Fear of tofuNovember 20, 2009
Don’t get me wrong, I love tofu. In good Thai and Japanese restaurants, or when somebody skilled cooks it for me. Agedashi tofu is one of my favourite things in the world. And at our favourite Thai, the beloved Ploy, there are a couple of tofu dishes to die for – one stir-fried tofu with bean sprouts, and the other a divine larb tofu salad.
Tofu should be on our home menu more often as we are trying to cut down on meat for all the obvious and much-discussed reasons.
But when it comes to cooking with tofu, I am filled with anxiety. Which one, for starters? What is the difference between ‘silken’ and ‘firm silken’ and ‘firm’, for example? Recipes tend to say ‘firm’ or ‘soft’ but the shops seem to have zillions of different kinds. I am way too confused to master this stuff, and always expect it to fall apart, so have generally just steered clear.
However, yesterday I decided to feel the fear and do it anyway (which reminds me of stonesoup’s excellent post on that subject recently).
I decided to have a crack at a very delicious looking Karen Martini recipe that appeared in the Sunday rag a little while ago. But as hers had salted black beans and various other bits and bobs in it, and I couldn’t be bothered hauling myself to the Asian supermarket to get such things, I just bastardised our usual basil and chilli stirfry taught to me many years ago by our Asian gourmand friend Ricardo, the lunging latino.
The first thing I did was buy the wrong tofu. ‘Firm silken’ is not the same as ‘firm’, I discovered as soon as I unwrapped the former (pictured above, at rear). Lovely soft, wobbly stuff – but even getting it out of the packet made it start to crumble and collapse, and I had visions of a wokful of sloppy custard. So back to the grocer for a block of the hard stuff, easily chopped into pieces (foreground).
I dried and fried the tofu cubes first, then drained them on kitchen paper – then did the rest of the stirfry and then tossed the tofu back in at the end with the fish sauce and basil. The result? Pretty damn fine! So here is the befuddled recipe, which can obviously be mixed and matched and altered as you wish.
But before my next foray into tofuworld, I would love to hear from any aficionados who may be lurking here – I need your advice! Tips, tricks, which is best for what, other easy recipes, how to buy, store, etc. Come on: spill.
Pork & tofu stir fry with chilli & basil
- rice bran / peanut / vegetable oil
- 3 cloves garlic, sliced
- small knob ginger, julienned
- 1 block firm tofu, cut into 1.5cm cubes
- 150g pork mince
- 1/3 red capsicum, cut into sizable chunks
- handful green beans, halved
- 2 birdseye chillis with seeds, split lengthwise
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce, or more to taste
- 1 teaspoon brown sugar, to taste
- 1/2 bunch basil
- steamed jasmine rice, to serve
- Heat a little oil in wok or other pan to smoking point, then toss in garlic & ginger for 10-20 seconds.
- Add tofu cubes and fry for 2 minutes, turning so all sides are golden.
- Remove wok from heat while you remove tofu pieces & leave to drain on kitchen paper.
- Return to heat and add pork mince to pan, stir frying for a few minutes.
- Remove pork and set aside. Either wipe out pan or continue with pork juices.
- Add chilli, beans, capsicum and cook on high heat till just tender – a little water added to the pan can sometimes help cook more evenly.
- Return pork and tofu to pan and stir to mix, keeping heat high
- Add fish sauce & brown sugar, adjusting each to taste.
- When you are happy with the seasoning, tear basil leaves from stalks and toss through.
- Serve on a bed of fluffy rice.