Poor tofu: After a bad experience, many people vow to never taste the fermented soy protein again—a shame because the nutritious ingredient can be especially handy in the kitchen when trying to whip up easy meals that don’t center around meat. Poorly cooked tofu can be a major meal disappointment. But when cooked properly, carnivores will even learn to love tofu. Follow these three essential steps to learn how.
Most blocks of tofu come packed in water, which you’ll need to remove so the tofu is able to best absorb flavors and get crispy. Otherwise, the water will leach out from the block while it cooks, making your tofu soggy and super bland. The drier you get tofu, the better. Thirty minutes or so before you start cooking, slice your block of firm or extra-firm tofu into thick slices, then transfer to a paper- or kitchen towel-lined baking sheet. Place more towels on top of the tofu and then place a weighty object on top of those, like a couple cookbooks, cast-iron skillet, or 28-ounce can of tomatoes. The goal is to leach as much water from the tofu slices as possible. If you plan ahead, let tofu drain during the day while you’re at work so it will be dry when you’re ready to cook dinner.
Then Marinate Like Mad
Tofu isn’t like a good cut of steak that can taste delicious with only a seasoning of salt and pepper. Fortunately, the blocks of fermented soy make for a versatile blank canvas and can handle any flavors you’re in the mood for. If you’re looking for a safe bet, try a mixture of soy sauce, rice vinegar or lime, with some chile paste or Sriracha, and sesame seedst. (Tip: For the best results, skip oily marinades—oil and watery tofu don’t mix!) Like any protein you’re marinating, tofu needs at least a solid 30 minutes in a sauce for you to taste a worthwhile difference. Save any remaining marinade to warm and spoon over the cooked protein.
Get It Really Crispy
When tofu does get crispy (which it only will if it’s properly drained), the results are delicious: The exterior develops a golden crust, and the interior stays creamy. If you want it crispy for a stir-fry, you really don’t need to do more than coat a hot skillet with a generous glug of oil (vegetable, coconut, and sesame all work well) and cook it over medium heat. A high sear can be too intense for the tender texture of tofu and will make it badly stick. Be patient; again, tofu’s watery nature makes it tough to brown. If you want your tofu to take on a pan-fried texture, toss the slices or cubes in cornstarch before adding to the skillet.
Want some inspiration for recipes using tofu? Try out some of our favorite tofu recipes here.