Even the most avid cook occasionally balks at the prospect of preparing dinner. When this happens to me, I respond by firing up the stovetop for one of my reliable, stress-free standbys, such as my barbecue tofu.
Before I get to the sandwich recipe, it’s worth addressing the “why bother with tofu?” question. My answer to that is more questions: Do you like to cook and eat delicious food? Do you need quick meal ideas? Does the healthfulness of the food you eat matter? Whether you answered “yes” to one or all of the above, then it’s high time to slough any tofu prejudice and/or indifference once and for all.
Tofu is easy on the home cook, because it requires little hassle or hustle to assemble and season. It can be incredibly delicious because it takes on the identity of whatever you cook with it: from chilies to chocolate, bbq sauce to pesto, it complies with my every will and whim. The preparation options are equally versatile: I can grill it with barbeque sauce, roast it along with vegetables, simmer it with aromatic curry, or pan-fry it to a perfect crisp.
These days, it’s easy for me to get my hands on a wide variety of tofu styles—tofu that, until recently, was considered the stuff of hippies and health food extremists. Now it’s not unusual to see entire tofu sections in the produce section of the supermarket (even here in small-town Texas) stocked with soft, medium, firm, marinated, and smoked tofu.
It’s All About Style The key to preparing and cooking tofu begins with selecting the right style. Just as chicken gizzards are no substitute for chicken breasts, soft tofu and firm tofu are not interchangeable. For example, soft tofu in a main dish calling for extra-firm will lead to a gooey mess, and extra-firm tofu in a soft tofu dessert will give new meaning to the phrase true grit.
The first major difference in tofu styles is vacuum-sealed (shelf-stable) and fresh. The former, also called Japanese style or kinugoshi, is sold in aseptic boxes and available in soft, firm, and extra firm textures, silken tofu is custard-like and ideal to puree for dressings, soups, desserts, and drinks. Even though kinugoshi is available in firm and extra-firm options, it’s still much too delicate to grill, sauté, or stir-fry.
Photo 1. This is vacuum-sealed silken tofu; notice it has a perfectly smooth surface.
Fresh tofu, also called regular Chinese-style or momen, is packed in water and requires refrigeration. The firm and extra-firm varieties of fresh tofu are what you want for grilling, sautéing, and stir-fries.
Here’s where things can get confusing: fresh tofu is available in soft and medium firmness, but sometimes these are also labeled as “silken” (like the vacuum pack tofu). Don’t worry; just like vacuum pack tofu, fresh soft or medium tofu is best suited for dressings, desserts and drinks (I prefer it to the vacuum-pack tofu). But unlike the vacuum-pack varieties, the medium, silken fresh tofu is also excellent for scrambling, (crumble, season and scramble like you would eggs), making spreads and thick dips, and standing in for all or some of the ricotta cheese in homemade lasagna and other baked pastas and casseroles.
Photo 2. This is fresh, extra-firm tofu. Unlike the silken tofu (above), this tofu has a distinctive texture.
Oh, the Goodies I Have in Store… Once you’ve selected the tofu you need for your dish, you need to store it. The vacuum-sealed variety is easy: place on shelf in cupboard, close door until needed (or until it passes the expiration date).
Fresh tofu requires more TLC. First it must be kept in the refrigerator. Once opened, drain the liquid from the package and store in an air-tight container filled with fresh water (it’s a good idea to change the water daily). Before cooking, drain the tofu thoroughly, cut into desired shapes (e.g., cubes, slices) and then remove as much moisture as possible from the tofu by pressing it with paper towels before using (this allows it to better absorb flavors).
If you have no current plans to use the remainder of an open package of tofu, consider draining and freezing the tofu in an airtight container. The day you want to cook, simply defrost the tofu in the fridge overnight and blot well with paper towels. The texture will be meatier, but this is actually a favorable texture for use in stir-fries and grilling.
Come On, It Really Is That Good For You? Yes, all the good news about tofu being a super food is true. Topping the list of benefits is protein. Tofu is a very good source of protein, specifically soy protein, which is one of the few plant-based complete proteins. Four ounces of tofu provides 9.2 grams of protein, (that’s 18.3% of the daily value for protein), and it comes virtually free of saturated fat (less than 1 gram), and at a cost of only 70-90 calories.
That same four ounces of tofu is also an excellent source of B vitamins, selenium (14.5 % of day’s value, copper, iron (34% of a day’s value), calcium (10% of a day’s value), and contains no cholesterol. And if all that isn’t enough, tofu, like salmon and other deep-water fish, is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which have a broad array of health benefits, from improving heart health to improving the ratio of good HDL to bad LDL cholesterol.
1/2 cup good-quality (low sugar, organic) barbecue sauce
Cut tofu block lengthways into 8 slices. Pat and press out as much moisture as possible between paper towels. Place tofu on a plate, brush with the olive oil, and generously season both sides with salt & pepper.
Preheat a nonstick grill pan, nonstick grill, or large nonstick skillet to medium-high heat. Cook tofu for 2 minutes each side, or until warmed through and slightly browned at edges. Drizzle and spread with barbecue sauce. Serve plain or in sandwiches or wraps, or however you like!
Yay, glad you found the tofu info of use. Even though it's so simple, it can be strangely intimidating to work with for the first time. But if you know which kind to choose, it's a breeze!
Wednesday 12th of March 2008
I am so glad you gave so many details and facts about tofu! I have always been curious to try cooking with it but never really knew anything about it. I have only used it in egg rolls alongside the hamburger. This really helped & I plan to try your Mahogany Glazed Tofu recipe! Thank you!
Tuesday 11th of March 2008
Hi Paul! Love hearing from you. I'm guessing Mercy is cursing me a little bit (or a lot!) re: tofu. But I think our plan may work (heh heh heh). Hope school is goimg well--sounds like a great fit for you!
Friday 7th of March 2008
Yay for tofu! I've been trying to get Mercy to eat tofu for years, but she won't go near it. Now since we've decided to test all your recipes, she has reluctantly agreed to give it a try. We both read the blog everyday and love to hear about life in Nac, Kevin and Little Buddy in addition to the great recipes.