Sunday, January 8, 2012

Tofu Cutlets!! Yes, I really am that excited.

Here's something you probably don't hear very often from non-vegetarians: I've had a craving lately for some good tofu. In all honesty, you probably don't hear that very often from actual vegetarians either. Well-prepared tofu is something to be savored, something to be enjoyed, something to be admired even (by those who aren't very good at preparing it), but I don't know that it's something frequently described as crave-worthy.

And by crave, I *don't* mean in a pregnant sort of way. Really, I don't know that I've had many actual pregnancy cravings. Unless you can count water. I simply can't get enough water these days.

But I digress. Good tofu is something I frequently crave, possibly because of what my standards as to what constitutes “good” are and how difficult it can be to find tofu that meets those standards. Before moving to Illinois, my honey and I used to live in Woodland, California, and there was a Chinese restaurant there that had the best tofu I've ever had in a restaurant, hands down. Something about they way they cooked it... it came out nice and firm on the outside, a little crispy around the edges, a little chewy on the inside, and was always covered with some sort of yummy sauce. Our favorite was the sweet and sour tofu (which is a dish that, regrettably, one does see very often in restaurants), but their lemon tofu and king pao tofu and pretty much every other tofu dish were amazing as well.

By contrast, the first Chinese restaurant we tried out here in Illinois was, well, bad. Not as in spoiled, it just wasn't very tasty at all. The tofu was barely cooked, limp, and fell apart when you tried to seize a piece with your chopsticks. (It's possible that this had something to do with my chopstick technique.) The meal was an extreme disappointment.

So far, most of the good tofu I've eaten in Illinois has been tofu that I've cooked myself. I'm not trying to say that I'm a fabulous tofu chef, because I'm not. I just know how to cook it so that I like it, that's all. Usually I either bake it or just pan-fry it with a very light amount of oil, low temperature for a long time. I can cook a decent homemade sweet and sour tofu, and I make a mean stir fry. I like crumbling it and putting it in my marinara sauce, and I like using it in lasagna as a suitable substitute for the ricotta cheese. (Vegan standby or culinary sacrilege? You decide.)

The fact remains: cooking good tofu will always be a challenge of sorts.

And as such, I'm always looking out for new recipes for “basic” cooked tofu. Something simple that produces good results will never go amiss with me. Not surprisingly, I felt strongly compelled to try the recipe for Tofu Cutlets in New American Vegan. Easy and quick. Nothing about the recipe was a revelation by any standard, but the marinade offered was delicious, the cooking method straightforward and simple. Served with a side of steamed veggies, both D and I were impressed and satisfied.

Well, maybe not entirely satisfied. I could have easily eaten two or three times as much as I did. And that *could* very well be the pregnancy talking.

I hope you weren't expecting a relevant picture.
My food photography skills are rather lacking, so instead I present the cat,
who remains unimpressed with my culinary efforts.

Tofu Cutlets
from New American Vegan by Vincent J. Guihan, reprinted with permission

1 pound extra firm tofu (pick a block about 2 inches thick if you have a choice, and don't buy silken tofu)
3 tablespoons tamari
1 teaspoon brown mustard
1 teaspoon agave nectar
1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
dash of liquid smoke

You can always substitute sugar for the agave or add a tablespoon prepared catsup if you prefer (catsup usually has a lot of sweetener). Try replacing some of the tamari with 1 teaspoon red miso and 1 tablespoon water. Or just use the marinade you like!

Begin by preparing your ingredients. Next, slice the tofu. Press your hand gently down on the tofu. With your knife, carefully cut through the center of the tofu. Cut each half into quarters, and each of those quarters into eighths. You should have squares that are about ¼-inch thick (although it depends on the shape of your original block of tofu). Now, you'll need to marinate your tofu. Add the tofu to a medium-sized bowl. Whisk the marinade ingredients in a small bowl, add to the tofu, and toss to combine. Cover the bowl and let stand for 15 minutes on the counter or, if you prefer, 2 to 4 hours in the refrigerator.

To cook the tofu cutlets, preheat your oven to 400º F and roast your tofu cutlets on a baking sheet with all of the marinade for 10 to 15 minutes (or until lightly browned). Flip the cutlets and roast for another 10 to 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from the oven.

My Notes:
As I said before, easy and quick. I only made a half-recipe, as I only had half of a block of tofu on hand. I used regular soy sauce instead of tamari, and I used grapeseed oil instead of olive. I left out the liquid smoke, because I don't have any. One clove of garlic did the trick, and I used a spicy brown mustard for fun.

I marinated for 15 minutes, but ideally, I think this recipe would come out even better if allowed to marinate for 20 or even 30 minutes. I baked for 10 minutes on the first side and 15 on the second. I definitely recommend at least 15 minutes on each side; when baking tofu, a longer cooking time will create for a more pleasing, chewier, “meatier” texture, which is the objective for many people. I dumped the extra sauce in with the cutlets when I baked them, as directed, but a lot of it ended up burned onto my baking dish. This didn't affect the final taste at all, but it did make cleanup a little more difficult; I'd recommend lining whatever baking dish you use with foil to make your life easier.

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