Simmered Frozen Tofu Soup With Pork and Cabbage

The texture of frozen and thawed tofu is ideal with a warming, flavorful broth.

Frozen And Thawed Tofu Soup, Frozen Simmered Tofu

12/8/2021 11:00:00 PM

The texture of frozen and thawed tofu is ideal with a warming, flavorful broth.

Freezing and thawing tofu transforms its texture, making it the perfect vehicle for flavor.

Why It WorksFreezing and thawing firm tofu removes excess water and alters its structure, turning it into a sponge that soaks up all the flavors of the broth.A mixture of chicken powder, water, and chicken stock makes a light-bodied broth that's easy to bring together in minutes.

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Many households in Northeast China use the long, bitter winters to their advantage by storing ingredients outdoors. Since the temperatures are well below freezing, everything kept outside freezes solid. This is great news in terms of the preservation of ingredients that would have otherwise gone bad, but it’s also great news for texture and flavor—as evidenced by this warming tofu, cabbage, and pork soup.

In the case of the tofu, as it freezes, the water inside of the tofu crystallizes as ice, which expands and pushes apart the proteins that give the tofu its structure. When these ice crystals then melt and the water drains away, they leave behind large holes in the tofu, giving it a chewier, spongier texture. This frozen-then-thawed tofu can then be pressed to drive off more water for dry heat applications, such as grilling, where it'll pick up more flavor and caramelize better without all that excess moisture in the way.

Where this frozen tofu really shines, however, is in braises, soups, and sauces. The now-opened lattice of the defrosted tofu makes it not only sponge-like in appearance, but also sponge-like in performance: those air pockets left behind by the ice crystals transform the tofu into a highly absorbent ingredient, meaning it will soak up any liquid it’s cooked in. The result is meatlike, chewy, juicy, and very flavorful—even when cooked in something like this recipe's very basic broth, which consists of pork, cabbage, chicken stock, garlic, and ginger.

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All tofu can be frozen to achieve a similar effect, but based on my tests, the best results come from freezing whole blocks of firm tofu. Firm tofu has a higher protein content and lower water content than silken tofu, which means that it also has the strongest lattice structure, and it will consequently hold together better after it's thawed. Using whole blocks as opposed to slices or cubes of tofu also seems to yield larger air pockets, possibly because whole blocks retain more moisture. That said, there are advantages to freezing sliced tofu, which is how most Northeast Chinese families do it. What you lose in air pocket size you gain in convenience: sliced frozen tofu can be dropped right into a simmering pot, rather than having to fully thaw a block of tofu and then slicing it before adding it to the pot.

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