Guest Author - Jason Hodge
For many, tofu is an anomaly. It's a block of 'blah' that slightly resembles cheese but is just a tad gelatinous. It's a bit mysterious and somewhat scary. But what if you could have the keys to the kingdom and learn a few fundamental techniques that would make all of your diners stake their neighbors' fortunes on the fact that you are, in fact, a tofu guru?!
Well you've come to the right place!
In this article I'm going to share with you some of the key things you need to know about tofu, so you can not only master the art of working with it, but innovate new iterations of tried and true vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes; where, by the way, meat eaters would break down your doors for second and third helpings.
Let's look at what tofu is.
According to many publications on the topic, I've always read that tofu is "bean curd" [bean curd?! What in the world!]- Think of cheese - minus the cultures and enzymes, minus the aging process and minus the dairy. Yes, tofu in its simplest comparison is a non melting 'cheese-like' byproduct of soymilk that's been curdled strained and pressed to remove the 'whey'. And just like cheese it comes in many different consistencies, varieties, from many cultures [mostly Asian] and with a boatload of applications for varied end results.
I remember when I first started working with tofu. It was brutal; and all I knew how to do was make scrambled egg-style dishes out of it. Even when I would vary my spices, presto-change-o 'scrambled eggs' again and again. No matter how hard I tried I would always end right back at those scramble eggs. Really disastrous!
It wasn't until I was working for this company, where the owners had a kitchen that went, for the most part, unused. That's when I had my moment with God [literally]. I asked Him to show me how to make Italian sausage out of tofu and it was if my mind opened up and I was able to pull up a chair to the culinary classroom and watch a whole set of possibilities unfold. I learned how to get different flavors and textures that would satisfy the most diehard meat eaters. Talk about your 'on the job training'!
Here's a list of some of the things I've used tofu to create [in no particular order]:
hamburgers, chili, meatballs, meatloaf, omelettes, scrambled egg-style tofu, clam-less chowder, cheese-less cake, cake, smoothies, rib-style barbecue, chicken-style soup, beefy-style stew, sloppy joe's, meaty gravies, puddings, savory tarts, dirty rice, jambalaya, pot pie, stuffed cabbage, tofu fried rice, ice cream, custards, egg-less salads, lasagna, etc.
There are a lot of techniques you should use when working with tofu to, not only change the texture, but also to balance out the flavor profile.
Try all of these, individually and/or in varied combinations:
Boil and steep your tofu in herbed water, vegetable broth, curry sauce, marinara, etc., chill and refrigerate for a minimum of three hours.
Freeze after covering with a seasoned paste and thaw out before you use it in your cooking.
Fry it up and marinate it in the refrigerator until your ready to use it.
Mash it up and mix in fresh herbs and spices until you're ready to use.
Blend it up to use in sauces.
There are a ton of ways you can 'pre'pare tofu for the maximum flavor and texture. The choice is really yours. It's always best to start out with an end goal in mind and work back from there. If you want a meaty consistency start with firm tofu. If smoothies are what you're after, go for the silky or soft tofu. Looking for egg-less salad or scrambled eggs? Go for the middle of the road and get medium. If egg-free cake's your thing, depending on the cake, any of the consistencies, minus the frozen, can work.
Remember this if you get nothing else here…
Don't get stuck. Make room for innovation. Some of the best creations and techniques come from what started out as a mistake. Don't let your 'mistakes' defeat you, but instead learn from them.
As always, it's my pleasure sharing with you these concepts and techniques. Until next time...