Tofu Planks Veracruzana

Cook Date: July 24, 2020

To quote Monty Python: “And now for something completely different.”

Last Tuesday we were putting together our menu and shopping list for the next week. Carla suggested a Thai peanut sauce tofu dish we have been kicking around. But I just so happened to be looking at a Tofu Steak Veracruzana dish in the Washington Post at that moment and said “no, I’ll cook this instead.” So the ingredients went on the shopping list. Later I looked more closely at the recipe and thought to myself: “What in the heck was I thinking?” I wasn’t at all sure how this would taste.

While this is a Mexican dish, it isn’t TexMex: no tortillas, meat, red sauce and cheese. This is based on a type of dish served in Central Mexico and is usually made for fish or shrimp.

The stars of the show – fruits and vegetables – looked like a great summer meal.

The stars of tofu steak veracruzana

But, before we get to that we need to start some rice for a side dish. I’ve riffed on a recipe I found on Simply Recipes: adjusting amounts and using the rice cooker. You can find my recipe here.

Most of the Spanish Rice ingredients

Once I realized I didn’t want to make as much rice as the original recipe makes I cut out 1 can of the diced tomatoes and green chilis and omitted the diced green chilis altogether.

Spanish rice ingredients ready to go.

I diced half of a small onion (not shown in the top photo) and sautéd the rice and onion in some olive oil. I then added the salt and garlic and sautéd until fragrant. Don’t make the mistake I made. Normally I rinse my rice thoroughly – until the water runs clear. Stupid me, I thought if i let the rice drain for a while it would be fine adding it to the frying pan with hot oil. It wasn’t terrible, but it sure spattered hot olive oil all over the stove top So either don’t rinse your rice or skip the sauté step and just throw everything into your rice cooker and press “Go”.

Once the rice started I returned to the main course.

Tofu steak Veracruzana ingredients.

The recipe is vegan; I’m not, So I substituted chicken stock for vegetable stock and used real butter instead of vegan butter.

I’m used to pressing tofu to remove the moisture: wrap in paper towels, set on a cooling rack and press with a cast iron press or a plate with a big can of tomatoes on top. Instead, this recipe calls for heating the block of tofu wrapped in paper towels in the microwave for 1 minute, replacing the paper towels and going for another cycle. It worked but I like my method just as well.

Once dry, I sliced the tofu into 4 planks. I placed the tofu on the narrow edge running lengthwise perpendicular to me. I cut it in half, then cut each half in half. I didn’t do a perfect job, but it was passable.

Next we whisk together chicken stock, fresh lime juice, a clove of garlic, some kosher salt, ground black pepper, and a bit of dried oregano. Since I was using homemade chicken stock – which has very little salt – I should have added more than the recipe calls for. Place the tofu planks in a 1 gallon zip top bag, add the marinade, seal, swish, and marinade 30 minutes, flipping every few minutes.

Marinated tofu “steaks”

Why are these called tofu “steaks”? We aren’t fooling anyone; Carla and I shared a grilled ribeye last week and the tofu tastes nothing like it. I see that a lot in vegetarian dishes, giving ingredients names that mimic omnivore recipes. If we are trying to trick someone, they will be onto us in the first bite. Why not call this recipe “Tofu Plank Veracruzana” (like I do)?

Enough ranting; I sliced the vegetables, chopped some pitted green olives and capers, crushed some garlic, and measured out some white wine and butter.

Tofu Plank Vera Cruzana ingredients mise en place.

I seared the tofu in my vintage 10-inch Wagner Ware Sydney cast iron skillet I picked up at a second hand store in Bingen, Washington two summers ago. It’s been sitting around while I debated stripping and re-seasoning it. The only way to tell if it was okay to use was to use it. It worked well.

The tofu planks are a little fragile; I found it worked best to use a fish spatula to turn them.

Searing the tofu in my cast iron skillet

After 10 minutes the planks come off.

Seared tofu planks

In go the onion, bell pepper, and jalapeño chil.

Sautéing onion, bell pepper and jalapeño chili

After a few minutes they start to soften and I add the chopped olives and capers.

Finally add the tomatoes and wine and simmer until the wine is partially cooked off. Reduce the heat, add the tofu to heat it through.

Stir in the butter at the last moment and dinner is ready.

Dinner is served

Dinner is served: Tofu plank Veracruzana, Spanish rice, and a green salad.

As I’ve said before about tofu recipes, it’s all about the sauce. Even marinated and seared, the tofu was on the bland side; next time I’ll marinate it longer and with a bit more salt. But the sauce and rice brought the dish to life. Carla and I debated how many stars to give it. Three stars means good but maybe not ready for prime time. Four stars means it’s in the regular rotation and/or good for company. The sauce is really nice; the tomatoes, onions, pepper, and chilis gives it body while the olives and capers give it a nice briny touch. We add kalamata olives to a beans and rice dish we love. Hmm, can’t find a blog post on it, I’d better do that!

If you have friends who turn and run in horror at the idea of tofu, pick something else for company. But if they like tofu, then this would be great. I think my sister-in-law Linda would like it. The Washington Post says this sauce is often used with fish instead of tofu; I think this would be a wonderful use. Or toss the tofu and add some shrimp at the end. And it lends itself to cooking outside on a griddle (yeah, I’m looking into that. Stay tuned.)

Rating: ★★★

A note on the photography. I lit the pictures with an Aputure HR672S panel and two smaller Aputure H198 panels. Here is the large panel (with brackets for the diffuser).

Aputure HR672S LED Panel.

I diffused the light on the large panel with the Aputure EZ Box+ II Diffuser Softbox. This was my first use of the diffuser.

Aputure EZ Box+ II Diffuser Softbox mounted on the Aputure HR672S LED Panel

I’m not 100% satisfied with the results. If you look at the photos of whole vegetables in the post you’ll see some shiny reflections – in the tomatoes and bell pepper especially. In my test shots I used an 18% gray card to set the white balance. The lights range on the cool side: 4,800 down to 3,500 depending on the shot. And these lights are just not as bright as my Godox flashes. I’m thinking of playing around with some adjustments: including

  • Using the included orange tungsten diffusers instead of the frosted neutral one.
  • Remove the included hard plastic diffuser and shoot into a reflective umbrella.
  • Remove the included hard plastic diffuser and shoot through the EZ Box+. I think that will only make the hot spots hotter.
  • Add another layer of diffusion on the EZ Box+.

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