The recipe for tonight’s dinner we made up from scratch. We had stuff around the house to make stir fry, but we didn’t quite know how to flavor it. Sam wanted lemon, but I wasn’t in the mood for something tart. By coincidence, we had bought a jar of orange marmalade at the COOP yesterday. TA DAA! A nice complement to hoisin sauce.
In addition, this recipe illustrates one of my favorite cooking techniques – velveting. I learned this technique from the Cooks Illustrated recipe “Marinated Velveted Chicken Stir Fry” from May 2004. Velveting is a common technique used in Asian styles of cooking, but somehow Americanized versions of Asian recipes morphed into “breading.” Take the basic Chinese restaurant-style of preparing sweet and sour chicken: pieces of chicken are dipped in batter and deep fried, producing a breading that soaks up the sweet and sour sauce. Velveting is the same principle, but doesn’t involve the deep frier and produces (I think) a better coating on the chicken (or tofu, in this recipe). In general, velveting involves tossing uncooked meat or tofu in a mixture of oil and cornstarch, coating the meat in a very thin batter-like coating. The meat or tofu is then cooked in a hot pan with very little oil, producing a coat of partially-cooked cornstarch around the meat or tofu. The meat or tofu stays moist because the coating keeps the meat from coming in direct contact with the pan. Then a thin sauce is added to the hot pan, and the sauce combines with the uncooked cornstarch to make the sauce thick and the meat coating “swollen” and rich-tasting. The end product is similar – tender pieces of meat with a thickened sauce. I make most of my stir-fries using this technique. Caveat: it doesn’t work well with fatty beef – the fat makes the coating come off.
Orange Hoisin Tofu
- 5 carrots, julienned
- 1/2 head napa cabbage, stems and leaves separated, cut into 1cm shreds
- 1 block firm tofu, pressed. cut into 1cm x 1cm x 5 cm strips
- 1 tbsp corn starch
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- 1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
- 1 tbsp minced ginger
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tbsp orange marmelade
- 2 tbsp hoisin sauce
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- 1/2 cup chicken stock
- vegetable oil for stir frying
Mix cornstarch, vegetable and sesame oil in a large bowl. Add tofu strips and gently toss to coat.
Heat a nonstick pan on medium-high heat. Add a small amount of vegetable oil and swirl to coat the pan. When the oil shimmers, but not smokes, add the tofu in a single layer. (You may need to cook the tofu in two batches.) Don’t shake the pan around – just let one side of the tofu get nicely browned. Methodically turn all of the pieces of tofu to the second side, and again leave the pan alone and let the second side cook. I know this doesn’t seem very stir-fry like, but it’s important to evenly cook the tofu so the breading sticks. If you’re more patient than I am, you can cook the other sides of the tofu, but I usually only cook 2. Put the tofu into a bowl and set aside.
Add a small amount of oil to the hot pan, again swirl to coat and wait for the oil to shimmer. Add the carrots and the napa stems. Toss in the pan to cook about a third of the way to done. Add the cabbage leaves. Splash the vinegar into the pan and QUICKLY cover with a lid. This steams the cabbage leaves. Leave the lid on for a half a minute, then remove and toss the vegetables to spread around the vinegar. When the vegetables are about halfway cooked, tender but still firm, transfer into a bowl and set aside. They’ll keep cooking in the bowl, so pull them off early… Mushy vegetables are yucky in stir fry.
Now to build the sauce. Add a small amount of oil to the hot pan, but leave it in a puddle. When the oil shimmers, pull the pan off the heat. Turn the burner down to medium-low. Add the ginger and garlic into the oil and stir around until everything smells good – 30 seconds maybe? With the pan still off the heat, add the hoisin and marmalade and mix together. Return the pan to the heat (now on medium-low) and let the ingredients cook together until bubbly – a minute or two. Add the chicken stock and stir. Bring the sauce to a simmer.
Once the sauce is simmering, add the tofu. Gently stir the tofu and sauce to coat all of the sides of the tofu. Bring the sauce back to a simmer – the sauce should thicken slightly. Once the sauce has thickened, add the vegetables and gently stir to coat the vegetables with sauce.
(As a sidenote, until I wrote this post, I thought it was spelled “marmelade.” Learn something new every day!)