Inspired by the General Tso’s fried tofu sub featured on both Serious Eats and in The New York Times, this is a sandwich for meat lovers. I’ve been cooking tofu a long time, and this method of applying a dry-rub to water-expelled tofu (the latter being one of my tweaks), dredging in a slurry of egg white and cornstarch, and covering in panko before frying is something I had never thought of doing, and it completely transformed the tofu into something abjectly un-tofu-like. Super-crunchy on the outside, sweet, soft and flavorful on the inside, it tastes like an illicit state-fair treat or exotic Asian bar snack, not the humble, flavorless tofu you know. Nestled in a sub sandwich with spicy sriracha mayo, lettuce, roasted onions, and lime juice, it’s almost transcendent. I feel compelled to provide fair warning that this is a project—I made both the sub rolls and the mayo from scratch—but it’s completely worth it. (It should also be noted the original sub, from No. 7 Sub in Manhattan, costs $9.)
Recipe adapted from Serious Eats and The New York Times. It makes 4 sandwiches. (B. and I were very hungry and could barely finish one apiece, so keep in mind they’re filling.)
• 1 block extra-firm tofu: $1.99
• 2 cups panko bread crumbs: 60 cents
• 2 cups fryer oil (I keep used oil for frying tofu in the fridge; a reader suggested freezing it to keep it even fresher, which I have yet to try, but it’s worth a shot): $0
• 1 onion, sliced: 20 cents
• Handful of lettuce leaves (garden): $0
• 3/4 cup plus 1 T olive oil: 78 cents
• 3 eggs, divided (garden): $0
• 3 T cornstarch: 15 cents
• 1 T Dijon mustard: 5 cents
• 2 tsp sriracha, or to taste: 5 cents
• 2 tsp lemon juice: 20 cents
• 1 T sugar: 3 cents
• 1 T paprika: 3 cents
• 1 1/2 tsp garlic powder: 5 cents
• 1 1/2 tsp onion powder: 5 cents
• Salt: 1 cent
• 1 lime, cut into pieces: 25 cents
TOTAL: $4.74/4 = $1.19 each
Carefully cut the tofu in two equal halves. Put on a plate, weighted with another plate and a heavy object. Leave for 30 minutes, or as long as you’ve got. Pour off the water that’s been expelled.
Preheat the oven to 400 F; cut the tofu into 8 equal pieces.
Pat the tofu dry and salt it on both sides to taste. Combine the paprika, sugar, garlic powder, and onion powder and spread all over each piece.
Toss the onion slices in 1 T olive oil and some salt, and spread on a baking sheet.
To make the mayo, whisk 1 egg yolk, the Dijon, and a 1 tsp salt until well combined. Add the 3/4 cup oil in a slow, steady stream, whisking all the while, to emulsify. Stir in sriracha to taste and lemon juice.
Set up your tofu-dipping station: whisk 2 egg whites and 3 T cornstarch together in a pie plate to make a slurry. It won’t look pretty, but just get it as smooth as you can.
Next to that, set up a plate with the panko. Take each tofu piece and dredge it well in the slurry (let any excess fall off), then roll in the panko. Set on a clean, dry plate.
Heat the fryer oil. I admit I usually don’t use a thermometer for frying tofu since there’s no worry about it cooking through; I usually wait until the oil is hot enough to get kind of swirly. If you’re not sure about this process, drop a crumb of panko in the oil and see if it fries.
Add the tofu in batches, frying both sides until browned. Drain on a paper towel-lined plate.
Spread mayo on both sides of a sandwich roll. Add lettuce (if you have mustard greens in your garden, as I did, use them—they’re phenomenal on this), then two of the tofu pieces. Cover with roasted onions, and squeeze a couple lime slices over the top.
Replace the top of the roll and serve.