For the past few years now, my partner and I have been eating meat-free four nights a week. It was, admittedly, a struggle for the first few weeks, but I was surprised by how quickly it became second nature. And as more and more of our vegetarian meals achieved “favorite” status, it became a joy. So you see, going meat-free doesn’t have to be a life of virtuous deprivation. Perhaps you already know this and have embraced a more plant-based diet. But if you’re on the fence, consider these Crispy Buffalo Tofu Burgers to be the nudge you may need.
Eating meat-free from time to time not only taught me to love vegetarian food, but I also found I enjoyed and valued the meat I ate more. It’s amazing how many dishes I would thoughtlessly add meat to without asking if it really added anything to the overall dish. Chilis and curries, in particular, have so much going on that any added meat is certainly not the focal point, at least in my opinion. So, I stopped adding meat to a lot of these dishes as a way of dipping my toe into the vegetarian world. Unless I had a serious craving for something like butter chicken, I would simply forgo the meat. And I found that as long as carbs were involved, I never felt deprived.
I’m not here to debate the politics of eating philosophies. I know better than to wade into those waters. But I will say the food we put into our bodies is surprisingly personal. The things we choose to eat are selected based on our personal and cultural histories, socio-economic situation, and geographical location. It’s hard to know all facets of another human being’s personality and history, therefore it is impossible to judge them for the dietary choices they make. Well, not impossible, people do it all the time. I guess rude and ill-advised is more truthful.
In other words, I made these Crispy Buffalo Tofu Burgers to demonstrate that eating meat-free doesn’t require you to be endlessly virtuous. You can be a little naughty even if you’re keeping vegetarian. I did not make these burgers to insist that you should eat meat-free. That is up to you. I’m not completely meat-free, so I would very much be living in a glass house in this instance. You do you. Okay, disclaimer over. Let’s give some tofu the fried chicken treatment.
I approached this brick of extra firm tofu as I would chicken parts destined to be fried. First, the tofu was soaked in buttermilk and hot sauce. Then the tofu pieces were double breaded before being fried to golden perfection. I then tossed them in a vinegary concoction of butter, hot sauce, and honey. And while the texture was, admittedly, not a juicy as chicken, the tofu tasted almost exactly like a hot wing. I guess, what I’m trying to say is this Crispy Buffalo Tofu tastes like chicken.
Once I had the Crispy Buffalo Tofu nailed down, it was a simple as reimaging the supporting players found on a plate of hot wings as burger toppings. The typical ranch dressing was the easiest to incorporate. Although, I must have been feeling guilty about all the shallowing frying because I opted to make it with yogurt instead of the typical mayo, buttermilk, and\or sour cream. I hesitated to call for a specific amount of fresh ground pepper, but bear in mind this sauce is called “Peppercorn Ranch”, so I would keep grinding until your wrist feels ready to fall off. But having said that, know your pepper limit and play within it.
The next thing to tackle was the obligatory celery and carrot sticks, which I repurposed as the crown of lettuce or slaw that typically accompanies a burger. I shaved the carrot and celery into ribbons and piled them on top of the burgers.
I went the extra mile and made my own sesame seed buns. You don’t need to do that, I’m just a from-scratch completest. It’s nothing to be proud of, it can be a major time-suck. But if you are in the midst of lockdown #2, maybe a baking project is what you want. So, if you would like to make your own buns, you can find the recipe here. And if you want a video walk you through the process, you can find a full tutorial on my IGTV.
So that, from top bun to bottom, is everything you need to know about these Crispy Buffalo Tofu Burgers. Saucy, satisfying, and a delightfully messy disaster to eat, these meat-free burgers are nothing short of indulgent. Proving there’s no reason to feel deprived when you leave the meat behind.
Crispy Buffalo Tofu Burgers with Peppercorn Ranch
- 1 Cast iron skillet
- 1 cup Greek yogurt
- ⅓ cup Grana Padano shredded
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tbsp honey
- 2 tsp dried chives
- 2 tsp dried dill
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp mustard powder
- ½ tsp salt
- A ton of fresh ground pepper
Crispy Buffalo Tofu
- 1 cup milk I used 2%
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 2 tbsp hot sauce I used Frank's
- 1½ tsp salt divided
- 1 brick extra firm tofu sliced
- 1½ cups all-purpose flour
- ½ cup cornstarch
- 3 eggs
- ¾ cup buffalo hot sauce I used Frank's
- ¼ cup unsalted butter
- 2 tbsp honey
- 2 carrots peeled and cut into ribbons
- 2 stalks celery peeled into ribbons
- 4 sesame seed buns split and toasted
For the Peppercorn Ranch
- Place all of the ingredients in a bowl and stir to combine. Cover and transfer to the fridge until ready to serve.1 cup Greek yogurt, ⅓ cup Grana Padano, 2 tbsp lemon juice, 1 tbsp honey, 2 tsp dried chives, 2 tsp dried dill, 1 tsp garlic powder, 1 tsp mustard powder, ½ tsp salt, A ton of fresh ground pepper
For the Crispy Buffalo Tofu
- Pour the milk, lemon juice, and hot sauce into a large bowl, whisk to combine. Stir in ½ tsp of the salt and add the tofu slices. Press the slices into the bowl to ensure they are covered by the milk mixture. Marinate for 1 hour, turning the tofu slices once halfway through.1 cup milk, 2 tbsp lemon juice, 2 tbsp hot sauce, 1 brick extra firm tofu
- Once the tofu is finished marinating. Sift the flour, cornstarch, and the remaining salt together into a large pie plate. Whisk to combine and set aside.1½ cups all-purpose flour, ½ cup cornstarch, 1½ tsp salt
- Take the tofu slices out of the marinade and set aside. Add the eggs to the marinade and whisk to combine. One by one coat each tofu slice in the flour mixture, then dip them in the egg mixture, then return them to the flour mixture and set aside.3 eggs
- Once all the tofu slices are coated, pour about 2 inches of canola oil into a large cast-iron skillet. Heat the oil until small bubbles break the surface. Working in batches, fry the tofu until golden on both sides. About 3-4 minutes per side.
- Transfer the fried tofu to a cooling rack fitted over a baking sheet. Transfer the sheet to a low 150°F oven to keep warm.
- Pour the hot sauce into a small saucepan. Add the butter and honey and place the pan over medium heat. Heat until the butter melts and the mixture comes to a simmer. Take the sauce off of the heat.¾ cup buffalo hot sauce, 2 tbsp honey, ¼ cup unsalted butter
- Place the fried tofu in a large bowl and pour the sauce over top. Toss to coat.
- Slather each of the bottom buns with a good amount of the Peppercorn Ranch. Place two of the fried tofu slices on top and cover with shaved celery and carrot. Add the top bun and serve immediately with beer.2 carrots, 2 stalks celery, 4 sesame seed buns