Thu Mar 12, 2020
With Filipino restaurant options in the Triangle extremely limited, some extra effort is required for me to share this delicious cuisine with my friends. Luckily, our local Asian grocery is well stocked with Filipino ingredients, so when I decided to host Filipino-themed cookout last summer, I was able to get what I needed to cook up a menu with some level of authenticity. A major challenge arrived in the plotting of recipes though—this cuisine is definitely short on vegetarian options and I have a large vegetarian constituency that want to partake too. Filipino barbecue was a must for one of the dishes, but this sweet marinade is usually applied to pork and chicken, so I tried it out on tofu to give all of my guests the ability to experience it, and I'm happy to say these Filipino barbecue tofu buns both worked great and were a hit!
I actually did make a pork version of these too, which I've already chronicled in previous post, so there is more details on all of the components of these buns over there if you're seeking additional info. Both recipes are very similiar though and I started each of them by making a batch of archara, which is a pickled green papaya condiments often served with grilled meats since its tang and crunch provides a welcomed contrast to the sweet, and usually fatty, meats.
I didn't really see any reason to change up my barbecue marinade recipe for use with tofu. I actually got this recipe from my wife's uncle who's the barbecue master of the family. It came to me only as a list of ingredients though, no measurements, so I tinkered with it a bit until I had something repeatably delicious, and once I got there, I haven't changed a thing about this sweet and savory marinade the looks thin at time of preparing, but grills up to be a thick, glistening glaze.
I feel like it's a bit of a cop-out at this point, but the majority of the times when I want to serve my vegetarian friends something similar to a meat dish I'm preparing, I just pick up a package or two of extra firm tofu and sub that in for the meat. I'm not sure if my friends are getting tired of this, but I have to say, with the blank slate that tofu is, this method has worked time and again for me in creating something that really features the same flavors and also grills really well.
There is a lot of moisture in water-packed tofu, so the first step I always take is removing some of it so the tofu will brown more effectively. I do this by placing my tofu slices between to pieces of paper powers and gently pressing on them to extract some liquid. It's important not to press too hard because the tofu can also easily be crushed.
After I had the tofu prepared, I transferred it to a large resealable bag, poured in the marinade, sealed, and tossed gently to distribute the liquid as evenly possible. Then, just like I do when using pork or chicken, into the fridge the bag went to marinate overnight.
The next day, I prepared my grill with a two-zone fire, where all the coals were situated on one side of charcoal grate. Then I placed the tofu slices on the cool side of the grill, covered, and waited for the tofu to cook and brown.
It took about 15 minutes total for that to happen, and I flipped the tofu once halfway through for even cooking. The tofu certainly browned nicely, but it didn't have that glistening sheen I'm used to with Filipino barbecue. So I moved the slices over to the hot side of the grill where they picked up a little bit of that characteristic, albeit to a lesser degree than meat does.
Next I chopped up the tofu into a large dice, steamed some Chinese buns, and then assemble the final product with portions of tofu and archara going it each bun. I was pretty stoked that I was able to serve these alongside the pork version so all Meatwavers could experience the greatness of Filipino barbecue. The tofu did interact with the marinade in a bit of a different manner though, soaking into it and embedding the entire thing with that complex sugary and super savory sauce. Having more marinade throughout created a bit of a different flavor, featuring the acid and soy sauce a bit more and the sugar a little less, but, overall, it still tasted uniquely like Filipino barbecue, which is exactly what I wanted to do and it's something that vegetarians seldom probably get to taste. So maybe there's an upside to the lack of Filipino restaurants in the area—it forces me to think more creatively about cooking it at home, which has proven to be a good thing.
Filipino Tofu BBQ Baos
- Prep Time:
- 45 Minutes
- Inactive Time:
- 8 Hours
- Cook Time:
- 15 Minutes
- Total Time:
- 9 Hours
- 12 servings
- For the Achara
- 1 green papaya, seeds removed and julienned
- 2 medium carrots, peeled and julienned
- 1 red pepper, stemmed, seeded, and julienned
- 1/2 white onion, peeled and thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons salt, divided
- 3 cups cane vinegar
- 1 1/8 cups sugar
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1 1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and julienned
- 1 Fresno chili, stemmed, seeded, and thinly sliced (optional)
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- For the Barbecue
- 1 cup Sprite
- 1 cup dark brown sugar
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup soy sauce
- 1/2 cup cane vinegar
- 1/4 cup orange juice
- 1/4 cup ketchup
- 1/8 cup lemon juice
- 6 garlic cloves, minced
- 3 tablespoons oyster sauce
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 tablespoon ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes
- 3 pounds extra-firm tofu, drained, rinsed, and cut into 1/2-inch thick 2-inch squares
- 36 fresh or frozen Chinese-style steamed buns
- To make the achara: Place papaya, carrots, red pepper, and onion in a large bowl. Toss with 2 tablespoons of salt and place in refrigerator overnight. Transfer vegetables to a colander and rinse with cold water. Press down on vegetables with paper towels to extract excess liquid. Transfer vegetables to a large glass jar. Whisk together vinegar, sugar, remaining 2 teaspoons salt, garlic, ginger, chili (if using), and black pepper in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium high heat. Remove from heat and pour liquid into jar with vegetables. Cover jar and let cool to room temperature. Transfer jar to refrigerator and store until ready to use, up to 1 month.
- To make the barbecue: In a medium bowl, whisk together Sprite, brown sugar, onion, soy sauce, vinegar, orange juice, ketchup, lemon juice, garlic, oyster sauce, salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes. Line a work surface or sheet pan with paper towels. Lay tofu slices in a single layer on paper towel and lay another layer of paper on top. Press gently on tofu to squeeze out excess moisture. Place tofu slices in a large resealable bag and pour in marinade. Seal bag, removing as much air as possible, and place in refrigerator overnight.
- Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and arrange the coals on one side of the charcoal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill, and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Clean and oil grilling grate. Place tofu on cool side of grill, cover, and cook for 7 minutes. Flip tofu, cover, and continue cooking until tofu has lightly browned, about 7 minutes more. Move tofu to hot side of grill, and cook until lightly charred and sauce has thickened, 1-2 minutes per side. Transfer tofu to a cutting board and roughly chop.
- To Serve: Steam buns in a bamboo steamer or in the microwave on a large plate under a damp towel. Place servings of tofu in each bun and top with achara. Serve immediately.