Tofailure.

Vegetarians, I’m sorry. We tried. Really, we did.

Nights like this are precisely why there is a “failure” category.

Thank god we decided to test-run the vegetarian Smoke-a-Thon option ahead of time, smoked tofu kebabs with kung pao sauce. We honestly thought it would be good, and thought we were just checking on texture and sturdiness: what happens to extra-firm tofu when you smoke it, cut into into cubes, skewer it with onions, peppers and pineapple, cover it in sauce and throw it back on the grill? Does it disintegrate? Burst into flames? Melt onto the grill? Sprout little tofu legs and run away? I was fully prepared for any of the above to happen.

Apparently, as we see above, when you do the initial smoking it turns into oddly square pieces of halibut.

Meaning the tofu did stay together post-smoke, and we brought it upstairs to skewer it and throw together the kung pao sauce.

We used Martin Yan’s recipe, because that kung pao chicken was the dish that single-handedly changed my blanket rejection of tofu. My past run-ins with tofu had been…less than positive. And then Yan Can Make Me Like Tofu, so much so that Brian and I both agreed that we could have done without the chicken in the kung pao and just gone with the veg and tofu. It was, frankly, a small step for Martin Yan but a giant step for Michelle-kind.

Because I really, really hated tofu.

The square halibut appearance did weird me out a little, as did the texture – kinda like highly compressed feta.

Feta? Something else I don’t really like. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

I’m not gonna lie, I became dubious of this whole enterprise while cubing the tofu and probing its texture, but I thought after the tasty sauce, grill marks, smoke, and a couple of beers (Leinenkugel Berry Weiss! It’s like beer juice, except the alcohol content is no lower than regular beer. Meaning: DANGEROUS. I haven’t consumed a beer that fast since 1998.), it would be good. The heat and the sauce would make charry, caramelized glaze! It would be smoky and crusty and delicious.

And, of course, there’s Martin Yan AKA The Man Who Taught Me To Trust.

Brian turned the grill from “smoke” to “grill,” laid the kebabs down and basted them with the kung pao sauce, which it instantly absorbed, nixing the whole “charry glaze” thing.

It initially smelled good when a sizzling sauce hit the grill. And then it start to smell bad. Really bad. Dog fart bad. For those of you who are not lucky enough to live with gassy dogs: they can clear a 25 x 50 room in under 7 seconds. (Making it an extra-good idea that I fed them leftover smoked tofu cubes as “treats.”)

But then it started to smell good! Sizzling peppers, charring onions, caramelizing pineapple.

Then it stopped smelling like anything, and just looked like flaccid flubber cubes sandwiched between grilled vegetables. And then I learned the valuable lesson that I only like tofu when it’s coated in corn starch, deep fried and coated in delicious sauce.

No one wants to dwell on failure, so I’ll just say that we will not be serving these on Memorial Day because I don’t want them on my conscience.

22 thoughts on “Tofailure.

  1. I also have Issues with tofu, in that I can never get it to taste as good as meat. And with so much damned meat around, why should I bother with tofu? I really liked the “flaccid flubber cubes” description. Perfect.

  2. See I don’t buy the whole “tofu tastes just like whatever it is cooked with” line. Every time I have had a tofu dish it has been glaringly obvious that there is something in here that does not belong…

  3. Honestly, tofu tastes like…TOFU!!! Wretched swill!!! I understand the desire to replace meat with a healthier alternative, or not waning to eat something with a face. I’ve got vegan friends, and I respect that desire. Just don’t ask me to replace that perfectly good piece of beef (or pork, chicken, lamb…) with something that under the best of circumstances more closely resembles my kitchen sponge.

  4. Oh, I love tofu! That’s too bad.

    You probably won’t try it again, but if you cut the block into about 4 slices and freeze them, then thaw them again, and THEN grill them, it really helps with the texture and keeping the pieces together on the gill while they cook.

    Tofu most definitely DOESN’T taste like like whatever it’s cooked with. It’s mild and a little milky and delicious, but at a BBQ, I certainly wouldn’t think twice about it if there was a delicious plate of smoked pork nearby. Good for you for trying!

  5. I gotta say, I’m not sure this was a fail. I think I would have like it, but then, I like tofu a lot. Flaccid flubber cubes between grilled vegetables with kung pao sauce really might have worked fine for me!

  6. In my experience with Tofu,you have to press it for a couple of hours before you smoke it and then marinate that shit in the sauce for a couple of hours after it’s cubed order to get the flavour into the tofu.

    Doesn’t change the texture, but improves the taste.

  7. In my experience, tofu is best left to cuisines more familiar with it. Stews, stirfries, deepfries can all lead to delicious tofus, whereas I find that kebabs (sorry), bakes and (shudder) dressing them in spaghetti sauce lead to waste of ingredients due to inedibility. I’m a big fan of tofu, but it absolutely has to be prepared properly.

  8. Yay! Leinie’s! It’s my favorite beer (though I prefer Honeyweiss or Sunset Wheat). Just makes me happy to hear people drinking it.

  9. i’m just beginning to cultivate a taste for tofu. having gone mostly vegetarian (i eat fish, egg, dairy and sometimes chicken if i feel like it) having another protein source is important. however, plain tofu is like chewing on styrofoam, only not as pleasant.

    if you do this ever again, marinate the tofu in a sauce that has lots of flavour, like you would marinate a tough steak. then grill it.

    either that or substitute mushrooms for the tufu and serve the entire dish with some falafil (sp?).

  10. kristin, i don’t want it to taste like meat. i just want to make it not gross. there was just something about this particular attempt at tofu that squicked me out completely.

    katie, i don’t know if i agree. i always though that was one of tofu’s better attributes; it’s like a flavor chameleon.

    tina, once, i would agree. despite this debacle, i’ve tamed my stance. fried tofu is tasty in stir fries, and i do enjoy a tofutti cutie. i don’t know if i’ll ever get to the point of just eating hunks of tofu, though.

    lisa, interesting about the freezing, that never would have occurred to me. we thought about pressing, but not freezing.

    but you’re right, the likelihood of me trying this again is fairly low.

    lisa 2, i think that people who like tofu would probably have liked it. but i hated it, and i can’t bring myself to serve other people something i hate. if that makes any sense, which it may not.

    BHL, we thought about pressing, but even with the extra-firm tofu we weren’t sure it was going to hold up.

    j-bird, yeah, i think it says something that the stir fry experience was highly positive, but both baking experiences were negative. and the grilling, obviously, although i think pre-marinating would have helped.

    rebecca, it made me so happy when stores around here starting carrying it. ah, milwaukee summerfest, drinking cups of leinie’s, drunk enough to voluntarily listen to to kc and the sunshine band. good times.

    naomi, i think we’re going to sub mushrooms; we smoked them last year and they were really good. and all the side dishes are veg-friendly. we thought the smoking would be like a marinade, and infuse the tofu with hickory goodness. it didn’t.

  11. I’ve never bought the whole “tofu has no taste” argument. It does have a taste and unless you do what you can to drown the taste, you will taste it. I do find that soft tofu is less noxious than firm though. Sometimes a good Asian restaurant will coat soft tofu with soy/ginger/scallion combos and it wil be almost pleasant.

    I do love that Martin Yan though. I’m sure he’d persuade me to cook a lot of things I think I don’t like.

    Once again I commend your willingness to post your failures. I still don’t have the strength!

  12. Oh no. Not dog gas bad. Let me tell you a dog gas story. Totally appropriate on a food blog, I might add. We took our blue tick hound and beagle down to Harrisburg, PA. A 6 hour trip from our home. The dogs get gassy when they’re nervous. The blue tick is a horrifically smelly animal when he’s gassy. He smells like death crossed with rot.
    On the drive home from Harrisburg, all five of our kids started projectile vomiting. They had some fierce, horrible version of influenza. So. Couple projectile vomiting kids who ate several blueberry muffins at their grandparents with two VERY horrible smelling, sulfuric dogs and you have a mighty miserable 6 hours trip back to NY. Aren’t you glad I shared?

  13. I am so glad you shared this with us all. I was thinking about sending Dad out to the BBQ with some tofu because I thought maybe the smoky goodness would make it tasty. Now we don’t have to try! I want to like tofu, I really do. But, am like so many others beginning to believe it should be stir-fried and coated in a delicious Asian sauce of some kind, ONLY. You are a savior.
    PS Martin Yan is sooo cute!

  14. rachel, i agree that it does have a taste. i’m just not sure if it’s a taste i like, except when it’s fried and covered in delicious sauce.

    the blog is about what i cook. sometimes, experimentation means that i cook disgusting things. if i wanted a more serious recipe blog, i’d probably leave ‘em out, along with the f-bombs, but i think it’s more interesting this way.

    rebecca, i may vomit myself now.

    andrea, i don’t want to discourage others from trying. maybe try some of the tips others have offered in the comments? i don’t want to be anyone’s savior.

  15. I’m choosing to look upon this as a validation of my own wholesale rejection of tofu, regardless of what it is actually intended to teach me.

    Tofu is the anti-matter of flavor. It collides with taste and annihilates it, leaving only highly-packed crumbly awfulness behind.

    In honesty, that first shot of the giant blocks prepping to smoke gave me the shivers.

  16. Here’s the recipe you need for grilling tofu: http://iamglutenfree.blogspot.com/2007/06/lots-to-share.html
    Granted, I like the stuff. BUT this is yummy, and the marinade works for stir-frying tofu as well (good with eggplant or mushrooms, too if you just can’t bear to try it again). I marinate it, then we throw it in the fish-griller (oh, the irony) with some olive oil-rubbed Haloumi cheese, and grill it all.

    Tofu is also the perfect protein in Thai curries because it truly does soak up the flavor.

    The first time my husband *asked* for tofu was a few weeks after I’d thrown some silken tofu, cubed, into a pan with a drop of olive oil (let the water cook out for a few minutes), Soy Sauce, Mirin, and Rice Vinegar, then just stewed it until the liquid was all gone. Turn off the burner, let it sit another minute for full evaporation/browning, and eat.

  17. Agreed – the only edible tofu is deep-fried tofu.
    You’re very considerate to think up something for your vegan readers. But aren’t there vegan blogs for that? A link would be just fine.

  18. coming from someone who honestly doesnt eat much meat anymore, the best vegetarian thing to put on a grill is…veggies. and fruit. one only need get creative with what’s fresh instead of just onions and peppers, and a vegetarian is just happy to have marinade and smoke flavor.

    I’m off tofu and most soy crap anyway except for occasional miso and soy sauce or tamari. it’s just terrible for me-especially as a woman. Fermentation of soy however, apparently kills off the enzymes that do all the freaky hormonal stuff and shrink your brain…so there ya go.

    mushrooms and squashes and sweet spring onions or teeny turnips and potatoes…pineapples and mangoes, tomatoes, etc…

  19. I haven’t read all of the comments, sorry.

    I do this:

    1. freeze the tofu (extra firm), in the package.
    2. thaw the tofu
    – you may skip steps 1 and 2. All that it does is change the texture and make it easier to get the water out.
    3. squeeze out the water
    4. slice into 1/2 inch slabs.
    5. mix some yellow curry paste (mae ploy is what I use) with some viggie oil. Smear this on the tofu, more the better. Let is marinade for a while.
    6. grill over medium-high heat ’til it gets nice grill marks, some may turn black.
    7. now enjoy this delicious tofu.

  20. I have recently become enamored of tofu. I have to agree that it’s best when coated with cornstarch and fried (you MUST press it first to get the water out or it won’t get crunchy)…but I must take issue with the tofu haters. Yes, I realize that it is generally regarded as a meat-replacer. But it’s not. When you stop regarding it as faux-meat, and just start using it and appreciating it like any other ingredient it can become a star.

    I like mine cubed, fried and combined with spinach or cabbage sauteed with chili-garlic sauce and served with rice. Dy-no-mite and cheap-ASS.

  21. im sure youve had your fill of tofu advice, but i do have a tofu that might change your mind about eating a pure hunk of the stuff: if you can find it [i cant anymore *CRY*] buy a package of white wave baked/marinated tofu in the “oriental” flavor. omg its so good. its already baked so its got some good texture stuff going on… seriously if you bite off a little peice youll have a hard time actually making a meal out of it and not just eating the whole thing out of the package. im no crazy vegan either– i usually only say that about cheese. its awesome. ive made many a good stir fry with it. FRICK i want some.

  22. * but yeah agreed, fried tofu is the shit. our local thai/laotian joint makes the most excellent fried tofu in a black bean sauce, GOOD LORD its awesome. really crispy exterior, this is the reason god invented texture, i swear.

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