2/08/2020

Baked Tofu

Sandra and I incorporate tofu into our diet pretty regularly. We're not vegan or vegetarian or anything like that, but as people who need to watch the stats of what we eat, we really like tofu's stats, and as people who like yummy things, we sometimes find tofu super-yummy.

But we do prefer it firm, and maybe a bit crispy. When it's nice and solid, tofu is something we dig and genuinely crave. When it's soft and smooshy, it's something we eat with vegetables and go "Yum, these are delicious veggies. And also there is tofu."

When we lived in Colorado we had steady access to an excellent convenience product: the tofu "cutlet" by House Foods. This is a fried block of tofu, just under 7 ounces, and it's what tofu is like once you cook much of the excess water out, so it's already yummy and gets even yummier when you slice it thick and cook it even more, grilled or pan-fried or what-have-you.

And this was the best thing that happened to our tofu consumption. We were already fine with consuming the stuff regularly, but this tipped the scale from "tofu we're okay with" to "tofu we look forward to," which is a big deal when you're trying to stick to any kind of regimen. We started doing tofu dishes twice as often if not more.

We also found other brands (and House Foods makes other styles) of fully-cooked tofu, but every one of them was flavored in some way: garlic or teriyaki or ginger or whatnot, and all of those had extra salt and other additions, and we do stretches of trying to be extra-careful with sodium. We're bad at that, but that's not tofu's fault, Mainly it's the fault of salt being delicious, and included in everything.

So the other styles of cooked tofu were not ideal, but that was okay. We had the House Foods cutlet, with no added salt. It wasn't even a specialty-market item; we could get it at our neighborhood grocery stores (King Soopers, a ridiculously-named local part of the Kroger chain).

Every time I cooked with the cutlets, I thought to myself "I bet I could just bake some regular tofu and get a result much like this." The House Foods cutlet is fried, but it doesn't taste fried and it's lean and non-oily, so I assumed I could get there with baking.

But I never bothered because it was easy to buy the cutlets and they weren't too expensive.

And then we moved to Pennsylvania, which has been good, but ... our regular supermarkets don't have the House Foods cutlet. There's probably somewhere in the valley we can find them, but if they're not in our regular markets, they won't be part of our regular fare. Our regular market (a Wegman's, which is a very groovy store) does have the salty flavored kind, for about $4 per 7-ounce chunk, and we've had those and enjoyed them ... but we tend to use two chunks per meal and we'd still rather flavor them as we choose, and $8 for a single meal's protein should be a nice frickin' piece of steak, frankly. Like I said: we're not vegetarians, so we can't be had over that particular barrel.

And I always meant to try baking the tofu myself.

And I always wondered: how much weight would the tofu lose to that kind of hyper-firm cooking? Tofu, as you already know if you cook with it, starts out as a sponge full of water, even the Extra Firm stuff is just a slightly less floofy sponge.*

So the answer is half. A 14-ounce chunk of tofu, baked down into the nice firm stuff we love, becomes a 7-ounce chunk (more like 7.2, but near enough).

And it's as easy as I supposed. I feel silly for not doing it sooner, but such is the sexy lure of convenience tofu. The "recipe," such as it is:

S. John's Super Groovy Baked Tofu


Prep Time:
 5 minutes if you're moving in cartoonish slow-motion to amuse a toddler. Otherwise, less.

Cooking Time: 2 hours

Ingredients: Two 14-ounce packages of fresh Extra Firm tofu.

Equipment: Chef's knife, a nonstick cookie sheet or pizza pan, tongs.

Preheat oven to 325°F (163°C). Press the excess fluid from the tofu (on a stack of clean cloth towels or paper towels). Carve each of the 14-ounce chunks into four thick rectangular slabs. Arrange on the nonstick baking sheet. Bake for two hours, turning the chunks over with the tongs at the halfway point.

Yield: around 14.4 ounces of baked, super-firm, extra-good tofu which you can later pan-fry or do other delicious things to.

There are, of course, a lot of baked tofu recipes on the Web, and I read a ton of them before this undertaking, but most of them were fixated on making the tofu crispy out of the oven, and so usually involve shorter baking times at higher temperatures. My goal with this is something I can bake in advance and then freeze or fridge for pan-frying at some later time, so I opted for lower, slower baking for a nice even, gentle browned thing. They do still come out crispy-ish, but ... they won't stay that way once you fridge them.

More important, they have exactly the density and texture I was hoping they'd have. And a finished serving (our version of a serving) costs $1.79 instead of $4, plus whatever it takes the run the gas oven for two hours but don't trouble me with details.

My next quest will be finding out what alternative I can achieve in the microwave, because right now, baking something for two hours is no big deal. There's snow on the ground outside and the heat feels good. But come summertime I might really not want to have the oven on. If I have any luck with nuking or slow-cookering or anything else, I'll let you know. And now, here's a photo, because I don't like doing a blog-post without a photo. Even if it's a photo of brown chunks in a brown bowl.

Hope this finds you well. My inbox, as always, is open.

You've heard of food porn? This tofu hasn't.
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*  The idea that the fresh stuff can (for example) substitute for chicken breast only makes sense if your idea of the density of "chicken" comes from Marshmallow Peeps.