I was initially at a lost for what to do about making the tofurkey (a.k.a., tofurky). It’s a western mock meat but I wanted an Asian take. After a couple days of letting things simmer on my mental back burner, I woke up one day thinking about ganmodoki – an iconic Japanese fried tofu fritter that was initially made around the 1400s to fake goose for Buddhist monks.
With that in mind, I made a mixture of mashed tofu and seasoned it simply like I would roast turkey or chicken. A little binder of egg and cornstarch held the mixture together. When done, it felt like moldable very soft clay. (If you’re looking for an actual ganmodoki recipe, check page 154 of Asian Tofu; on the facing page is a photo of the ganmodoki I ate in Kyoto, a tofu hotspot that developed primarily because of the many monasteries in the surrounding area.)
How to mold tofurkey? Early in this tofurkey project, I’d looked into buying turkey cake molds to really fake it, like a good Chinese mock meat. The molds looked large and frankly were too big for me to commit to. What I was really going after was a tofurkey that had a nice brown crust, pretty much like a roast turkey would have. Forgoing the Chinese pursuit of visually faking things, I remained true to the Japanese ganmodoki concept of making the tofurkey taste good with impressions of the real deal.
Disposable mini-loaf pans were my solution; they are just the right size to easily manipulate. Many tofurkey recipes are baked in a loaf or round cake pan, but my tofu mixture seemed like it would hold its shape unmolded. Ganmodoki is typically deep-fried so for my tofurkey, I baked the loaf at high heat, initially with loaf pan in place to sort of steam the tofu mixture.
Then I uncovered the tofurkey and glazed it with an oil-and-soy mixture. The loaf sizzled and browned but wasn’t enough for me. To give it a crusty finish, I broiled the tofurkey.
My first trial tofurkey (above) was loosely packed with the sticky rice and pine nut dressing. As a result, the tofurkey deflated and wrinkled a lot. It tasted remarkably good but looked sad.
For the second and third trials (below), I packed in the stuffing a little tighter. That did the trick. Handsome and presentable.
My husband looked at it and said, couldn’t you add a little gravy? Ah, the miso mustard sauce recipe that Chef Douglas Keane shared with me; he employed it with tofu at Cyrus, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Healdsburg that is no longer in operation. He’d learned it from a chef in Japan so it seemed totally appropriate.
For our tofurkey dinner, I added green beans and sweet potatoes to round things out. We sat down to dinner and much to our delight and surprise, the Asianized tofurkey was completely satisfying. My husband, who was a strict vegetarian decades ago, said that if the food back then was as good as what we were eating, he would still be a vegetarian today.
We enjoy a wealth of vegetables in our diet but it was nice to have a pure vegetarian meal. It was full of flavor yet light on our systems. Give this a whirl for the holidays, whether or not you have vegetarian diners at the table. It's remarkably fun and good tasting.
Note that the mushroom seasoning powder is a natural Asian flavor enhancer that’s very popular. It imparts an umami meatiness. Here’s information about the MSG replacement. If you don’t want to use it, I think you can sub nutritional yeast or a vegetable broth base. Remember this: Working with tofu is easy because as a ‘pre-cooked’ protein, you can taste it as you season it before cooking.
Tofurkey with Ginger Miso Sauce
Yields: 4 servings
- 2 tablespoon white (shiro) miso
- 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- Scant 1/2 tsp. Sriracha chile sauce
- 1/2 cup sake
- 6 tablespoons mirin, storebought or homemade
- 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped ginger
- 1 1/2 teaspoons soy sauce mixed with 1 tablespoon of canola oil
- 28 to 32 ounces (840 to 960 g) extra-firm tofu
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons mushroom seasoning powder
- 1 large egg or 1 tablespoon canola oil
- 1 or 2 tablespoon cornstarch (use more for oil)
- 2 1/2 cups Sticky Rice and Pine Nut Dressing
- For the sauce, in a small saucepan, whisk together the miso, mustard, Sriracha, sake, and mirin. Add the ginger. Bring to a boil over medium heat, lower the heat to simmer for 4 to 5 minutes, until the sauce has slightly thickened to resemble a butterscotch colored light cream sauce. Coat the back of a spoon and run your finger through it. The line should hold. Remove from the heat. Strain through a mesh strainer, pushing against the solids. Set aside to cool before using, or refrigerate overnight. Makes about 3/4 cup.
- Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 425F (220C / gas mark 7). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Line two mini-loaf pans with a piece of parchment paper that extend about 1 inch above the sides. Set aside.
- Mix the soy and oil mixture with 1 tablespoon of the miso-mustard sauce. Taste and add sugar, if needed. Set this glaze aside.
- Break the tofu into large chunks. In batches, squeeze the tofu in a piece of muslin to expel water and mash. Transfer to a bowl. You should net about 22 ounces (660 g).
- Season with the salt, pepper, and mushroom powder. Taste it as you tweak. Add the egg (or oil) and cornstarch. Mix well to combine into a compact mixture.
- Line the bottom and walls of each mini loaf pan with a generous 2/3 of the tofu mixture. By the small handful, add the dressing, pressing it slightly (it will compact during baking). Cover the top with the remaining tofu mixture. Each loaf will be full and feel a little heavy. Brush some of the glaze onto the bottom.
- Take a breadth before inverting the loaf pans onto the prepared baking sheet. Leave the pans in place. Bake for 15 minutes, then remove the pans and parchment. Brush glaze on the tofurkey (you’ll likely have a bit leftover), the replace in the oven. Bake 15 minutes more, brushing on the remaining glaze midway.
- When the tofurkey is lightly browned with a few tiny bubbles at the surface, blast it with broiler heat for 6 to 10 minutes to form a brown crust. Cool for at least 10 minutes before slicing and serving with the sauce.
Tip: Reheat in an oven or toaster oven preheated to 400F for about 10 minutes, until hot. Slice leftovers and panfry in a skillet.