Whenever I cook with tofu at home, it’s often in ground form; a dumpling filling, or replacement for ground meat in a red sauce. Every time I try to slice it into cubes for a stir fry or soup, it falls short of what I’m really after—that meaty, chewier texture that soaks up sauces and drippings and whatever else you cook it in, a texture that almost looks flaky when you cut the cubes in half and look inside. Tofu tastes this way in a lot of dishes you can find in Chinese restaurants, and until now I alway figured the tofu used by these restaurants was a specialty product, something I’d have to know to look for at an Asian supermarket.
So I was pretty delighted to see Toronto Star culture reporter Karon Liu post this dish as part of an Instagram recipe series he’s been doing on pantry-friendly cooking:
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Recipe 61: Udon and Freezer Tofu in a Spicy Peanut Broth 1) Bring a small pot of water to a boil. Cook noodles until al dente. Drain and set aside. 2) Using the same pot, whisk together 2 cups chicken broth, 1 minced garlic clove, 2 tbsp smooth peanut butter and 2 tsp chili sauce. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and then turn down to a simmer. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. If you are using an unsalted broth, add a bit of salt or soy sauce. 3) Add chopped broccoli, mushrooms and cubes of firm tofu that have been previously frozen and thawed. Simmer until broccoli is tender, about 3 to 5 minutes. 4) Add cooked noodles and simmer for another minute or two. Transfer to a serving bowl and garnish with green onions or more chili sauce. . . I used frozen udon, which can be found in packs at Asian grocers. You can use any Asian noodle (soba, ramen, etc) or even spaghetti if you're in a pinch. You don't have to cook them in a separate pot of water first, but I find doing so gets rid of a lot of the starch in the noodles so it won't muck up the soup broth and make it too thick. You can use a vegetable broth but I find it has a much sweeter flavour than meat-based broths so I'd add a bit more salt or soy sauce. If you have star anise, pop in a pod and boil it in the broth for a few minutes to really capture the south-east Asian flavours that inspired this dish. As I mentioned in a previous entry (Recipe 59), freezing cubes of firm tofu overnight yields a much spongier and meatier texture ideal for soups. . . #KaronCooks
Click through to the next image on his Instagram post, and you’ll see all the lovely little air pockets in the tofu, just soaking up all of that peanut broth. It turns out, all I’d needed this whole time to get that texture was my freezer.
As Liu explains, even the firmest of tofu has a lot of water in it, which expands during freezing and leaves plenty of air bubbles behind when the tofu is thawed and the water is squeezed out. What you end up with is a slightly spongy, firmer product that holds up better in cooking and takes to marinades really well. I happened to have a block of medium-firm tofu sitting in the fridge when I saw Liu’s post, and tried it that day.
Here’s what it looked like before freezing. I cut it into four large cubes and put them in a plastic container before freezing.
And here’s what it looked like the next day, after I thawed it and pressed the water out (there was a lot more water than I expected).
After this, I cut the large cubes into smaller cubes and used them in a stir fry, and they were delicious: a little denser, way saucier, and with plenty of bite. The only things I’d do differently the next time around is slice the tofu down to the size I plan on cooking them in before freezing, to cut down on thawing time, and maybe wrap the tofu in cheesecloth to prevent freezer burn.
Freezing before cooking may seem like an extra step when thinking about how to use tofu in a recipe, but I don’t think it has to be. The next time I pick up a block from the grocery store, I know exactly where it’s going to get stored—and it isn’t the fridge. Thanks, Karon!