Wheatsville Classic: Popcorn Tofu
When I first started working at Wheatsville, about 10 years ago, we were regularly making Southern Fried Tofu (SFT) but really struggled with the demand. In order to make the process more efficient, one of my cook’s came up with a wet batter – this way the battering process was one easy step. What he didn’t know at the time was that he was only creating another great item that people were going to love as much, and eventually more, than SFT. This was the beginning of Wonko’s Popcorn Tofu, rightly named after the cook who created it.
Wonko’s popcorn tofu became a HIT! Now we were making Southern Fried Tofu and Wonko’s Popcorn Tofu (which was quickly renamed Popcorn Tofu – who knew that Wonko was shy?). Both dishes have tofu that is frozen, thawed, pressed (to remove the liquid) and then this is where they were different: SFT was sliced, placed in a wet marinade, then dredged through a seasoned cornmeal flour mix – much like my Grandmother’s Fried Green Tomato recipe. PCT is torn into bits, the wet marinade and seasoned cornmeal flour are mixed together, and then the bits of tofu are dunked in the wet mix – shaking off the excess batter.
SFT was originally cooked in a large cast iron, stove top – turned by hand. PCT needed another method for sure. So I went to Target and bought a counter top fryer – and off we went. We quickly outgrew that fryer BUT we didn’t have a vent hood large enough to get a much bigger fryer. After some research and electrical upgrades we got the next biggest size fryer we could. Even with the larger fryer AND making the PCT first thing every morning we were still running out every day by 3 – ask people, they remember this!
We had to change the way we stored the tofu – our demand for cases of tofu was staggering. Our suppliers were quickly adapting to this strange success. Our entire freezer and walk-in revolved around how we froze, thawed, and pressed tofu. It was at this time that we started talking about renovating the store. I like to think we did it for the sake of the PCT lovers of the world! But honestly, most of the store was having this same thing happen – we were all busting out of our seams and the need for space, larger equipment, and more storage was increasing.
When we were planning the renovation, one of my main priorities was to have enough room for all the tofu we needed and a fryer big enough to cook it all. I WAS NOT going to run out of PCT or SFT. Once we renovated, we quickly met our expectations – customers noticed and were super happy!
We now have another flavor of Popcorn Tofu – Spicy Buffalo PopcornTofu. This was an idea that came out of a promotional meeting as we prepared for Superbowl. We bought gallons of Frank’s Hot Sauce, more tofu, more cornmeal, more flour and off we went – AGAIN! The first weekend that we introduced the Spicy Buffalo Popcorn Tofu (BPCT as we call it) was amazing. In another weekly meeting, a cook mentioned using the crumbles on our new Pizza – I have to say this idea was a little crazy to me. But I knew he was right (Chad Peters you just might be a genius!) people love Popcorn Tofu and they love pizza. It was worth a shot! Now the 2 pizza’s are our top sellers.
Over the years, I have given at least 20 other co-ops our recipes, we have counseled them in their storage techniques. I like to think that we are helping to grow the Co-op Economy, right in line with our BIG direction, by helping these co-ops make our top seller!