By J.M. HIRSCH, Associated Press
Published August 18, 2004
CONCORD, N.H. - Though a longtime vegetarian, I'm oddly drawn to nut-crusted pork chops and chicken cutlets.
It makes little sense, as I don't think I've actually eaten either dish. It probably has something to do with how I imagine they taste: a creamy and crunchy nut coating contrasted by the savory smoothness of the meat.
Part of my attraction also likely stems from the general failure of vegetarian foods to approximate those flavors and textures. Sure there are fried tofus, which are wonderful in their own right. But they tend to be more chewy than crispy.
Over the years I have attempted various recipes to batter or bread tofu, seitan, tempeh and other meat analogs, but no matter how long they're fried, the coating usually sloughed off into an oily mess.
Battering and baking the same "meats" seemed more promising. The results were tasty, but still lacked that crispy coating.
Recently the answer to my nut-coated quandary arrived in the pages of a recent book by the folks at Cook's Illustrated magazine, Inside America's Test Kitchen (America's Test Kitchen, $29.95).
Its recipe for nut-crusted chicken cutlets appealed to me. It was streamlined and straightforward, coating the cutlets with egg before dredging them through a coarse grind of Japanese bread crumbs (panko) and almond slivers.
My theory? What's good for fowl is good for soy.
I followed the Cook's recipe with one exception. Instead of chicken cutlets, I substituted 3/4-inch slabs of extra-firm tofu. As directed, I dredged them through egg and a combination of panko and almonds, then gave them a quick fry.
The result? Surprisingly good. The tofu held together well and the breading stayed put, frying up crispy and firm. That crispness was nicely offset by the warm smoothness of the tofu inside.
The only thing I would change is to marinate the tofu slabs before dredging them through the egg and breading. Some possibilities for marinades might include:
Spicy peanut sauce.
A blend of soy sauce and rice vinegar.
A blend of cider vinegar and maple syrup.
Tofu should be marinated for at least an hour; overnight is even better.
Silken tofu, even the firm varieties, are too soft for this recipe. Be sure to use water-packed tofu, which has a denser texture and holds up better to handling and frying.
These tofu cutlets are delicious on their own served with wilted kale and sauteed onions. They also would be great served on a bun with melted cheese (soy or dairy).
Nut-Crusted Tofu Cutlets
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon orange zest
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground
black pepper, to taste
1 cup sliced almonds, processed into fine crumbs in the food processor
1/2 cup panko (Japanese-style bread crumbs)
2 15-ounce packages extra-firm tofu, cut into 3/4-inch slabs and sponged dry with paper towels
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
Preparation time: 20 minutes, not counting marinating.
Lightly beat the eggs, mustard, orange zest, salt and pepper in a shallow dish.
Mix the almonds and panko in a separate shallow dish. Working with one piece of tofu at a time, dip each slab in the egg mixture using tongs, turning to coat well. Allow the excess to drip off.
Drop the tofu into the nut mixture and press the crumbs onto the cutlet with your fingers. Transfer the tofu to a wire rack set over a baking sheet and repeat with the remaining tofu.
Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed, 12-inch nonstick skillet over a medium-high flame until just smoking.
Place the cuts in the skillet several at a time and cook until golden brown and crisp on the first side, about 21/2 minutes.
Using tongs, flip the tofu and cook on the opposite side another 2 minutes. Repeat rotating and cooking until all four sides of cutlets are cooked and crispy.
Transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate to absorb excess oil.
Makes 4 servings.
- Source: Recipe adapted from "Inside America's Test Kitchen" (America's Test Kitchen, 2004, $29.95.)