Bon Appétit (June 2011)
If you're trying to de-emphasize meat in your diet, as we've tried to do this year, sooner or later you're going to find yourself eating tofu. We've actually been experimenting this spring with cooking lots of the stuff.
But here's the thing: It's usually pretty bland.
"Yeah, yeah," you're saying. "Of course it's bland. Like potatoes or rice, tofu is an empty canvas, a culinary blank slate ready to take on whatever flavors you throw at it."
That's true, we guess. But we haven't had too much luck getting tofu to taste like much of anything. Like, say you're eating a yummy veggie tofu stir-fry. The vegetables are full of great flavors, but when you bite into a piece of tofu, it's like, "Oh, now I am eating the tofu part of this stir fry." It's not bad. You're just aware of this little bite of blandness in an otherwise flavorful dish.
Its lack of presence is just so ... present.
Anyway, forget all that. Because this Spicy Sriracha-Grilled Tofu is the hottest, spiciest thing we've eaten in ages.
We were immediately drawn to this recipe when we saw it in the June issue of Bon Appétit. It's included in a new feature at the front of the magazine called "The Challenge," in which five different chefs come up with recipes for one ingredient. (Last month's ingredient was canned tuna.) "The Challenge" is great, because it gives you five really simple ways to utilize the same thing.
This month's challenge centers on Sriracha, that spicy Asian chili sauce. If you're a regular Bitten Word reader, you're definitely familiar with Sriracha. It's the quickest way to add heat and spice to a dish and we constantly reach for it while in the kitchen.
But we typically use Sriracha only as a "booster," something to add a kick to a dish. We've used it in salad dressings, stir-frys, marinades and even cocktails to take things up a notch. But we've never built a dish around Sriracha. And that's just what this grilled tofu does. Marinating the tofu overnight in the Sriracha-based sauce really helps infuse it with flavor.
Grilling it is a cinch. Just dump the cubes straight on the grill, flip 'em after a couple minutes, wait a couple minutes more, and eat!
Before we get to how they actually tasted, a couple notes:
1. Note the 24-hour marinating time! We didn't realize that aspect of the recipe until it was too late, and our Tuesday night dinner became a Wednesday night dinner.
2. OIL YOUR GRILL! We lost a few of our tofu pieces because they were hopelessly stuck to the grates of our grill. Don't be like us! Brush your grill with a little vegetable oil before you throw the tofu on the grates.
Well, as we said, marinating the tofu in Sriracha -- and brushing more of it on during the grilling -- means the tofu really tastes like Sriracha. It's not just hot and spicy (although it is very hot and spicy), it actually takes on the flavor of Sriracha, which we can't say we've really tasted so fully before. It's a hot-sour sort of pepper flavor, and it's delicious.
And that thing we said about spice? We're not joking. This is easily the spiciest thing we've eaten in months. (Actually, we're hard-pressed to think of anything this spicy we've had in a long, long time!) It's like burn-your-lips spicy.
But here's the cool part: That "blank-slate blandness" of the tofu? It actually works brilliantly here as a balance to tone down the spice a bit. On its own, the Sriracha-miso sauce is almost unbearably spicy. But the bites of tofu are perfect, the heat tempered by the pillowy tofu. And the char from the grill is excellent.
In short, we loved this dish! We served it alongside a cold Asian cabbage slaw, with an icy beer and a glass of water (and another glass of water, and another ...).
So, yeah: Tofu so hot we almost couldn't handle it. Who'd have thought?!
1 14-16 ounce container extra-firm tofu
3/4 cup Sriracha
1 tablespoon roasted sesame seeds plus more
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon white miso paste
3 chopped scallions plus more
2 garlic cloves
Cut tofu into 1" blocks. Drain well on paper towels.
Put Sriracha, 1 tablespoon sesame seeds, soy sauce, and white miso paste in a blender with 3 chopped scallions and garlic cloves. Blend with water until smooth. Reserve a cupful for dipping; marinate the tofu in the rest overnight.
Shake off excess sauce and grill tofu, brushing with sauce. Sprinkle with roasted sesame seeds and scallions.