Tofu Belly

 Don't act like you're not impressed.

Don't act like you're not impressed.

"You went vegan? But you used to love food so much and were such a great cook!" I've heard variations of this statement from friends and family, and it surprised me to learn that by going vegan I apparently suddenly hated food and became a bad cook.

In actuality, going vegan opened up an entire universe of foods I never really cooked before, and it inspired me to play with flavors and textures in ways that I just didn't think of when I was an omnivore.

 Snow! I'm sure the novelty will wear off soon but snow! It's good to be back.

Snow! I'm sure the novelty will wear off soon but snow! It's good to be back.

I cooked with tofu in my omnivore past, usually tossed it in stir-fries, often poorly seasoned, and almost always poorly executed. After learning a few tricks from Lorelei and reading up on it a bit more, I've become pretty adept at making it sing a tasty tune. I make a mean tofish and chips now, and my scramble game is on point, but this dish is my pièce de résistance, my Tofu Lisa. It's sweet, salty, a touch spicy, packed with umami, and juicy. Yes, this tofu is juicy.

 8 simple ingredients every kitchen should have.

8 simple ingredients every kitchen should have.

The first thing to do is to whip up the marinade. Simply take all the ingredients listed below, dump them into a bowl, and whisk. Let them sit for a good 10-15 minutes and then whisk again to make sure the sugar is dissolved. After that, dice up your tofu in 1"-2" cubes and rinse them. There's no need to press the tofu, just dice and rinse. I used a hand-crafted tofu from Bridge Tofu out of Connecticut. If you're in the Northeast and can find it, I highly recommend it. Their website lists where it's available.

 Sorry for the gory picture.

Sorry for the gory picture.

Once you have the marinade and tofu ready, simply toss them together gently and place them into a vacuum bag and vacuum seal it. If you don't have a vacuum sealer, just use a ziplock bag and try and get most of the air out so the tofu is only in contact with the marinade and not air. Once sealed, place it in your fridge for 24-48 hours.

 The best bath tofu can ever take.

The best bath tofu can ever take.

The reason I like to use a vacuum sealer is for the next step. When you're ready to cook the tofu, first steam the contents in the bag for 15 minutes. This helps to fully infuse the tofu with the marinade and really drive in the flavor packed liquid. If you can't do this step, I'm sure simmering the tofu covered in a sauté pan that barely fits the tofu for 15 minutes would work – just remember to turn the tofu halfway through to keep tofu/marinade contact consistent.

 Keep a lid on while steaming.

Keep a lid on while steaming.

Once it's steamed for 15 minutes, cut the bag and dump out the contents in a bowl. Heat up your sauté pan over medium heat and add 2 tbsp of vegetable oil. Carefully add your tofu cubes and 1/4 cup of the remaining marinade to the pan. Every 3 minutes or so, turn the tofu 180 degrees so the side that was on the pan is now facing up. Keep rotating the tofu 180 degrees, only cooking the two sides in the oil/marinade mixture. As the last of the marinade evaporates off, swirl the pan a bit to coat the tofu and create a little crust on the two sides you're cooking.

 After adding the oil, marinade and tofu (L). After all the marinade has evaporated and the tofu is starting to brown (R).

After adding the oil, marinade and tofu (L). After all the marinade has evaporated and the tofu is starting to brown (R).

Once the tofu starts browning and getting a few black flecks on it, it's good to go! Simply serve with your choice of sides. For this meal I went simple with oven roasted broccoli (dry roast at 550F until some of the florets start getting blackened, toss with a bit of salt) and green lentils with a lemon/caper dressing. Any kind of potato would be fantastic with it too, or some wilted greens, or really most any other vegetable.

 So juicy and so good.

So juicy and so good.

The taste is incredible. It hits all the flavor profiles and just begs to be devoured. This might be the closest thing I have to a signature dish.

If you want to help spread the word of the wonders of the "other...other white meat," check out the amazing t-shirt below. Fifty percent of their profits go to Green Mountain Animal Defenders.

 Tofu - the cutest of all soy products!

Tofu - the cutest of all soy products!

-Craig

Recipe:

For one package of tofu

  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/2 tsp liquid smoke
  • 1 tsp molasses
  • 1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp chili garlic paste
  • 1 tsp vegan worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 tsp white miso paste

In a mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients and whisk well. Let sit for 10-15 minutes to help sugar dissolve completely. Whisk again. Dice your tofu into 1"-2" cubes, 12 total cubes from a traditional block of tofu. Rinse your tofu and add the cubes to the marinade. Gently stir to coat. Add tofu and marinade into a vacuum seal bag, using a vacuum sealer, remove the excess air and seal. Place in fridge for 24-48 hours. If you don't have a vacuum sealer, use a ziplock bag and squeeze out most of the air before sealing.

When you're ready to cook, set up a steamer and steam the tofu still in the vacuum sealed bag for 15 minutes (if you used a ziplock bag, dump contents into a saute pan and slowly simmer on low heat for 15 minute while covered, rotating the tofu half way through). After the steaming, cut the bag and dump the contents into a bowl, get a saute pan ready over medium heat, add 2 tbsps of oil and carefully place the tofu pieces into the pan. Add 1/4 cup of the marinade to the pan (if you were simmering the tofu, turn the heat up, remove all but 1/4 cup of the marinade and add the oil).

Every 3-5 mins rotate the tofu 180 degrees (treat them like a burger cooking just the top and bottom side). After you rotate them, gently swirl the pan to better coat the tofu in the evaporating marinade. When the excess liquid from the marinade is gone, you'll get a little browned/burnt crust on the tofu, when both sides have this, you're ready to serve.

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