Aromatic Chili Tofu; or microwave steaming is a real, legitimate thing…

field of chilis

I have to admit I haven’t spent much time cooking outside of work lately. I keep trying to get around to perfecting my potato-and-flour gnocchi recipe, but that will just have to wait a few more days. But I saw this on the modernist cuisine blog and it‘s really good and quick.  Cooking tofu correctly can often be very similar to cooking white fleshed fish like tilapia or cod correctly.  It’s not just about heating it up. In this case, it’s about achieving a silky texture in the middle with a slight chew on the outside and infusing it with flavor. Chinese steamed fish dishes have always intrigued me but steaming can be a pain in the ass.  So the people in the modernist lab did some testing and came up with a pretty damn good recipe.  Even with good tofu, I think we need a little more strong aromatics in there than they do for the fish, so I looked at some other Chinese steamed fish recipes and came up with something I really liked. This takes about 15 minutes to prep and 6 to cook.  If your plan isn’t to eat it like a midnight snack (which I highly suggest), I would suggest serving it with a heartier grain like farro or a good brown rice cooked sticky style like they do at Chinese restaurants.  Beyond the fact that microwave steaming seems ridiculous, the idea of steamed tofu is not particularly appetizing, so i can’t really figure out a good name for this, but it’s awesome.

Microwaved tofu, in the style of a chinese steamed fish (seriously):

  • 1/2 block firm tofu, drained and cut into 2 filets
  • 5 scallions
  • 1 Tablespoons chopped salted chiles (recipe below) or 1 teaspoon Chinese chile paste
  • 1/2 inch piece of ginger, peeled and grated
  • Zest of half of an orange
  • 1/2 teaspoon fermented black beans, rinsed
  • 1 teaspoon black rice vinegar
  • Salt and pepper
  • 3 tablespoons peanut oil
  • ½ teaspoon sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons good soy sauce

Lightly score the surface of the tofu with the tip of a sharp knife. Lay the tofu in a single layer on a microwaveable plate, and season lightly with salt and coarsely ground black pepper.  Crush 3 of the scallions with the back of a knife.  Spread the ginger, orange, chile, vinegar and fermented black beans on top of the tofu. Lay the scallions over top of everything   Wrap the whole plate very tight with plastic wrap.  Microwave on  medium power for 6 minutes.  While it’s microwaving, slice the rest of the scallion greens.  When it is done cooking, unwrap it carefully and discard the scallions.  Then cover it with the sliced scallions greens.  Heat the peanut oil to until it’s just smoking and pour over the tofu.  Mix the toasted sesame oil and soy sauce and drizzle evenly over the dish.  

Chopped salted chiles: 

These are wonderful to have on hand at all times, but they do take a while to if your in a rush, just use some Chinese chile paste, whichever you can find that has the least number of ingredients.  You can even just leave this out of the steamed tofu and just add some chile flakes for spicyness  This recipe is from the Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook by Fuchsia Dunlop:

  • 1 lb very fresh red chiles (I really like using long hots)
  • ¼ cup salt

Cut off the stems and tips and chop coarsely.  In a bowl, mix the chiles with 3 ½ tablespoons of the salt.  Place in a glass jar and cover with the rest of the salt.  Seal with a tight-fitting lid.  Leave in a cool place for a couple of weeks and then refrigerate after opening.