More than just soft and silky

KBay Bros Tofu Poké. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

I know the first thing people envision when you say tofu is that semi-solid block of soft curdled soy milk. Sometimes it’s served as is with a little bit of shoyu and sliced green onions, sometimes its heated so those curls of shaved bonito slowly dance on the surface of the block and sometimes its cut into smaller cubes, then simmered in nabe or nimono.

For a quick meal, I often open a box of Mori-Nu tofu, microwave it for 40 seconds, then top with shaved bonito, memmi and sliced green onions. Though I usually try to support local and Aloha Tofu products can be found in every supermarket, I also keep several boxes of Mori-Nu in our refrigerator (yes, I know the product is stable at room temperature) as the expiration date is 12 months from production. Fresh Aloha Tofu only lasts from one to three weeks, so we don’t always have it in the refrigerator.

Although silky tofu breaks apart during cooking, sometimes the silky texture is fine with mapo tofu or a bittermelon stir fry. However, on other occasions, I would prefer that the tofu remain intact as sliced. For instance, for the past several years, I smoke slices of firm tofu when lighting up the smoker. I then use these smoked slices as the protein in sandwiches. And for this application, even the extra firm variety of tofu can break apart in the smoker, leaving a huge mess. So previously, I’d freeze the block of tofu for at least two days, then thaw and marinate. Freezing basically creates ice crystals from all of the water in tofu. Subsequently thawing the block allows the water to drain away leaving just the soy solids intact. And while freezing and thawing creates a firmer texture that’s not prone to breakage in the smoker, the texture is akin to aburaage. While I enjoy aburaage, especially in inarizushi or stuffed with minced pork and steamed, its texture as a sandwich protein is… well, a little lacking.

Fried Tofu

KBay Bros Tofu Poké. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

While you can find many versions of fried tofu on the Internet — whether it’s deep fried, pan fried or air fried — I believe the 50th is the only place you can find pre-packaged deep-fried tofu or atsuage courtesy of Aloha Tofu. You don’t have to bring out any kitchen appliances, simply open the package of two six ounce blocks of very firm tofu due to the deep frying and slice to the desired size. I always use this product when making nishime or jai. However, for the past two to three years, I also have been using the atsuage to create a vegan poké. You see, back in September 2021, a new poké shop opened in my hometown of Kaneohe named KBay Bros Fish & Ice Co by the four Koki brothers and their families. And one of their poké featured tofu tossed with limu (seaweed), sliced cucumbers, chopped watercress in a shoyu-based sauce. They use firm or extra firm tofu that seems to be lightly deep fried to maintain the texture. When they first opened, I was still gainfully employed at the day job, so I could still afford fresh ahi poké in the $20 to $25 per pound price range. However, now that that income has dropped over 80 percent, the $7 per pound tofu poké is a more likely purchase. In fact, I’m more likely creating my own version at home using Aloha Tofu’s atsuage. And when local supermarkets have it on sale for $2.49, I purchase several blocks. You can’t find a better plant-based protein source for less than $3.50 pound, especially when the end product is poké!

Sildenafil Influenced Tofu
You can take the pharmacist out of the pharmacy, but you can’t take the cheesy pharmacy jokes out of the pharmacist.
After finding super firm tofu at one of our local health food stores, I’ve been a convert. And because House Foods organic tofu products can easily be found in the Bay Area, you can likely find more of their super firm tofu products than we can find in the 50th. House Foods makes super firm tofu cutlets flavored with teriyaki or orange/tamari, as well as plain and fried (tofu poké anyone)? They also make plain and grilled blocks and cubed super firm tofu. The super firm variety of tofu has the consistency of a very firm, moist cheese. It doesn’t crumble when grilling or smoking, so you can avoid the whole freezing and thawing routine and simply slice, marinate overnight, then smoke or grill. I’ll even give you my “world famous” (in my mind at least) Gochiso Gourmet’s Porky Herbs, which I initially just used to marinate pork sirloin, which I subsequently smoked but now also use it to marinate super firm tofu, that other white “meat.”

The Gochiso Gourmet’s Porky Herbs
3 tbsp dried, crushed rosemary
2 tbsp dried, rubbed sage
1 1/2 tbsp dried lemon thyme
1 tbsp garlic powder
1 tbsp onion powder
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup reduced sodium shoyu

Mix a heaping tbsp of the porky herbs, brown sugar and shoyu then pour into a zip-topped bag, add the sliced super firm tofu and marinate overnight or up to two days. Smoke or grill the super firm tofu slices then use as the main protein in a sandwich (I prefer ciabatta bread).

Retiree Tofu Poké
12 oz Aloha Tofu Deep Fried Tofu or House Super Firm Tofu
About 1/3 Japanese cucumber, quartered lengthwise then thinly sliced
About 1 cup watercress, blanched then roughly chopped
1/4 cup thinly sliced green onion
1/2 cup rehydrated Noh Hawaiian Dried Ogo (seaweed), roughly chopped
2 oz shoyu
1 oz mirin
½ oz ginger juice
1/2 oz rice wine vinegar

Add the tofu, cucumber, watercress, green onions and ogo to a mixing bowl. Combine the wet ingredients then gently toss with the tofu mixture. Let it sit for 15 minutes to allow the seasoning to penetrate the tofu mixture.

The Noh Dried Ogo is available through mail order ($18.25) and can make several batches of poké — a reasonable substitute is roughly chopped sea beans which give the same crunch and salinity. If watercress isn’t available, roughly chopped daikon sprouts are a good substitute.

Soy and Tofu Festival
So if this column has piqued your interest in all things tofu, head on over to the San Francisco Japantown Peace Plaza on Saturday, June 3 from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. for the 11th 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 University of Hawai‘i and UC San Francisco. He is a recently retired clinical pharmacist and a budding chef/ recipe developer/wine taster. He writes from Kane’ohe, HI and can be reached at gochisogourmet@gmail.com. The views expressed in the preceding column are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei News.

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