I love tofu. There, I’ve said it.
For the longest time, I thought I didn’t like it. As it turns out, I didn’t like the particular preparation (sorry miso soup…it’s not you, it’s me).
Tofu comes in two main kinds, silken or regular. Silken is used for sauces and desserts, while regular is used for more robust fare. To further confuse things, there are varying degrees of firmness within each type. Fortunately the packages make it obvious which kind of tofu you’re buying.
So far, my experience has been limited to regular tofu which comes in soft, medium, firm and extra firm. For scrambles, soft and medium tofu will give a nice scrambled egg texture. Firm works for this application as well. Extra firm is great for things like stir fries. Properly prepared, firm and extra firm tofu will give a mouth feel similar to chicken breast. It also has the same ability as chicken to meld well with various spices and sauces. Don’t expect tofu to be exactly the same as chicken but rather enjoy it on its own merits.
Tofu comes packed in water. You’ll want to drain that off and press the tofu to make it as dry as possible.
There are tofu presses available, but I don’t prepare it often enough to justify the purchase. I use a couple of plates, some paper towels and a large can as seen in the photo:
Once pressed, pat the tofu dry with paper towel and slice to the desired shape and thickness. I like squares as shown in the picture, but when I order in Chinese restaurants they slice in triangles. To slice, I’ll cut the block in half, then cut each half into five or so slices depending how thick I want them.
Take the slices and dredge in cornstarch, shaking off the excess. Let stand a few minutes.
To pan fry, cover the bottom of a non stick skillet with oil. Vegetable oil or peanut oil works best for this, but I usually just use olive oil and keep an eye on the temperature. I like to add 1/8 tsp of red pepper flake to flavor the oil (just a pinch). Sesame oil is nice too if you have it. When the oil it hot, carefully add the tofu a piece at a time. Let it cook undisturbed to form a crust on the bottom. When you notice the sides are starting to change color, flip the pieces over and let a crust form on the other side. Continue flipping until the tofu is the color you’d like. Remove from the skillet and drain on paper towels. Add salt to taste.
The tofu should have a nice crunch when you bite into it, with a chewy center. Serve with any kind of sauce you’d like, as mentioned above, it goes well with a surprising variety. Or, use your fried pieces instead of chicken in a stir fry of peppers and onions and a little sweet and sour sauce. I’ve even used it in spaghetti which was met with a bit a resistance by the men in the house, but I thought it was delicious.
My tofu went naked on the night I prepared this dish. I served it with a quick spinach salad of orange, avocado and red onion and a homemade vinaigrette.