Wednesday, July 13, 2011

How You Can Tofu Too - Gluten Free Baked Tofu

You will usually find two schools of people:  those who absolutely loathe tofu and those who absolutely love tofu.  The latter has likely eaten it in flavorful dishes with proper preparation while the former tell tales of boiled, flavorless bean curd that squishes in their mouth.

Once upon a time, I was a hater.  It's true.  I tried an Alton recipe that flopped unlike any other.  It ended up in the trash.  But, in my old age I've learned a thing or two about tofu.

First, you have to choose your medium.  Like any other art form, this is important.  Hey, there's a reason we call cooking "the culinary arts."  Can you take a picture with a smart phone?  Sure.  Does it look like the ones you take with a dSLR?  Rarely.  Food is the same way.  And if you make the wrong choices, you may regret it.

Silken tofu, while delicious pureed with chocolate in a faux pudding, is not what we want here.  In fact, I cut corners and bought "firm" tofu last time and the kids noticed.  If you want it to have some bite, some texture, go for the firmest tofu you can find.  Trader Joe's carries two or three and they're cheap - less than $2 a pack.  All of them are good.  But, I have a new favorite.  It's a little more expensive than the single blocks, but it was the firmest I could find:

(Note: if you buy regular tofu, you will drain it.  Run a little cool water gently over the top.  Pat it dry.  Slice it into planks that are about a half inch thick.  Lay it out flat and sandwich between stacks of paper towels.  I lay a 9x13 over the top, then weigh it down with something heavy (cans of tomatoes, sam's club size peanut butter, or big bottles of ketchup).  This presses out the excess liquid and makes your tofu more receptive to flavor!  That's what we want here.  Tofu is not yummy.  It isn't.  Right out of the container it smells weird and tastes weirder.  But we're about to change that.

This tofu is a little different (in preparation not in taste) because it's pre-cut.  So, I drained it, rinsed it a little, and laid it out as flat as I could on a stack of paper towels, pressing lightly with the palms of my hand.  I did three packages for my crew, you could do one or two.

While it's hanging out on the paper towel, let's work on your marinade.  It's versatile.  You can substitute things you like.  And, the truth is, I am at the end of a menu and just threw some things together that I already had on hand.  So, don't get totally wrapped up in what I have here.  (In fact, this picture lies.  I added sherry vinegar.  You can use apple cider vinegar, white vinegar, balsamic, tarragon, rice wine, whatever!  See?  Easy!)

L-R: Toasted Sesame Oil, Organic Raw Blue Agave Sweetener, Organic Ketchup, Chili Garlic Sauce, Soy Sauce, Shallot Salt

Not pictured: Sherry vinegar (see above)

Toasted sesame oil has a great nutty flavor.  You're not going for oil here, so don't substitute olive or something.  You can substitute tahini or even a little peanut butter.  Same concept.

Organic Raw Blue Agave is a leftover in the tea cabinet.  It's too molasses-y for me in tea and I wanted to use it up.  Normally I would use maple syrup.  Don't have maple syrup?  Try honey.  (You can also use a little sugar or brown sugar.  See?  I'm easy!)

Ketchup.  It's a nice addition.  If you research Chinese-American take-out you'll find it in a ton of the recipes.  Sweet, tart, seasoned.  It's a basic because it works.  Don't have ketchup?  How do you survive?  (Okay, okay, try tomato paste or a little tomato sauce - or skip it.  It won't ruin anything.)

Chili Garlic Sauce is the one thing I insist you have.  Seriously.  This is the world's best condiment.  Don't be fooled by it's Sriracha-like appearance.  This is not fire sauce.  There is some kind of generic American equivalent version at the grocery store (La Choy or something) if you can't find this version.  But, I'll say it - this one is superior.  It has a little more heat and a load of flavor.  If you put it directly on your tongue, it would be hot - but it has a salsa-like flavor.  It's a crucial part of stir-fries in this house and we use it in and on tons of green veggies to make them explode with flavor.  Have you been to PF Chang's?  It's on the table there and an essential component to their Chang Sauce.  It.  Is.  My.  Favorite.

eta: here's the other brand I've found by Sun Luck (at the regular grocery store, in the asian food section)

Soy Sauce is a hidden wheat.  Be careful.  As I've mentioned before, my children's sensitivity may be different from yours.  If you have celiac, you may want to stick to a wheat-free tamari.  (San-J makes a delicious one).  But, this one doesn't bother my kids.  And it's cheap.  So we buy it.  A lot.

Shallot salt is one of my favorite dried condiments.  Shallots are a great addition to marinades, but I didn't have any fresh.  Nor did I have garlic.  (And I HATE garlic powder. *shudder*)  Ideally this would have been a minced shallot or a couple fresh cloves of garlic.  Today, however, it was this.

Now in the front of the picture you'll see little nuggets of flavor.  That's crystallized ginger.  Again, I would have used fresh in this, but I was out.  And the most important thing to know about ginger is: powdered ginger is not a substitute for real ginger.  Real ginger tastes like citrus.  It's bright and lovely and fresh.  I grate it on a microplane because I really don't care for that chunk of ginger between my teeth.  But, on fresh green beans, kale, or even broccoli it's amazing.  Since powdered is for baked goods only, I went with candied.  These tend to be closer in flavor to true ginger and we added sugar (or agave) anyway, so it won't hurt a thing.

In a bowl combine all the ingredients in the following proportions (or around there)

1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil (or about 1 TBSP of peanut butter)
1/4 cup agave (or maple syrup)
2 TBSP ketchup
1 tsp chili garlic sauce
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 tsp shallot salt (or onion powder or fresh garlic)
1 TBSP candied ginger (or, ideally, about a one inch piece of fresh ginger, grated)
1 TBSP sherry (or other) vinegar

Mix together until combined.  Toss drained tofu cubes in or pour over larger pieces in a glass pan.
(if you use plastic it WILL smell like the marinade for the rest of its life.  So stick to pyrex for this)

The longer it sits like this, the more flavor will infuse into each and every bite.  
A minimum of 4 hours in my house, but overnight works well, too.  

Preheat the broiler on your oven (mine was set to high) and spray a baking sheet with cooking spray (or you can use parchment... or a 9x13... or whatever strikes you).  With a slotted spoon, move all the tofu cubes from the bowl onto the pan.  Broil for about 10-15 minutes until golden brown, flip, repeat.

Serve hot with stir-fried broccoli or other veggies.