Day 3 – Salt and Pepper Tofu
There’s no getting away from it, tofu is indelibly cited as a reason for not venturing into the world of vegetarian cooking. It’s true that when poorly prepared, handled or cooked, it’s nothing special. In fact, at its worst it can be chewy, with no discernible flavour. It’s certainly not going to change the mind of the most committed carnivore.
But oh my goodness, when it’s done well it’s a revelation. I once had a tofu based silken caramel custard as part of a Yum Cha meal that I could happily have eaten every breakfast for the rest of my life. Smoked tofu adds a big-assed umani hit to your palate that encourages you to feel as if you’re fuller for longer.
The challenge for me is how to convince you naysayers that tofu deserves revisiting every once in a while. Which is just as well, because I love a challenge.
I don’t suggest you eat it every week just for the sake of it, but once in a while when the planets align and the weather warms up, the lightest puffs of gently fried tofu suddenly make for a memorable end in a warm evening. There’s nothing flashy here, just the most basic of spices and preparatory methods. Serve it up with a big plate of stir-fried vegies and some steamed rice. THIS is what it’s all about. Rabbit food be gone.
2 x 300g firm tofu, well drained; 1 tbsp white pepper; 2 tbsp sea salt; 1 cup plain flour; vegetable oil for deep-frying*; 4 spring onions, sliced diagonally; 2 bird’s-eye chillis, de-seeded and sliced finely; steamed rice to serve; stir-fried greens, to serve
Cut each block of tofu into nine equal pieces by slicing it into three lengthways and then each piece widthways. Gently dry each piece on paper towels and set aside.
Heat a small saucepan over low heat and add the salt and pepper to the pan. Stir well or shake the pan to keep the spices moving, but heat them up over two minutes until the kitchen is filled with fragrance. Add the salt and pepper to the plain flour in a large bowl and mix well to combine.
Fill a wok or medium-sized saucepan (or a deep-fryer if you have one) with enough vegetable oil to a depth of 10-15 cm. Heat over medium heat until the surface of the oil is starting to shimmer, that is, 180°C.
Lightly coat the tofu pieces in the flour, a few pieces at a time, and shake off the excess. Add the floured tofu to the hot oil four pieces at a time and fry for four minutes at a time until the surface of the tofu is crisp and golden. Drain well on kitchen paper and keep warm until all the tofu is cooked. Scatter with chilli and onions before serving with stir fried greens and some steamed rice for a light supper or lunch.
*Canola or vegetable oil works well, but for deep-frying I suggest rice bran oil (or peanut oil if allergies are not a problem). Both have a higher smoke point, meaning they heat up really well and add no discernible flavour to the food.
$9.50 for four people