Preparing Tofu / Complicated Recipes

Preparing Tofu

20140205-fried-tofu-vegan-20.jpg[Photographs: J. Kenji López-Alt]

Editor's Note: Welcome to the third year of The Vegan Experience! All month we're exploring the vegan lifestyle, from dining out to eating in, developing a slew of delicious recipes for vegan appetizers, snacks, and entrees along the way. For more posts in the series, check here!

Tofu is my favorite food, which makes me an outlier. People don't like tofu. And I get it. There's a lot of bad tofu out there, and it's easy to dislike when it's soggy, mushy, or bland. But great tofu—tofu with a tender center surrounded by a well-seasoned, crisp crust—is one of the most satisfying bites of food I can think of, a food that can and should be appreciated by all serious eaters, no matter their diet.

Here's how to cook tofu so good even tofu-haters might come around. First we're going to talk about how to shop for tofu, then we'll talk about how to crisp up plain slices of tofu, and finally we'll figure out the best way to prepare tofu for stir-frying.

Dry = Good

The goal when frying tofu—whether pan-frying or deep frying—is the same as the goal when frying meat or vegetables: to alter the texture and flavor. In the case of tofu, we're talking about adding some crispness to an otherwise tender food, and adding some rich browning, which brings out tofu's natural sweetness and bring some savory notes to the forefront.

Crispness comes from the dehydration of the exterior layer of proteins in your tofu slices, while browning occurs when those proteins and carbohydrates are exposed to temperatures above around 300°F or so, precipitating the Maillard reaction (that's just the fancy word for "things that make your food golden and delicious").

Some things are not good dry. Cake. Pools. Sex. But tofu is different. The key to both crispness and browning is the removal of moisture, so the drier you get your tofu to begin with, the more efficiently these reactions will take place, and the better the contrast between crisp exterior and moist, tender interior will be.

There are a number of ways to dry your tofu out before cooking it, but the easiest first step is to get the right tofu to begin with. Tofu comes in two basic forms: silken and cottony, which are made using two different coagulating agents. Within these two categories, you'll find varying degrees of firmness from custardy soft to very firm and meaty, depending on their final water content. Some brands conflate soft with silken, but traditionally, the two are orthogonal measures (that is, it is possible to have soft cottony tofu just as it's possible to have firm silken tofu).

For crisping purposes, you want to use cottony (non-silken), extra-firm tofu, which holds its shape and browns better than other varieties.

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Good-for-you grilling ideas  —
As you stoke the flames of your grill this season, choose a versatile canvas that allows you to build on flavors and textures, lending itself to a wide range of cuisine and preparation methods.

Lee Kum Kee Lee Kum Kee Sauce For Ma Po Tofu, 2.8-Ounce Pouches (Pack of 12)
Grocery (Lee Kum Kee)
  • Made from peppercorn and various condiments, this sauce is great for preparing the renowned Sichuan dish, Ma Po Tofu
SOUKENNSHA SOUKENSHA Tofu in Chinese Spicy Sauce no MOTO (Retort-packed)
  • Japanese retail packaging ( Manual and instruction, if any, are in Japanese only. )
  • Net weight: 180g
  • Size: 180 * 130 * 20 (mm)

Popular Q&A

How to Prepare Tofu?

Tofu is a great FILLER type food. Much like soy. You can cook it anyway you like. You can fry it, bake it, boil it. Whatever you cook it with, it will take on that flavor.

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