Wednesday, July 28, 2010

General Tso's Tofu - chinese takeout treat

General Tso's is a pretty popular item on the chinese takeout menu. Called by different names such as General Tao etc., it is doubtful if there was ever any such general in the chinese army. But this General is pretty favoured by one and all when they order their favourite takeout. We had a weekly lunch thing at one of the places I worked where we always ordered chinese food, and general tso's chicken was always my favourite. I later found a few places that had General Tso's tofu on the menu. Some joints were obliging enough to substitute tofu for meat in the sauce by special request.
I had no idea of the nostalgia the thought of this would evoke, while I was down with a cold for a week, unable to taste anything, in a land far away without access to my usual speed dial for Chinese Express or City Lights. A little bit of standard browsing via google revealed a few recipes for the sauce. Interestingly enough, I found hardly any food blogs that had posted this recipe. At least, none of my usual 'favourites' of vegan/vegetarian blogs seemed to feature this. I particularly liked the recipe for the general Tso sauce by Tyler Florence given on the Food Network website. Not that I used it verbatim, but I took it as a broad guideline.

I wanted this to taste like American Takeout Chinese, and not like 'Indian Chinese'. Surprisingly enough, to my delight, I found that I did get the taste and flavour I wanted. I have often wondered what makes these two adaptations of Chinese cuisine so different, since most of the sauce ingredients are the same. I think its the particular soy sauce and also the dash of sesame oil that makes all the difference. I spent the big bucks on a small bottle of Kikkoman soy sauce, but it was worth it. I would really have preferred to use Braggs Liquid Aminos, because I have come to love its flavour much more than any ordinary soy sauce. But finding a bottle of Braggs here is as impossible as seeing orange groves on the South Pole. The recipe follows without further ado.

1 Package Extra Firm Tofu
2 cups broccoli florets
1 cup finely chopped scallions
2 Tbsp fresh grated ginger
1 Tbsp fresh chopped garlic
1 cup soy sauce for sauce
3-4 Tbsp soy sauce
Sambal olek to taste
2 Tbsp + 1/2 cup Rice vinegar
1 tsp sesame oil
1/2 cup honey
Cornstarch as needed for coating
2 Tbsp cornstarch for slurry
Oil for frying
Black/white pepper to taste

1) Wash, drain and cube the tofu in pieces of desired size, and arrange in a large zip lock bag or a shallow dish
2) Sprinkle soy sauce, sambal olek/chilli paste or sriracha sauce, grated ginger and white pepper
3) Toss lightly so that all the tofu is coated with the marinade and refrigerate for an hour or more
4) Add some corn starch to the marinated tofu a little at a time, and keep tossing lightly until all the tofu is lightly coated. This will act as a binder and also give a crispy cover to the tofu when we fry it. Alternately, the marinated tofu can be spread around on a sheet pan and baked in an oven for 15-20 mins at 400F, turning once. Since I was going for the 'takeout' effect, I decided to go all out and fry mine.
5) Heat some vegetable oil, roughly a cup, in a wok and fry the tofu in small batches. Drain on some paper towels. You should not need a lot of oil, and the remaining oil can be used while making the sauce. ( This is a step where you need to guard your tofu. Half of it will disappear as samples. The best thing is to get some more tofu than the recipe demands).
6)Wash and clean broccoli and tear into florets, or you can use frozen florets. Heat water in a saucepan and steam the broccoli for 3-4 minutes until just tender and shock it in cold water. This will help in preserving the colour. Set this aside.

For the sauce -
7) In a bowl, mix all the sauce ingredients such as soy sauce, vinegar, honey ( or sugar), 1 tsp sesame oil, sambal olek, white pepper and grated ginger.
8) Now we can utilize the remaining oil in the wok. Add half the scallions and the garlic to the hot oil and fry for a minute without letting it burn. Add the sauce mixture.
9)Add three cups water. I made a Lot of sauce, but if you want less, you can adjust the soy/vinegar accordingly. I found that this vinegar was a bit much so I will reduce it next time. The soy sauce also had enough salt so that I did not need to add Any salt seperately.
10) Bring the sauce to a boil. Meanwhile, prepare a slurry with 2 spoons of cornstarch and some water. Add this gradually to the sauce and let it thicken. The sauce is done when it develops a glaze. Taste and adjust any seasonings per taste.
11) Add the fried tofu and broccoli to the sauce just before serving or vice versa. Garnish with the remaining scallions. Serve this with hot steamed white rice or any other rice of choice.
This is by no means a 'healthy' recipe, since it is high in sodium and oil. The only solace is that it has a lower calorie count than what you would get in a restaurant, and I know what ingredients, esp what kind of oil went into it. And hey, vegetable/sunflower oil is better than cheesy or creamy sauces anytime, right? ;). As mentioned above, this can be modified to be slightly more figure friendly by baking the tofu and using a low sodium soy sauce.
It certainly hit the spot for me, and more chinese takeout style recipes are coming up soon.