columnist-logo_ryantatsumoto_FINALAbout two weeks ago, one of the most prestigious, if not the most prestigious, BBQ contests concluded its annual competition in Memphis, Tenn. with anywhere from 40 to 120 teams competing to produce the ultimate BBQ concoction. While categories in beef, poultry, seafood and various sauces are judged, undoubtedly the most prestigious awards are in the porcine category, with ribs, shoulder and whole hog, and are the most desired trophies for amateur and professional teams alike. And from one of the three porcine categories a grand champion is crowned. Basically, the yokozuna of BBQ!

Though I’ve never dreamed of trying my hand at any BBQ competition, I still do partake in smoked meats, whether it’s a 14-hour smoked beef brisket or a 12-hour smoked pork butt that’s been pulled and tossed with that perfectly seasoned vinegar and red pepper sauce or even my own smoked pork marinated in the Gochiso Gourmet’s porky herbs.

But what if you’ve eliminated red meats from your diet? Are you totally missing out of the perfect BBQ and smoked fair? Nope, not even by a long shot! Welcome to the Gochiso Gourmet’s own version of Memphis in May … The Soy and Tofu Festival in May!

Smoked Tofu
Tofu is probably the first soy-based product that comes to everyone’s mind when asked to name something made with soybeans. Most Asian cultures have a protein rich precipitate from coagulated soy milk that is tofu or closely resembles tofu. Though firm tofu contains up to 10 percent protein on a weight basis, it also is about 85 percent water on a weight basis. So while turning a large piece of pork shoulder or beef brisket on your smoker grates poses no problem, simply getting a block of tofu to just sit on those same smoker grates is near impossible. Therefore, a lot of the moisture in a block of tofu needs to be removed before you even fire up those coals. How do you accomplish this? Simply place the unopened container of tofu in your freezer for several days. Once the tofu block thaws, it releases a lot more water than if you simply drained the block on a rack resulting in a block that’s easier to slice without crumbling. I also place the slices of thawed tofu on a rack with some added weight on the tofu to liberate even more water.

Smoked fried tofu. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

Now that you have that resilient cutlet of curdled soy milk, does it go straight to the smoker? Nope, like any piece of bovine or swine, you first have to season your protein. I personally marinate my tofu in shoyu, brown sugar and my “Porky Herbs,” rosemary, sage, marjoram, lemon thyme and garlic and onion powders. Of course, after two days of marinating, I once again drain the tofu cutlets with some added weight on the cutlets. But there’s no reason why you can’t simply dust your pressed cutlets with your favorite dry rub or BBQ sauce before placing in your smoker. Since I included my recipe for my Smoked Tofu Club Sandwich last year, I won’t bore you with the details again but it is a mighty tasty sandwich indeed.

Smoked Fried Tofu
With fried tofu, you don’t have to do any freezer or draining and pressing prep work as these blocks are as solid as tofu gets. Therefore, just simply slice it lengthwise to your desired thickness, then season and smoke. Once the slabs are smoked, you can once again place them in a hoagie roll with sautéed onions and peppers and cheese for a vegetarian cheesesteak sandwich or thinly slice and sauté with onions for the Gochiso Gourmet’s version of the island classic, smoke meat and onions (residents of the 50th call it smoke meat, not smoked meat) except this version is totally vegetarian.

Smoked yuba. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto
Smoked yuba. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

Smoked Yuba
Most of the yuba you’ll find available at the market is from China. But because it’s the dried, rolled “skin” that forms on the surface of boiled soy milk, regardless of the origin, it’s still yuba. Because the market variety is dried, it has to be rehydrated before it’s used. Of course, simple water does the trick, but since it’ll be soaking up a lot of moisture, how about using flavored liquid? And since I’ll be smoking these rehydrated strips, what other foodstuff comes as flat strips and is smoked? You got it, bacon! Therefore, like some of the best artisanal bacon, I’ll rehydrate my yuba with maple syrup, brown sugar and bourbon!
Now what to do with my completed yuba “bacon?” How about “bacon” fried rice? Just thinly slice the smoked yuba as you would slice bacon then sauté with garlic, onions and other assorted veggies with a touch of shoyu and you now have fried rice with a touch of smoked flavor. Perhaps place the sautéed fried tofu and onions on top of the smoked fried rice and add a sunny side egg … voila: Double smoked soy loco moco!

Smoked Okara
Well before the tofu sets, the initial by-product of tofu is completed and previously it was used primarily as a supplement for livestock feed. Okara, or the ground soybeans that gave up all of its precious soy milk, originally wasn’t used for human consumption. In fact, some of Hawai‘i’s early tofu factories used to dole out bagfuls of okara for free, especially since there wasn’t much livestock production in 50th. Of course, nowadays flavored okara costs more than the tofu itself. But you can still find bags of plain okara for a fraction of the price. And because okara still retains a lot of the protein and all of the fiber of the original soybean, it makes a great replacement for breadcrumbs or cracker meal in baked protein applications like meatloaf and patties.

So simply get one of those aluminum baking pans that you normally use for sweet breads or meatloaf and puncture the whole pan with a sharp paring knife. Fill the pan with plain okara and smoke it for several hours tossing the okara every 30 minutes to saturate it with smoked flavor (the knife piercings allow smoke to penetrate the bottom and side of the pan). Once it’s done, you can use this smoked okara in place of breadcrumbs or cracker meal in any recipe … and it’ll fortify your dish with added protein and fiber.

Not just for carnivores
So while the original Memphis in May is pork centric, even if you’ve forsaken red meat or animal protein entirely you can still enjoy the bounty of the smoker and grill pit. Just look for that other white “meat,” tofu, and its family. You can create dishes that are just as Pavlovian and healthier to enjoy on a regular basis. Of course if you still haven’t purchased that Kamado or vertical smoker with the offset fire pit or still aren’t willing to give up your pulled pork or smoked brisket, you can still enjoy the flavors of the joy of soy at the 6th annual Northern California Soy and Tofu Festival on Saturday, June 4 at the Event Center at St. Mary’s Cathedral at Gough St and Geary Blvd. in San Francisco from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Enjoy music by Cynthia Lin and the Blue Moon All Stars, Curt Yagi and the People Standing Behind Me, and others, as well as food by various vendors and witness firsthand whether Kinako Brownie Cake, Tofu White Chocolate Mousse, Tonyu Amazake Tofu Pudding with Sakura Kanten Jelly or Fromage Tofu takes the winner’s trophy for the Tofu Dessert Competition. All this for just $10 advance sale or $15 at the door, with proceeds benefiting the Nichi Bei Foundation which publishes the very paper in your hand right now. Fun for the whole family for a worthy cause. Make plans to attend the 2016 Northern California Soy and Tofu Festival!

The Gochiso Gourmet is a column on food, wine and healthy eating. Ryan Tatsumoto is a graduate of both the Univ. of Hawai‘i and UC San Francisco. He is a clinical pharmacist during the day and a budding chef/recipe developer/wine taster at night. He writes from Kane‘ohe, HI and can be reached at

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