Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Tofu Chicharrones

Tofu Chicharrones

Above is one piece of a meal assembled from Viva Vegan!, by Terry Hope Romero... one of the coauthors of Veganomicon (in the running for best cookbook name ever). Viva Vegan! is focused on traditional Latin cooking, a style that has always seemed to me to be strangely underrepresented in meatless/dairyless land, beyond the ubiquitous bean burrito... and Romero addresses that lack quite ably... adapting much more than just Mexican cuisine.

The tofu chicharrones pictured were meant as part of the filling for pupusas we made a few weeks ago, but they were so good by themselves I thought they deserved a standalone post. Plus, it was a complicated enough meal that if I didn't break it down into more manageable pieces I was never going to post it. 

Chicharrones were completely new to me... and thus I cannot comment on any kind of authenticity issues... but it's vegan anyway, so you know anything genuinely authentic about it is going to be for a given (large) value of "fake"... I doubt there are many cooks in Latin America substituting tofu for pork belly... but whatever, it's chewy, smoky, greasy and good. I haven't done much with frozen tofu before... Anna has been in a phase of not bothering with it since we started cooking together... and I have to say it's pretty neat how the texture changes.

As just mentioned, this requires frozen tofu, so if you don't have any already in the freezer you'll have to stick some in the night before. If you do already have said frozen tofu, you can let it defrost in the fridge until you are ready for it.

Ingredients
  • 1 pound firm tofu
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • l tablespoons liquid smoke
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons agave syrup
  • Peanut oil for frying
  • Kosher salt 
Directions
  1. Freeze entire package of tofu overnight. The next day, remove the package from the freezer and place it a bowl of warm water to thaw. When thawed... it can take several hours, especially if you aren't good about changing the warm water regularly... drain the tofu, remove it from the package, and cut into 1/4" slices. It will look something like this:
  2. Frozen Tofu
  3. Layer the tofu slices between paper towels and place a folded kitchen towel on top. Place a plate on top of the tofu with a heavy can or two and press the tofu for at least thirty minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, in a large plastic container with a lid, mix together soy sauce, liquid smoke, crushed garlic, vinegar, and agave syrup. Tear up the pressed tofu into 1/4" or smaller pieces like so:
  5. Torn to pieces
  6. Admire how bereft of water that pressed tofu is: the better to soak up a marinade! Add the pieces to the container with the marinade, cover, and shake vigorously to coat the tofu. Set aside for 15 minutes, but come back occasionally to shake the container a little more.
  7. In a heavy bottom skillet, heat about a 1/2" of peanut oil over medium heat. The oil is hot enough when a piece of tofu sizzles instantly and browns within 30 seconds.
  8. Fry in generous 1/2 cup increments, using a slotted metal spatula to turn and occasionally press the tofu pieces. Remove the tofu to a plate lined with paper towels once the pieces are golden brown with crisped edges... about a minute or two (at most) for each batch. Salt to taste.
As mentioned, we used tofu chicharrones with some refried black beans as a filling for pupusas, and I imagine they would do just as well as a filling for anything from tacos to burritos. They'd also be great, I'd bet, just mixed into some beans... and frankly, they are so good I liked just munching on them as a snack. Totally worth making if you are a vegetarian or vegan... especially if you've not really done much with frozen tofu, as the technique is worth exploring... but I think it will be eyeopening to meat eaters (like me) as well. No, it doesn't taste like fried pork belly, but the possibilities of using tofu prepared in this way is worth appreciating in its own right.