Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Polenta-Crusted Tofu with Balsamic Caper Pan Sauce

The first recipe I chose from Gourmet was Polenta-Crusted Chicken with Balsamic Caper Pan Sauce, from the January 2009 issue.

Here's my version (not including corrections; this is exactly as I tried it, as close as possible to the original):

Egg substitute, equivalent to 2 eggs
1/2 c. polenta (preferably quick-cooking)
1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 lb. extra-firm tofu (drained)
1/2 c. vegetable oil
1/3 c. plus 2 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
1/2 c. balsamic vinegar
1/4 c. water
3 Tbsp. capers
1 tsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. butter substitute
1 lb. escarole, torn into bite-sized pieces

Blend egg substitute (prepare according to box if a powdered kind) with 1/2 tsp. each of salt and pepper in a shallow bowl. In another shallow bowl, combine polenta, flour, and another 1/2 tsp. each of salt and pepper. Dip tofu in liquid, let drip, and then coat in polenta mixture. Heat vegetable oil and 1/3 c. olive oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat until the oil shimmers. Cook tofu in batches, turning once, until golden, and set aside loosely covered. Pour off oil and wipe skillet. Heat remaining 2 Tbsp. olive oil over medium heat, until it shimmers. Add tomato paste and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Stir in vinegar, water, capers, sugar, and 1/2 tsp salt and briskly simmer until slightly thickened, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and swirl in butter substitute. Toss escarole with about half the sauce, and serve remaining sauce on side of tofu. Gourmet suggests serving with mashed potatoes, and I bet they're right.

And the verdict...

Selected purely because I already had some polenta I've been wanting to use, this certainly wasn't an inspired choice. I substituted tofu for the original chicken and made some other minor substitutions, but nothing that should significantly affect the overall flavors of the dish. It worked out fine, but wasn't amazing. Still, I think the issues it had could be resolved... I wanted to use seitan instead of tofu, but the store didn't have any. I did buy wheat gluten so I could make some myself, though - I'll chronicle that adventure soon. I ended up with a locally produced fine-herb flavored tofu, which was dense and relatively dry, and I thought it would work well in the place of chicken. The dryness turned out to be a good thing, and I'd worry that anything too wet would prevent the breading from adhering properly. The herb flavors were blah, but didn't cause any trouble; the major problem was tofu was completely unsalted, lacking any savoriness (umami...what a great word) to balance the richness of the oil. I'd like to try breading only the flat surfaces and pan-frying them in a great deal less oil, just sort of sear them, to prevent the breading and the tofu from absorbing as much oil as possible.

I couldn't find escarole, so I substituted curly endive, which added a nice texture. Escarole, Belgian endive, and curly endive are closely related, so you should be able to use whichever one you like the look of best. I bet, if you use Belgian endive (which has such a lovely shape) you could very lightly saute them in the pan with the sauce rather than tossing them with it.

Other than the tofu, the only things I had to change were egg substitute for eggs (to bind the crust to the tofu) and butter substitute for butter - by far, the best I've found is Earth Balance.

I think I'll try again with home-made (and seasoned!) seitan, and I will definitely go easy on the balsamic; it was a little overwhelming. I have weakness for sauces, and I tend to use every drop I can get - but if you make this, do your damndest to resist that urge. A light-to-medium coating on the escarole will be better.

This would be a good breading to use elsewhere - it's very crunchy and with a solid black-peppery flavor, and the texture of polenta is an interesting alternative to flakier breading.

One final note - don't freak out when you add the tomato past to the oil - I was convinced I'd done something wrong when I realized I was basically frying tomato paste. After you break it up a bit, it helps to tilt the pan so that all the oil and the tomato paste drip to the bottom, then swish a whisk back and forth through it to blend. Go easy, though, and be careful of the hot oil!

Side-note: my spell-check is convinced that I meant to type "polecat" instead of "polenta".

That would be a very different kind of recipe.

Let me know what you think, what you would change, how you would make it better!

Polenta Info

Escarole on FoodistaEscarole


  1. Next time try polecat encrusted tofu, and add salt.

  2. Well, usually polecats do need a little extra salt.