How’s that for an oxymoron? Tofu disguised as chicken in a Southern favorite, deep-fried tofu with dairy, everything encased in an airy bun. It’s a sandwich that may put off Southern purists, vegans, and health fanatics but it’s one that tastes quite good. I didn’t think of the idea, only riffing from a sandwich created by chef Lee Gregory at The Roosevelt in Richmond, Virginia.
Chicken-fried steak is an old timey Southern dish that involves a cubed beef steak coated and shallow or deep-fried like chicken. Wanting a vegetarian sandwich on his menu, Lee developed this meatless take on chicken-fried steak. I’ve been making a lot of pimento cheese and read about using the spread for sandwiches.
You can see where I’m going here: What if you combined the two in a sandwich with sliced dill pickle? Well, it works deliciously well. A bit salty, rich, crisp and tangy. It tastes kind of bad but in a healthy, good way.
To arrive at this recipe, I checked out two insightful books: Robb Walsh’s Texas Eats and the Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook. I decided on a simple approach of marinating slabs of tofu in buttermilk, Korean ground chile (there’s a current love affair in the South with Korean foodways) and salt. Then I coated the tofu in seasoned flour before quickly deep-frying it.
I tried it out with super-firm and extra-firm tofu. I liked the latter more for the tender insides but the coating didn’t stay as crisp as with the super firm tofu, which has a heartier, slightly rubbery texture. The firmer the tofu, the better it is to grip onto the coating because of the the tofu's lower moisture content. That said, super-firm tofu is akin to overcooked chicken breast or pork loin.
Spread the Sriracha pimento cheese directly on the hot tofu if you want to melt the cheese a bit. Otherwise, spread it on the bread. I added extra Sriracha to give a spicy hit to the sandwich.
Chicken fried steak goes by CFS in the South. I suppose this would be CFTS. It’s a fun sandwich to make, especially if you have lots of Sriracha pimento cheese around like I do these days.
Chicken-Fried Tofu and Sriracha Pimento Cheese Sandwiches
Yields: 3 or 4 sandwiches
- 16 to 20 ounces (450 to 565 g) extra-firm or super-firm tofu
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1 teaspoon Korean ground chile pepper (gochugaru), or 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
- 1 1/2 teaspoons plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 cup all-purpose flour or regular rice flour
- Canola oil for deep-frying
- 4 hamburger buns or ciabatta rolls
- Mayonnaise, optional
- Sriracha chile sauce (optional)
- Sriracha Pimento Cheese
- 2 dill pickles, sliced
- Cut the tofu into 1/2-inch (1.25 cm) slabs. Set on a dry dish towel or several layers of paper towel to drain for 10 to 15 minutes. Blot away excess moisture then set aside briefly.
- In a small glass container or zip-top plastic bag, combine the buttermilk with the ground chile and 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt. Add the tofu and turn to coat well. Refrigerate for 2 hours or as long as 24 hours. Return to room temperature before frying.
- In a shallow bowl, combine the remaining 1 teaspoon kosher salt with the black pepper and flour. Lift the tofu from the buttermilk then coat well in the flour. Pat the tofu to ensure the flour sticks. Set aside on a plate to let the flour and buttermilk turn into a batter of sorts. The tofu will darken a bit.
- Heat 1 inch of oil in a skillet or deep frying pan to just above 350F. Meanwhile, toast the buns or rolls.
- In batches, deep-fry the tofu for about 2 minutes, turning midway, until crisp and rich golden-brown like autumn leaves. Drain briefly on a rack.
- To assemble sandwiches, spread mayonnaise (and/or pimento cheese) on the bottom portion of the bread. Squirt or drizzle on some Sriracha, if you like. Add the pickle, tofu (If needed, cut the tofu so it fits into the bread). Spread the pimento cheese on the warm tofu or on the top portion of bread. Close and eat.
Tip: You can reuse the buttermilk for another batch of tofu or maybe marinating catfish destined for a fish fry. Don't want to deep-fry? Then just pan-fry the tofu; don't marinate it, just salt and pepper it. If you need an assist on buying and frying tofu, see the links on the Asian Tofu page.