Alibi V.24 No.3 • Jan 15-21, 2015 

Flash in the Pan

This Just In: Tofu Doesn’t Suck

In defense of the bean curd

"Tofu-beijingchina". Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

I'll spare you the un-gory details, but it wasn't the greatest hunting season for me this fall. I try to bag enough animals to satisfy all of my family's meat needs, but this year I'll be looking to purchase my proteins on the open market. Thus, I've been reacquainting myself with tofu.

This isn't the first time I've gone there. As a 10-year-old vegetarian, my dad fed me bean curd, as he called it, in order to keep my growing boy status intact. Despite his good intentions, cooking tofu wasn't his strong suit. After a few weeks of trying to swallow the slabs of juicy chalk that he prepared, I decided that killing animals for meat wasn't such a bad idea after all. And here I am, having failed at this year's attempt to do just that, jumping back on the tofu wagon.

While often maligned as flavorless, tofu could also be viewed more optimistically as being a blank slate that will absorb the flavorings of whatever it’s cooked with. Here in Albuquerque, we are lucky to have a resident tofu maker: Banh Mi Coda, across the parking lot from Talin Market. Banh Mi Coda makes two kinds of tofu, plain and with onions and mushrooms. It’s cheap, and it’s good. In addition to selling it raw, they also sell it in fried form, if you want instant gratification.

I'll leave you with a recipe for clay pot tofu, courtesy of Budai, Albuquerque's finest Chinese restaurant.

Clay pot tofu

Ingredients

1 brick of soft tofu

1/3 yellow onion, sliced

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 green onions, cut crosswise into inch-long pieces

1 tablespoon oyster sauce

2 tablespoons rice wine

Enough sesame oil (untoasted) for deep frying

1 egg

2 teaspoons sweet potato flour

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1 tablespoon soy sauce

8 tablespoons vegetable stock

Cut the tofu brick into 4-8 rectangular pieces (I prefer fewer, thicker chunks). Dredge them in a mixture of beaten egg and sweet potato flour.

Heat sesame oil on high. When it's hot enough that a drop of water flicked into the oil causes an eruption, add the coated tofu. Deep-fry for about four minutes, or until brown and crispy. Remove.

In a wok, sauté yellow onion, green onion and garlic in sesame oil (you can use some of the leftover fry oil). Add veggie stock, rice wine, oyster sauce and brown sugar. Stir it together, and add the tofu. Transfer to a clay pot (or some other heat storing dish, like a cast-iron skillet), and keep warm until serving.

It's a subtle, flavorful dish, in which the moist and mild-flavored interior contrasts with the rich sauce on the other side of the crispy skin. When made with thicker pieces, it's straight-up decadent and hard to stop eating.