisping up the side edges by standing up my pieces in the pan and cooking them a few minutes.
  • Your tofu is now dried out, chewy and ready to marinade, sauce or eat plain!
I really hope you found this useful - I know I'm not giving this trick up anytime soon! I also just realized that this method lends itself perfectly to the Summer months too - no bothersome long oven usage to heat up the house!

6 comments :

illahee said...

very interesting!

Mrs. L said...

I think I may have to try this!

Katerina said...

I have been doing this for awhile now, although I usually bake rather then fry. It totally makes a difference. The next thing on my list to try is freezing it (there is some in my freezer right now!)

emiglia said...

Sounds like a plan! I love making baked tofu triangles to dip into marinara sauce... reminds me of mozzarella sticks.

DaviMack said...

We have tofu for usually 1 meal a day, and sometimes 2 meals will contain it. It's just the perfect vehicle for flavor! The freezing thing works well - it changes the texture a bit - and there's really nothing wrong with adding oil during the frying process, either: we don't have nonstick, so add a spritz of oil to our stainless steel, and just have to wait awhile for it to brown.

Delicious stuff, and far more versatile than meat. Plus ... there're no fiddly, gristly bits to deal with. :)

HoneyB said...

This is a really good post - I love tofu. Making it like this and serving with a peanut sauce sounds appealing to me! Ketchup really isn't bad either though! ;-)