Monday, September 7, 2009

Grilled Tofu – Soy, Spice and Smoke

I was recently perusing my copy of Personal Trainer: Cooking, for the Nintendo DS, and I came across an ingredient I'd never heard of before: grilled tofu. The program assured me that it was available in local Japanese markets.

I live out near the west desert in Utah. I don't have a local Japanese market.

It got me thinking, though. What would grilled tofu be like? Broiled tofu is pretty good, but it's really soft, even when you get extra firm tofu. Hmmm. With Labor day weekend coming up, and my foodie brain churning with ideas, I thought I'd experiment.

Tofu has a lot of water in it. The higher the water content, the softer the tofu. I wanted something a little meatier for the grill, so I'd have to get rid of some of the water.

Starting with a block of extra firm tofu, I wrapped it in a clean dish towel and put a weight on it. In just moments my dishtowel was soaked. I couldn't believe how much water I had gotten out in such a short about of time. Switching to a dry towel I repeated the process, a few times, actually. Once the deluge slowed, and I was satisfied that I'd gotten as much as I could out without destroying the tofu, I was ready for the next step.

I read somewhere that freezing tofu will get more water out so, next I wrapped the block in wax paper, then in foil, and then I sealed it up in a freezer bag, making sure to get as much air out of the bag as I could, and stuck the block in my freezer for a few days.

After removing the frozen tofu and allowing it to thaw, sure enough, I got more water out of it. A lot of water. The texture had become more dense and it reminded me of a sponge. Pressing out as much water as I could, I started thinking about how to flavor the tofu. Would marinating the tofu in soy sauce and spices pull the flavors into the tofu, like it does when you brine meat? I decided to give it a try.

I put the tofu block in a container for marinating. I didn't want to add a bunch of water back into it, nor use up a bunch of soy sauce, so I starting pouring some over the top, little by little. I was right to think of this as a sponge. It sucked up the soy sauce just like it was one. Still concerned with adding back too much liquid, I stopped with the soy sauce and spread a simple seasoning salt rub on the tofu block, just like I might for a steak, and set it aside while I fired up the grill.

After the grill was properly heated, cleaned and oiled, it was time for the tofu. First, I made sure I added some soaked hickory chips to add some smoke flavor. Next, I cut the tofu block into smaller slabs, each about 1/2 inch thick, and placed them on the grill. I was pleased at how easily the coveted “grill marks” appeared, and the tofu cooked up to a toasty finish with only a few minutes grilling on each side.

The texture was meaty, somewhere between firm fish and bread. The flavor was pretty good, too, but it could have had a bit more seasoning. The subtle smokiness was a nice touch. Interestingly, the flavor didn't improve much when I drizzled a little soy sauce on top.

By itself, I don't think the process was worth it, but I suspect that as an ingredient in some other dish, grilled tofu might perfect. A stir fry was my first thought, but now I'm thinking, why not smothered in mushrooms on a hamburger bun? Maybe I'll try that the next time.


Angenette, FBF said...

Interesting experiment with the grilling.
Try it in soup sometime.

John Newman said...

Hey Angenette! Soup! Interesting. Are you thinking like a miso broth type soup? It makes sense, considering I normally see this in sukiyaki. Or did you have some other kind of soup in mind?

Angenette, FBF said...

I was thinking more Pho, but a miso soup would be good, too!