Air Fryer Tofu Nuggets Get Flavor From A Freezing Trick - And A Sauce

(MENAFN- The Peninsula) The Washington Post

You may have heard of a trick involving freezing tofu that magically transforms it into something palatable.

I have some issues with that framing, namely that tofu requires any transformation whatsoever to taste great. Apologies, but I love tofu just the way it is: clean and mild and able to fit in with the flavors of whatever dish it's in. It's the fresh mozzarella (or the boneless, skinless chicken breast, if that's more your speed) of soy products. For nearly 2,000 years, Asian recipes have used this quality to demonstrate its versatility.

I used to think you had to do so much to tofu to add flavor. All that pressing, all that marinating (much of it, honestly, to little or no avail). The trick all along, I finally learned, is to concentrate on adding flavors to the exterior of the tofu, flavors so powerful that the mildness inside is a nice counterpoint. I'm thinking about such recipes as Maangchi's wonderful sticky, spicy tofu, which gets its crunchy exterior texture from potato starch and incredible flavor from a gochujang glaze.

But just because tofu doesn't to be transformed doesn't mean it can't be from time to time, if only for a change of pace. And freezing and thawing tofu does change its character significantly, making it perhaps a little chewier and definitely a lot spongier, the latter quality helping it take up any marinade you toss it in, pretty much instantaneously.

That's why this technique is sometimes used for recipes where the tofu is playing the part of plant-based "meat.” After it defrosts, you can use your hands to easily squeeze the extra liquid out of it, making room for you to inject your own flavors through and through.

In fact, tofu treated this way sometimes takes up the flavor of a marinade too easily, as I discovered when I started playing around with a "nugget” idea. In my first several attempts, I kept having to dilute a soy-sauce-based marinade more and more, because the nuggets tasted like sodium bombs. Once I got that balance right, I realized another issue: That absorbed marinade also ran the risk of making the tofu a little soggy. Spongy is good; wet sponge is bad.

I settled on squeezing liquid from the tofu twice: once before marinating and once after. Enough of the flavor remains to season the cubes from the inside out.

Then: How to cook them? I took a cue from chicken nuggets and dipped these in yogurt, coated them in panko and air-fried them until GBD (golden brown and delicious, to use a restaurant-industry term). Like any good nugget, I knew they'd appreciate a dipping sauce, so I made my favorite: honey-mustard, made in a jiffy with just three ingredients. Since these are so well-seasoned, the sauce is a welcome bonus, not a dire necessity.

Could you make these nuggets with tofu that you've merely patted dry, coated and fried, without the freezing and defrosting? Sure. Would you miss out on some of the fun and flavor? Indeed.
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Air Fryer Tofu Nuggets with Honey-Mustard Sauce
4 servings

Active time: 20 mins| Total time: 30 mins, plus freezing and defrosting time

When you freeze and defrost tofu, it turns spongier and better able to absorb marinade flavors - just what you want for plant-based nuggets like these. They get coated in a yogurt mixture, then in panko breadcrumbs for extra crunch, and served with a classic honey-mustard dipping sauce. You can make these easily in the air fryer, but if you'd like to fry in oil, see Variations.

Make ahead: Freeze the tofu for up to 3 months before defrosting. Refrigerate the sauce for up to 3 days before using.

Storage: Refrigerate the nuggets and sauce separately for up to 4 days.

1 (14-ounce) package extra-firm tofu packed in water
1/2 cup water, divided
2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt (see Substitutions)
1 cup panko
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
1/3 cup Dijon mustard
1/3 cup mayonnaise (see Substitutions)
1/4 cup honey (see Substitutions), microwaved briefly so it's runny

Drain the tofu. Cut it in half lengthwise, then again in half crosswise, to create four large pieces. Cut each of those into four pieces so you have 16 cubes. Transfer to a zip-top bag, seal and freeze until solid, about 3 hours. To defrost, leave in the refrigerator overnight or submerge the bag in a large bowl of cold water for about 2 hours. Remove the tofu, pour out any water and gently use your hands to squeeze as much water out of each cube as possible, being careful not to crumble it. Return the tofu to the bag.

In a small bowl, whisk together 1/4 cup of the water, the soy sauce, garlic powder and smoked paprika. Transfer to the bag with the tofu, seal and marinate at room temperature while you prepare the remaining ingredients, turning the bag over a few times.

In another small bowl, whisk together the yogurt with the remaining 1/4 cup of water until combined.

In a large, shallow bowl, stir together the panko and nutritional yeast. Set a large sheet pan or platter near your work space.

Remove the tofu from the zip-top bag. Working with a few pieces at a time, gently squeeze most of the marinade out of each piece, being careful not to crumble it.

Add to the yogurt mixture and gently fold to coat. Transfer to the panko mixture and use a fork to gently toss until coated all over. Transfer the nuggets to the prepared sheet pan or platter as you work.

Set the air fryer to 400 degrees on the air fry setting and preheat for 5 minutes or until the appliance signals it's ready. Add the tofu nuggets to the basket in one layer, preferably without touching. Air fry for about 10 minutes, turning the pieces halfway through, until the nuggets are golden brown and crisp all over.

While the nuggets are cooking, in a small bowl, whisk together the mustard, mayonnaise and honey until smooth.

Transfer the cooked nuggets to a serving platter. Serve warm or at room temperature, with the honey-mustard sauce for dipping.

Substitutions: To make this vegan >> use vegan yogurt, vegan mayonnaise and agave nectar or maple syrup instead of honey.

Variations: To fry the nuggets in oil, in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat, pour vegetable oil to a depth of 1 inch. Heat the oil until it reaches 375 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. (If you don't have an instant-read thermometer, you can test the oil by dropping a small crumb of tofu in; if it sizzles right away, the oil is ready.) Working in batches as necessary to avoid overcrowding, fry the tofu until golden brown and crisp, 3 to 4 minutes per side, using a spider or slotted spoon to turn the nuggets over. Transfer to a wire rack set over a large sheet pan to drain.

Nutrition: Because of marinating, a reliable nutritional analysis is not possible.


The Peninsula

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