Jon Favreau Just Salvaged Corn Starch’s Reputation

I’m by no means a film critic. Sure, I appreciate the fine talents of Quentin Tarantino and twisted narratives of the Lynchian variety, but I could also subsist on repeat watchings of Clueless and Rookie of the Year and Reality Bites. (We won’t even touch on my reprehensible affinity for Grease 2…)

My lacking credentials aside, trust me when I say you absolutely must spend the $14 (or more, depending on your metro area) price of admission to see Chef. If not for the sole fact that it’s Jon Favreau and he can do little wrong (see: Swingers, Monica’s millionaire beau on Friends), then at least for the highest quality of food pornography imaginable.

A bucket of popcorn, even with liquified butter on top, just barely cuts it when you can practically smell the garlic and basil radiating from Scarlett Johansson’s perfectly lipsticked mouth.

This movie will make the gluten-free crave beignets, the vegetarians drool over the sight of a pork-stuffed Cuban sandwich and the skeptics (myself included) finally warm up to Sofia Vergara’s charm.

There’s also a brilliant scene involving body parts and corn starch.

Naturally I don’t want to spoil the joke or subsequent tears of laughter for you, but I will say that corn starch has relevant applications beyond the kitchen (and the food truck.)

Corn starch gets a particularly bad rap; perhaps because it sounds so much like corn syrup and brings to mind all of the horrible sugars and other compounds that make kids’ cereal so damn tasty. I was impartial toward the stuff until I realized that it has the mystical ability to make at-home tofu not suck. So between this, and the Chef scene, you could say I’m pretty smitten with this corn endosperm byproduct (yum).

Before you go a little bit crazy about the prospect of tofu, let’s clear a few things up:

  • Handle the tofu with care and it won’t feel like you’re eating a cosmetic sponge. Promise.
  • If you’re ethically and spiritually against corn starch, consider that this only requires a light dusting.
  • You’ll get more for your $ if you buy the whole block of tofu and not the pre-cut version. Slicing it yourself is  way simpler and feels kind of magical.

Ready to tackle some bean curd? I have faith. You’re so money and you don’t even know it.


Mongolian Tofu
Makes ~3 servings. Adapted from Dinner: A Love Story

1 block extra firm tofu
2 tbsp cornstarch
2 tsp olive oil
1/2 tsp ginger, grated
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 c soy sauce
1/3 c brown sugar
1 scallion chopped
A squeeze of lemon juice
Green beans, baby corns, bean sprouts (optional)

Prepping the tofu
Delicately peel open the package so all of the bean juice doesn’t get all over the darn counter like it definitely did when I attempted this for the first time. Drain it and place the tofu block on a plate, cover it with a couple paper towels, then put a heavy pan on top of it (or a light pan filled with Harry Potter hardcovers as sometimes is necessary…) Leave this for around 30 minutes until more of the liquid is pressed out. Once the half hour is up, slice the block into cubes.

Everything else
Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. In a large bowl, toss the tofu cubes with the corn starch until it’s all lightly coated. Cook the cubes in the skillet until they’re golden brown on all sides, around 6-8 minutes.

While the tofu is going, mix the ginger, garlic, soy sauce, sugar, lemon juice and a 1/2 cup of water (necessary dilution because no one likes a salt bomb) in a bowl until everything’s incorporated.

When the tofu reaches the optimal golden hue, add the sauce to the skillet, stir and bring to a simmer. Once it’s simmering, turn the heat to low and let everything cook for 5-10 minutes. The sauce should noticeably reduce and thicken (like dear old Jon).

Serve over rice or lo mein noodles, along with vegetables of your choosing. Green beans, baby corn and bean sprouts aside, pea pods or pineapple chunks would also be delicious additions.



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