Chances are you have one dish you’ve made more than any other. A dish you can make without consulting a recipe. A dish that you make better than 99% of other people who might try. (What’s yours? Tell us in the comments…)
YACHT frontman Jona Bechtolt is a scramblin’ man. By which we mean his dish is Tofu Scramble: hot,fluffy soy cooked up with herbs and vegetables until it resembles a hearty egg dish. To be honest, Tofu Scramble is exactly the kind of “by-the-book” vegan classic we’d normally avoid on a menu because, well, it’s usually boring. But we also know something about Jona. He is a perfectionist. And since he’s spent more than a decade eating vegan on tour around the world, if anyone’s going to perfect the Tofu Scramble, it’s him.
In fact, we’ve bugged him for the recipe for years. This is a picture of us in 2010 eating Jona’s scramble for the first time. The problem is he doesn’t have a recipe, written down, memorized or otherwise. Each scramble is different. He vibes over the non-stick pan like he would tinker on the computer for a song. Finally, we made a deal: “You put us to work chopping and mincing and we’ll simply observe what you do in the pan and take notes.” That’s what we did.
The result is the recipe for Jona’s Famous October 20th, 2013 Tofu Scramble…
For the most part, the ingredients are static, though the amounts may vary. They include: olive oil, Bragg liquid amino, about half a cup of nutritional yeast, 2 cartons of “firm” tofu, garlic, hot chilies, a shallot, a bunch of parsley, a handful of cherry tomatoes, fresh cracked black pepper, Daiya vegan cheese (Mozzarella, shredded). Gimme Lean vegan sausage is an optional ingredient. As far as we can tell this is determined by how hungry Jona feels. This day was a Gimme Lean day. (He may or may not have added salt in addition to the liquid amino. Reports are conflicting)
Jona puts a large non-stick pan on medium heat and adds a few tablespoons of oil, minced shallot, a couple garlic cloves, and a couple hot chilies. Today he’s got Thai chilies from the farmer’s market. These chilies are too hot so he only uses one. He lets this start to sizzle and smell good. Then comes the tofu. The single most important technique in this recipe is the squeezing of the tofu, so it’s Rule #1.
He carefully removes the tofu cubes from their cartons drains the liquid and one cube at a time he holds it over the pan and slowly but thoroughly crumbles it by squeezing it through his fingers.
The second important technique is what we’ll call “repetitive seasoning.” Rather than add all the ingredients at once, Jona adds the seasonings in stages. He shakes enough nutritional yeast and cracks enough black pepper to evenly cover the tofu. This is probably a little less than 1/4 cup yeast and a little more than a teaspoon of black pepper. But it depends. He squirts a teaspoon or so of Bragg liquid amino. He walks away and lets this cook for a couple minutes without touching it. Then he stirs it with a spatula to disburse the yeast, letting it cook for another 5 minutes. By the very end he will have added just over 1/2 cup yeast. Which is a lot. He says this technique came from the tofu scramble at Bouldin Creek Coffee House in Austin, Texas.
The third trick is one we call “more parsley than seems right.” Jona holds a whole bunch of parsley over the pan and snips it with scissors. He saves a few sprigs for garnish. He says this came from Bijou Cafe in Portland, Oregon. The result is two-fold. The color is nice, with lots of flecks of deep green, and the flavor is boosted.
At this point, he repeats the yeast, black pepper and Bragg coating. Walks away and lets it bubble. Then stirs. This lets the tofu and yeast develop a crust and almost stick to the pan, helping to create the kind of clumps that resemble cooked egg. At this point, he slices up about 10 ripe cherry tomatoes into quarters and adds them to the mix. Then Jona takes the log of Gimme Lean sausage and breaks off about a third of the log and he rolls it into about a dozen small balls and plops them into the scramble. He credits this optional addition to Juniors Cafe in Portland.
A final coating of yeast, pepper and Bragg is added (about half the first two coatings) and then a healthy sprinkle of Daiya cheese. Let’s say 1/4 cup. He does this on this particular morning even though his friend Jeff is coming over for breakfast and Jeff doesn’t like Daiya. Jona cites a commitment to the right kind of clingy curd-like texture. Sorry Jeff. No rules.