Its amazing ability to soak up surrounding flavors makes tofu a natural meat and poultry substitute — especially since its protein is on par with animal products. If chicken is off the menu but you crave it or need it for a recipe, certain prepping techniques and seasoning can create a vegetarian clone.
Tofu consists of coagulated soybeans pressed into white, gelatinous cubes. In no way does plain tofu resemble chicken. It comes in silken, or soft, and firm or extra-firm varieties. Soft tofu works wonders as a substitute for cream cheese or sour cream; to mimic scrambled eggs; or as an addition to smoothies — but not as a ringer for chicken. Firm or extra firm tofu is going to be the type to select to create a chicken-like product.
The drier the tofu, the more it will mimic chicken in texture and not just flavor. For a simple drying technique, cut the tofu into smaller slabs and lay it on a cutting board. Place several layers of clean, dry paper towels over these slabs and top with a heavy frying pan or brick for at least 30 minutes and up to an hour.
An additional step that draws more moisture out of the tofu is to place slices of it in a colander and douse it with boiling, salted water. This will bring much of the moisture to the top of the tofu. Then wrap it in the towels and weigh it down for 30 to 60 minutes to achieve tofu that’s dry to the touch.
Crumbled bits of tofu can taste very much like an Asian ground chicken with the right seasoning.
Crumble 8 ounces of dry tofu and toss with about 1 tablespoon of cornstarch.
Heat a wok or skillet with peanut oil over a high temperature. Once the oil shimmers, add the tofu and cook. Break it up with a wooden spoon as it cooks, getting it to resemble browned ground meat.
Remove the tofu from the pan and turn the heat to medium or low. Add 1 tablespoon of minced garlic, 1 teaspoon of minced ginger and 1/2 cup of chopped mushrooms.
Once the mixture is fragrant — about 1 to 2 minutes — add in a couple of tablespoons of soy sauce, a teaspoon of light brown sugar, a splash of siracha and about 1/2 cup of no-chicken broth. Stir regularly to scrape up any bits on the bottom of the pan and cook for just about 3 minutes.
Add the tofu back in and bring the mixture to a simmer. Cook another minute or two, until the tofu and the sauce are fully integrated. Serve wrapped in lettuce leaves with chopped scallions or on top of a salad made of cucumbers and rice wine vinegar.
Asian chicken isn’t the only flavor that tofu can mimic. Use slices of tofu in pot pie for a vegan version. Dried thyme and sage, along with a simmering sauce made in part with carrots, onions, celery and nutritional yeast, makes your taste buds sense chicken, even if it’s not really there.
Coating firm, dried chunks of tofu with cornstarch and then battering with a tempura-style mixture of flour, cornstarch, still or sparkling water and soy sauce and then frying creates chicken nugget doppelgangers.