Sunday, 16 December 2012

General Tao Tofu

Oh my goodness, I realize it's been a while since my last post, and I must apologize: the end of the year turns my office into an asylum. There was also our big company Christmas party last Friday, an event which requires as much planning and organization as a rocket launch. Spoilers: it's basically like a huge prom for grown-ups!

When I got back to my humble little kitchen, I wanted some of MY traditional holiday grubs: General Tao. Yes, you read that right: I come from one of those weird families that hasn't had a traditional turkey for Christmas in over a decade. Our Nativity celebration generally involves take-out and a "Star Wars" marathon. I kinda like it! It's fun, totally uncomplicated and I can be shameless about wearing a geeky t-shirt and my Converse shoes. Don't get me wrong, it's a lot of fun to get dolled-up and eat fancy food with my colleagues, but the slouchiness is much more my style.

This little recipe is a treasure I found browsing on Appetite for China. I tweaked it a bit, but it's still very simple and quick to get on the table, and it tastes better than any restaurant General Tao I have ever tried. I have a chicken version of this recipe, but since it requires the chicken cubes to be rolled in batter and fried, this is the version I use when I don't want to wait too long, or make too huge a mess. It's also much lighter than (and nowhere near as greasy as) the chicken version: something to consider after all those rich Holiday meals you may have already started eating...

Remember to give your tofu plenty of time in the pan: a good General Tao needs a chewy bite, so you really want the soy curd to get golden and crispy to get the perfect texture.

1 pound extra-firm tofu
Peanut oil
1/2 to 1 teaspoon dried red chili flakes
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced ginger,
2 to 4 scallions, white and green parts separated and thinly sliced
1 teaspoon white sesame seeds (for garnish)

3 tablespoons tomato paste (or substitute ketchup for a slightly sweeter sauce)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 teaspoons hoisin sauce
2 teaspoons Sri Racha sauce
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons sugar

Drain and press the tofu, then cut into 1-inch pieces. Prepare the sauce: in a small bowl, stir together the tomato paste, soy sauce, rice vinegar, hoisin sauce, chili sauce, sesame oil, and sugar (it won't look like a lot, but remember that this sauce should coat the pieces of tofu, and not drown them too much).

Heat 2 tablespoons of the peanut oil in a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat. Swirl to coat the bottom. Add the tofu in one layer (you may have to do this in batches) and allow it to sear on the first side undisturbed for about 1 minute.

Then use a spatula to move the tofu cubes around until they are golden on half or most of the sides, about 3 to 4 minutes.

Transfer to a plate and set aside. In the same pan, add the remaining 1 tablespoon of peanut oil. Add the dried chilis, garlic, ginger, and scallions and stir-fry until just fragrant, about 30 or 40 seconds.

Pour in the sauce and stir until thickened, about 1 minute. Add the tofu and carefully toss to coat with the sauce.

Transfer everything to a large serving dish. Sprinkle the sesame seeds and scallions greens on top and serve with rice and steamed vegetables on the side.

The sauce has the perfect blend of spicy, tangy and sweet you want from a good, satisfying General Tao. Honestly, this is quite literally an awesomesauce. The tofu gets perfectly coated in the mixture, giving you a chewy bite of piquant Asian yumminess. If you like it saucy, go ahead and double the sauce, especially if you want to throw some veggies in the wok along with your tofu, like some broccoli, snow peas or bell peppers.

I am looking forward to making a huge batch of this amazeballs recipe and sharing it with my urban family along with some Tzingtao beers! Have lovely Holidays everyone: enjoy food and drink, and don't forget to tell the people in your life that you love them!

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