Yes, this is directly inspired by David Chang’s legendary pork buns. I just did them with smoked tofu instead of pig, and my pickle is a little different, and I kinda like kochujang (Korean miso/chili paste) on them instead of hoisin sauce. Next time I think I might swap out the pickle in favor of some thinly sliced kimchi, because I ate some leftover smoked tofu with kimchi and it was delicious.
These buns are nominally an appetizer, but they are pretty filling – a couple of them and you won’t necessarily want a huge main course.
I did the smoking using a Polyscience smoking gun. I’d heard mixed reviews of this device before. Some folks swear by it, others seem to think it was a gimmick. Put it this way, as soon as I used one once at ChefSteps, I immediately ordered one for home. I really like the flavor of smoke, and think it is often missing from vegetarian food. I’ve made lots of jury-rigged smokers at home over the years. The smoking gun simplifies the process so I’m not messing up any pots, and it very efficiently turns a small spoonfull of wood chips into clean, tasty smoke. I used applewood for this dish, but you can get many different varieties.
By the way, if you do smoking a different way, don’t believe anyone who tells you to soak the chips. This is a bad idea – it means the chips really won’t get above the boiling point of water, so you only extract unpleasant sour flavors, not the good taste you get from smoke generated at high heat. However you do your smoking, make sure to do it safely!
You can find the frozen buns (and pretty much everything else for this recipe) at a well-stocked Asian grocery. I got mine at Uwajimaya in Seattle. You can also make your own, there is a recipe in the Momofuku cookbook.
Smoked Tofu Buns
Vegetarian, vegan and kosher
Makes 12 buns
- 450 grams (1 pound) extra-firm tofu, preferably fresh and locally made
- Wood chips, preferably apple wood
- Vegetable oil
- Kosher salt
- 1 dozen frozen Chinese buns (see picture above)
- 36 slices pickled cucumbers (recipe below)
- 3 thinly sliced green onions
- Kochujang or hoisin sauce
- Slice the tofu into twelve slabs, each about the size of one of the buns. Pat dry, and smoke for about 10 minutes with the wood chips. I used two 30-second blasts of smoke from a Polyscience smoking gun with the tofu laid out in a single layer on a cake rack inside a closed hotel pan, letting the tofu sit in the smoke between blasts, but you can also rig up any kind of homemade smoker you feel comfortable with.
- Set up some way of steaming the buns. I used a bamboo steamer, but any kind of improvised rig that lets you get them enclosed over boiling water for about 3-4minutes will do fine. Steam the buns until hot and soft, at the same time as you fry the tofu…
- To fry the tofu, pat it dry again and place a cast iron skillet over high heat. Add about 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil. Fry the tofu in a single layer, flipping once, until golden brown and crusty on both sides. Season with a bit of salt.
- To serve, open the buns and place a slice of tofu on one side. Layer on 3 slices of the pickled cucumber and a few green onions. Slather a bit of kochujang or hoisin on the other half of the bun. Serve hot.
- 60 grams (1/4 cup) champagne vinegar
- 180 grams (3/4 cup) water
- 12 grams (about 1″ piece) fresh ginger, peeled and grated
- 0.5 grams (a big pinch) freshly ground black pepper
- 5 grams kosher salt (1 1/2 teaspoons Diamond Crystal; 1 teaspoon Morton’s)
- 1 kilogram pickling cucumbers, sliced very thin on a mandoline
- Stir together the vinegar, water, ginger, pepper, and salt.
- If you have a vacuum packer that can handle liquids (basically a professional unit, not a Foodsaver-class machine), seal the brine with the cucumbers (using as many bags as needed), pull a full vacuum, and you are done.
- Otherwise, bring the brine to a boil and pour it over the cucumbers, then let stand until they cool.
- In either case, refrigerate until needed.