My third guest post is from my very own boyfriend, Matt! So, shut up and pay attention! ;)
I’ve only been eating tofu for a year, now, and already I’ve figured out why so many people hate it. It’s slimy, textureless, tasteless, and just kind of gross. I made stir-fry after stir-fry of nastily-textured slimy bean curd, onions, and veggies, varying cooking temperatures, methods of preparation, whatever I could think of. Then I discovered what all those people who hate it are doing wrong—rather, what they’re not doing. Now the tofu I cook is so delicious that we have a hard time using it in recipes; instead we just munch on it until it’s gone. I will warn you, the path to perfect tofu is long, but it’s definitely not arduous—there’s a moving walkway for the first half of it, for one. Handicap ramps for easy access. Other… easy pathway… metaphors. Just make some up; I’m sure they’ll be good.
In order of importance (to flavor and texture), here are the steps to perfect tofu:
1. FREEZE: The number one step is freezing your tofu. The texture changes this causes are so vast as to be practically different products. Freezing and thawing tofu turns firm into extra-extra-firm and extra firm into something strikingly similar to the texture of good steak (or bad chicken). When you get home with your tofu, the first thing you want to do is drain the water away, pat the cube dry, and put it in the freezer, wrapped in cellophane or a towel (or wax paper or in tupperware, etc. After the tofu is frozen, remove it from the freezer and put it in the fridge to let it thaw, preferably in a collander or on a slanted surface, to allow it to drain. After it's thawed and drained, give it a final pat-down with a clean towel, and you're ready for the next step.
2. MARINATE: The purpose of a meat marinade is not only to impart flavor, but also to introduce an acidic element to break down and soften the flesh. Tofu is already soft; too soft, which is what the freezing fixes. Now, though, you have a chunk of flavorless bean curd. Firm, meaty flavorless bean curd, but flavorless nonetheless. Next we need to give it some flavor. Flavor.
To do this, cut your tofu up into half-inch slices or 1-inch cubes, and set aside to hang out, covered with a clean towel. Whisk together in a bowl or casserole dish (I prefer the flat-bottomed casseroles for marinating tofu):
- ½ cup tamari soy sauce
- 3-4 minced garlic cloves
- 1 ½-inch piece ginger root, peeled and grated
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 2-3 shallots, finely chopped
- ¼ cup rice vinegar
- 1 Tablespoon chile oil or olive oil
- 1 Tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon sugar
- water or vegetable broth to cover, as needed
Plunk the tofu in there, make sure it's all completely covered, and let sit for 2 hours or so. The tofu will be saturated in minutes, but it takes awhile for the flavors to blend, so don't rush it. Well, OK, you can rush it to an hour, if you want. But no more!
Anyway, after that, you're ready for the third and final step:
3. COOK: 3A: BAKE: Baking tofu is foolproof, and further toughens its texture, making it chewy and full of umami. You can bake it at 400° for 30-40 minutes for a dry, almost crisp texture, or you can bake it at 350° for 40-60 minutes for a moister, meatier texture. You can even bake it at 200°for an hour or so to get some tofu jerky (not nearly as jerky… jerkity… tough as its meat counterpart, but still quite delicious). Either way, you want to flip them midway through, and check on them frequently in the last quarter of baking time. They’re done when… well, tofu is always done, so poke it with a fork or toothpick to discern if the texture is where you want it to be.
3B: STIR-FRY: Heat a skillet with a half-inch of a neutral oil over medium/medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the tofu. Cook in batches and don’t overcrowd the pan. Cook until the bottom is golden-brown, then flip and cook until the bottom is golden-brown. Drain on paper towels, eat.
NOTE: For crisp, dry tofu puffs, cut tofu into cubes, skip the marinade and just brush them with soy sauce, and roll them in corn starch or unbleached flour before stir-frying. These will be basically flavorless, though, so you’d probably want to make the marinade anyway and use it as a dipping sauce. I know I would.
You can also deep-fry the tofu, but this makes it too greasy, in my opinion.
Now your tofu is cooked and delicious. Serve with mustard, soy sauce, ketchup, anything you want. You’ll never look at tofu the same way again. Unless you already knew all this stuff.
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