I sometimes get nervous about creating addictive recipes because the last thing I need is to add yet another item in my life that requires restraint, but, then, I realize, YOLO (“you only live once” for those who are not fluent in Gen Z speak), right? These Ricepop Tofu nuggets are among my most addictive creations, I daresay we all might need to be carted to rehab together.
I made these the other day, and was able to stave off from eating the whole lot of them in one sitting. But alas, they were waiting for me when I woke up in the morning so what else could I do? I ate them for breakfast with my morning Americano and my GOD, they were just as good as the night before. Perhaps not as crunchy, but now chewy in a way that was just as pleasant.
Twice Frozen & Pressed Tofu
Look, I wish there were an easier way, but if there is, I haven’t discovered it. If you want chewy, chicken-like texture out of your tofu, you need to freeze it until it turns into a brick of ice, thaw it, press it, and then do it all over again. It’s a pain in the butt, to be honest, BUT THE RESULTS ARE WELL WORTH IT TRUST ME. Why is this required?
Think of your regular old non-frozen store-bought tofu like a big sponge. What are sponges made out of? Fibrous tissue and holes. It’s those holes that allow the sponge to suck up and hold all the liquid. In the case of tofu, the reason it’s so “jiggly” is because it already holds a lot of liquid, which is why you see so many recipes telling you to “press” the tofu (i.e., add pressure to it to squeeze its already existing liquid out). But what happens when you freeze the liquid already in the tofu, in lieu of simply pressing it out? The ice expands, creating empty pockets within the protein to hold more flavor. More interestingly, it appears that the expulsion of liquid from the tofu through the creation of ice crystals catalyzes a “protein to protein” interaction, which likely explains the much “meatier” texture of frozen/thawed/pressed tofu.
Lest I start to nerd out a bit too much for you all in this food blog, I’ll leave it that on the science and go back to the method. After your second thaw and press, I pressed out even more liquid simply by adding my own weight to the process. Afterwards, in lieu of using my knife to cut the tofu up into popcorn pieces, I simply pulled it apart to create jagged irregular pieces. Why? This allows the Spice Rub (up next) to “catch” onto the tofu, to ensure maximum flavor.
The Spice Rub
You see, here’s the secret to this recipe. The Spice Rub. If you try and make this recipe without adding some flavor to the tofu, you’ll get TONS of CRONCH, but it’ll taste as bland as tofu water. I don’t recommend trying tofu water (though, I hear it works as an aquafaba!). I originally thought about simply taking one of my leftover ramyeon broth packets (you all can do this, because you are not a foodblogger) and using that to flavor my tofu. But, then I remembered that I’m supposed to develop recipes that everyone can make, not just those folks blessed enough to live next to a Korean grocery store (the only place you can purchase decent vegan Shin ramyeon).
So, here’s what goes into this amazing Spice Rub:
- Nutritional yeast
- Smoke paprika
- Ground turmeric
- Dried oregano
- Garlic powder
Once I added it to the tofu, I literally could have just eaten it raw. It was that good.
Rice Paper Wrapping
Look, we’ve all seen the viral TikTok videos of people making “chips” out of rice paper. The idea is that the rice paper is so thin, it reacts with the oil to create this mind-bogglingly crunchy texture. So, if you really want to make the crunchiest anything, why not try wrapping it rice paper?
One trick to working with rice paper is that you don’t need to soak it in water for very long. Just dip it in warm water for a second or two, cut it in half, and then let it sit. It’ll start to soften within a minute or two and any longer than that, you’ll find yourself in a very sticky situation. Accordingly, drop that tofu chunk into the center of your half-sheet, wrap, and roll. Make sure you do fold in the sides before rolling; otherwise, the rice paper will pop and the oil will leak in and burn the your spice rub and tofu.
The “Pop” of Rice Paper
When subjected to intense heat, rice paper will immediately bubble and pop. That is what facilitates the other-worldly crunch. Accordingly, when you drop the tofu nuggets in, make sure to guard against adding too many. They will expand immediately and if they touch each other, they will have a tendency to stick. While you can try prying them part once they’ve cooked, doing so will risk tearing the wrapping.
I found that it took quite a bit longer than expected to get the rice paper to start browning, so be patient. It took me about 10 minutes before I fished them out of the pan. Afterwards, I loaded them up into a small bowl to make it truly look like a mountain of glory and my goodness, were they ever glorious.
I served them with my Vegan Spicy Mayo and I was in heaven. Truly.
The crunch was unreal. The texture of the tofu like nothing I’d ever tasted (except for chicken!). And the flavor from the Spice Rub attending every single bite.
Quick Tips for Making Ricepop Tofu
- Twice freeze, thaw, and press your tofu. Just pressing your extra firm tofu will not achieve the desired texture (thought, it’ll probably still taste really good, tbh).
- Do not oversoak your rice paper sheets. They will turn gummy and sticky very quickly and become impossible to work with. Just a second or two in warm water is more than enough.
- Make sure to fold the sides in when wrapping and rolling your tofu. Otherwise, you will have holes in your wrapping which will cause your nuggets to burn.
- Do not overcrowd your pan. The rice paper likes to stick to itself, so if the nuggets touch, they’ll stick together and you might end up tearing the wrapping.
Ricepop (Ricepaper) Tofu
- Place your tofu in the freezer overnight. Then, thaw the tofu. Once it has thawed, press the tofu (i.e., place the tofu on a kitchen towel and weigh it down with heavy items like cookbooks or pots and pans) for about 20 minutes. Then, place the tofu in the freezer again for at least 6 hours. Thaw and press.
- Create the spice mix by stirring together the gochugaru, nutritional yeast, paprika, garlic powder, dried oregano, salt, and ground turmeric.
- Pull the tofu apart into irregular chunks and place them in a large bowl.
- Add the spice mix to the bowl and stir the tofu chunks around so they are evenly coated.
- Slide a sheet of rice paper in a large bowl of water and let it sit for about 2 seconds. Then place the rice paper on a flat surface and cut in half with kitchen shears.
- Add a tofu chunk to the center of the rice paper and let it sit until it becomes fairly soft.
- Wrap the tofu chunk with the rice paper by bringing the bottom up, folding the sides in, and then rolling it until you create a little "tofu package." Repeat for the remaining tofu and set them aside, making sure they don't touch each other (they stick!).
- Heat a pan of oil (about 3 inches deep) to about 350° F. Add the wrapped tofu to the oil and let them cook until they get slightly browned (about 10 minutes). Do not overcrowd the pan, as the tofu will stick to each other.
- Serve with Vegan Spicy Mayo.