Tofu to sink your teeth into
July 19, 2012 6:47 PM   Subscribe

How can I make my tofu seriously chewy?

For various recipes, I need bean curd that stands up to my molars. I want it as close to beef -- in consistency, not flavor -- as possible.

Ideally I'd like to cut it to matchstick size, but I'm flexible. I'm open to any variety tofu, any storage, any prep steps etc.

I don't care when the consistency develops. I'll even prepare the tofu separately and add it after a serious, high heat stir fry of other ingredients. I'll take anything. I need chewy tofu.

I'm already working with Bittman's vegetarian book, but please point me to key points about chewy tofu in it or anywhere else.

Bonus: Prepare me for reality. What's my maximum reasonable expectation?
posted by LonnieK to Food & Drink (27 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
One thing I do is to put the block of tofu on a deepish plate, and then put another plate over that one, as securely as possible, thereby squeezing as much water out of the block as possible. This increases the consistency of it, probably not enough but it is a start.
posted by Danf at 6:48 PM on July 19, 2012

Cut it fairly thin, and stir-fry the hell out of it.

That said - Don't start with tofu. Tofu really kinda sucks for chewyness (as a fellow vegetarian who likes a good chew, I agree with you completely). Go for TVP in a mcnugget or cutlet form, and reconstitute it with your flavors of choice (I find tamari with a hint of hickory smoke extract gives something not entirely un-jerky-like). You can still cook TVP down for a bit more body, but you probably won't need it.

Also, it doesn't come entirely cheaply (about $10/lb if you get it in the 5lbs bags), but have you tried Stonewall's Jerquee? One of the first veggie fake meats I ever had, and I would have to say, still my favorite (but for chewing on, not the sort of thing you can use in your day-to-day meals). And no, I have no connection to Lumen Soy Foods, the manufacturer thereof.
posted by pla at 6:54 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Dry frying!! Just tried this for the first time this week and I'm so excited I can finally figured out how to make my tofu chewy!
posted by goggie at 6:55 PM on July 19, 2012 [4 favorites]

Have you tried frozen tofu?
posted by Pantalaimon at 7:01 PM on July 19, 2012 [5 favorites]

Seconding dry frying. I have been recommending this to everyone who mentions tofu in conversation, even occasionally to people who don't. It has totally changed our tofu-eatin' ways. The idea is: throw the tofu into a pan with no oil. Heat it up, and the water starts coming out. Once all the water is out, it toughens up...but is also soooo much more receptive to all the flavors you want to add. (My current favorite is to dry fry, then soak in a little molasses, tamari and ginger, then stir fry or throw on the grill!)

It takes a while--you want to do it on a fairly low heat to keep the pieces expressing their fluids (ew!), but warm enough to have the water boil off the pan. Probably easier to do with smaller pieces...I've tried big thick sandwich-sized pieces, and I guess there was too much water in the middle for that to work, or I was too impatient. But say 3/4 to an inch thick does just fine.
posted by mittens at 7:06 PM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Have you tried tofu threads? I find them to be chewier than regular tofu. Larger Asian supermarkets have many different types of tofu. Look for the browner or leathery-looking tofus.

I find aburaage to be quite chewy, but some of the Japanese aburaage can be quite sweet, and I don't know if it's to your taste. Then there's beancurd sticks, which Serious Eats recommends to vegetarians missing the taste of meat (Serious Eats says these are also called tofu skins, but I've usually heard tofu skin refer to aburaage).
posted by needled at 7:06 PM on July 19, 2012

Pantalaimon has it. Freeze it. The texture changes completely.
posted by kyrademon at 7:10 PM on July 19, 2012

Dehydrate it for a couple of hours and then fry in high heat. A dehydrator will help get rid of moisture, which is the enemy of chewiness.

N-thing the tofu skin. That stuff is usually quite chewy already.
posted by melissam at 7:13 PM on July 19, 2012

1. Slice it thin. Like, 1/4" to 1/2" (knowing that the finished product is going to thin some.

2. Place the slices between towels or paper towels and weight them down for 30-60 minutes.

3. Lay on a plate or cookie sheet and freeze.

4. After frozen, wrap in foil or place in bag. (They won't stick together this way.)

5. When ready to use, defrost. Press them between towels/paper towels again, but be careful because they're going to be more fragile then.

6. Pan fry until brown on all sides.

7. Add a braising liquid (stock, or stock+soy+ aromatics, or an approximation of a pho broth) and cook for about 20 minutes. Add veggies if you wish

8. Result: Chewy tofu with actual flavor from the braising liquid.
posted by mudpuppie at 7:15 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

N-thing freezing. It causes the water molecules in the tofu (of which there are many!) to crystallize and expand. These jagged little molecules then rip up the structure of the protein in the tofu - not enough to make it fall apart, but JUST enough to, 1. Make a lot of excess water fall out when you defrost and press it, and 2. To give it an utterly wonderful, seriously-chewy texture.
posted by julthumbscrew at 7:16 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

One thing for sure: do not try to use Silken brand for these methods. Any extra-firm or firm tofu will work, except for Silken.
posted by cooker girl at 7:54 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thanks! What a hive this is!

This is great info. I'm going to try it all.
posted by LonnieK at 8:06 PM on July 19, 2012

I've also had success baking tofu. Drain the tofu as suggested above (with a weighted plate on top), cut in large cubes, marinade if you'd like and put the cubed tofu on an oiled baking sheet or I guess you could skip that step if you are using a reliable non-stick one. Pre-heat oven to 350. Put the tofu in the oven and flip ever 10 minutes or so until the outside is toasted. This can take between 30-40 minutes.
posted by kaybdc at 8:20 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you can get to an Asian market, look for "dòu gān" (it's described in the wikipedia article on tofu). It's exactly what you're looking for.
posted by girlhacker at 8:53 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Another vote for freezing and defrosting.
posted by MexicanYenta at 9:41 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

1. Freeze it.
2. Boil it from frozen(!) for about 15 minutes.
3. Squish by putting something heavy on top for a few hours.
4. Fry or bake it.

Some people who use this method do step 3 before freezing instead or as well as after boiling.
posted by lollusc at 11:51 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Hmmm, have to go against the hive here. Roasting in lots of oil (without freezing first) is the key to delicious, firm and chewy, umami tofu. This method is super easy and avoids tedious freeze-defrost-marinade process.

Press it with your hand to squeeze any water out then cut the block tofu into slices of assorted thicknesses (0.5 cms, 1 cm, 2 cms). Pat down really well with paper towels. Chuck in a baking dish with lots of olive oil, soy, honey, minced garlic, pepper and chili flakes. (Soy and oil are the key though). Roast until chewy (an hour or so). Low to moderate heat.

The reason for slicing it in varying thicknesses? The really thin slices turn out brittle and crispy (like tofu chips). The moderately thin ones are like really firm, chewy jerky. Thicker slices are more like soft roast meat. (If you want it softer, don't cook it as long).
posted by dontjumplarry at 1:22 AM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

What I do: Buy extram firm tofu. Drain it. Freeze it for at least one day. Defrost it. Drain it again. Cut in pieces. Pan fry.
posted by manicure12 at 1:30 AM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

i think it gets the chewiest when you drain, press, freeze, dry fry, then marinate and add to your recipe.
posted by nadawi at 2:05 AM on July 20, 2012

Wildwood Organics makes this "super firm" sprouted tofu that is seriously chewy. Trader Joe's sells it or something identical under their store brand. I don't know if it's just the vacuum package that makes it chewy or the fact that it's made using sprouted beans.
posted by amarynth at 5:13 AM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

I bake tofu in soy sauce + olive oil + brandy for about an hour, and it comes out just like you describe!
posted by katrielalex at 8:10 AM on July 20, 2012

Seitan isn't tofu but it is definitely much more textured and solid. I've had seitan beef tips that would fool anyone.
posted by smackfu at 8:16 AM on July 20, 2012

Yes, nthing freezing. We freeze, thaw, then press to get out extra liquid.
posted by mon-ma-tron at 12:21 PM on July 20, 2012

Another vote for freezing. Don't drain it first, though- the water in the tofu forms ice crystals that cause the more fibrous texture of frozen tofu. Press it after you defrost it if you like. If you really want to texturize it, then fry it before putting it in anything. The frying adds another layer of chew on the outside of each piece.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:58 PM on July 20, 2012

Nthing freeze it first. It still won't have the consistency of beef, but it'll be a lot firmer and chewier than if it was previously frozen, but it'll make it a lot better in terms of "meatiness."
posted by asnider at 5:45 PM on July 20, 2012

Do you want tofu, or are you open to other options? As recommended in this thread, this place has a mind-boggling assortment of Buddhist-style vegetarian meat alternatives.

(There's a restaurant near here that does a really good veggie "duck breast" with broccoli in garlic sauce. Hm. It's been too long since I've been there, I think…)
posted by Lexica at 6:56 PM on July 20, 2012

Once again, thx to all! Tryouts are underway.

@Lexica, I'm open to other options & will check out the thread. I'd like to build a version of my recipes with tofu -- so easy to get -- but I'd love to have better alternatives too. Any great recommends for me?
posted by LonnieK at 1:38 PM on July 21, 2012

« Older Where are the single thirtysomethings outside of...   |   In search of a flower nail Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.