Tofu Char Siu

Tofu kebabs.

Tofu char siu is a tasty vegetarian version of the popular Chinese barbecued pork dish. Also known as chashao or char siew, char siu involves seasoning and roasting the main ingredient until it's cooked and tender. Char siu can be served plain, but it's more often stuffed inside a steamed dumpling or paired with rice or noodles. Since tofu absorbs seasonings and spices so well, it's a particularly good choice for a meatless version of char siu.

Tofu Char Siu Recipe

The only non-vegetarian ingredient in traditional char siu is the pork, so if you find a sauce recipe you love, use it with tofu and see how the new dish turns out. The following recipe makes enough tofu char siu, along with rice or noodles, to serve four hungry people.

Ingredients:

  • 2 packages extra-firm tofu
  • 3/4 c. hoisin sauce
  • 1/3 c. tamari or soy sauce
  • 1/3 c. rice wine
  • 1/4 c. honey
  • 1 T. sugar
  • 1 tsp. fresh ginger, diced or grated
  • Drizzle of sesame oil

Procedure:

Stir-frying tofu in a cast-iron skillet can give it a firm texture.
  1. Cut each package of tofu into several large rectangles, each about 1/2" thick.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the remaining ingredients. Stir thoroughly with a whisk.
  3. Marinate the tofu pieces in a pan or plastic bag with the char siu sauce for at least several hours and preferably overnight.
  4. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
  5. Prepare a roasting pan and rack by filling the pan with water to just below the rack line. Place the pan in the oven for five to 10 minutes to warm it up.
  6. After removing the pan from the oven, place pieces of tofu on top of the roasting rack. Roast the tofu for five to 10 minutes.
  7. Turn the oven down to 325 degrees Fahrenheit, and continue roasting the tofu for another 20 to 30 minutes. If necessary, brush the extra marinade over the tofu every few minutes to prevent it from burning or crisping.
  8. Slice the tofu char siu into strips or cubes, and serve with noodles or rice.

Tips

Char siu involves such a tantalizing blend of flavors that it's likely to taste good even with a misstep or two. To increase the odds of getting a near-perfect dish every time, though, it's helpful to keep a few tips and suggestions in mind.

  • On its own, tofu is quite bland. It absorbs flavors successfully, but it's possible to intensify the dish by letting the tofu marinate in the char siu sauce for several hours or overnight before cooking it.
  • The natural texture of tofu, especially silken tofu, is very different from pork. To make the tofu "meatier," freeze it solid a day or two before using it, and let it thaw out in the refrigerator or at room temperature. Frozen tofu adopts a stringier, hardier texture similar to some types of meat.
  • Grilling or pan-frying tofu pieces before roasting them with the char siu sauce will give them a deeper flavor and may help them meld better with the spices in the sauce.
  • Some people use a spoonful of red food coloring in their char siu sauce to enhance the visual effect of the roasted meat. It's possible to do the same with tofu, but since cooked tofu is still relatively pale, there's no need to go overboard with the food coloring!
  • If you'd like to make steamed buns instead of plain char siu, slice the finished, cooked tofu into very small pieces. Scoop a small amount of leftover marinade in with a couple of teaspoons of tofu, and stuff each bun with the mixture.
  • Try slicing finished char siu and using it in fried rice, sandwiches, soups, or other dishes.
  • Don't like tofu? Try the char siu recipe with seitan, tempeh, or another faux meat.
Tofu Char Siu