Tofu is a word that is well, puts you into two camps: those who hate it, and those who don’t. I wasn’t even given a chance to hate tofu- given how much of it I ate in my childhood (it’s more of an Asian thing than a vegetarian thing, if you want to know).
Tofu in grocery store comes in two ways, soft and firm. Some Asian groceries make their own tofu, and sometimes sell a bag of the leftover curds- the kind that is left over in cheesecloth and not ‘set.’ Anyway, I’ll be using the firmest tofu you can find in the store, because the soft tofu is well, too soft for my cooking purposes. Just look for firm or extra-firm. Soft is better for stuff like to put in smoothies, or even as an egg substitute (it is a wet protein that can hold things together).
For years, I thought tofu was something you had in soup, because that’s how I normally had tofu. There are places where the main dish is tofu casserole (jigae in Korean), and all you have to decide whether you want pork, kimchi, seafood, or all of the above. Unfortunately, my partner doesn’t like tofu casseroles all that much, mostly due to the heavy miso content (they all contain a hefty dose of soybean paste), so I’ve been experimenting with frying and roasting tofu.
Drain the block of tofu and press the liquid out by putting something heavy on top of it. I generally use a plate and a foil-wrapped brick on top of the tofu and wait about 20 minutes- there’s a lot of liquid by then. Wrap a papertowel around the block and squeeze very gently to get more water out.
With the long side of the block towards you, slice tofu in 1/8″ or so thick. I’m not terribly picky- just make sure they are even. Put in a small amount of oil (about a tb or less) in a skillet and heat it to high. When the pan is hot, take a dry papertowel, use it to wrap and dry each slice, and then carefully slide each slice into the pan. You can put in as many slices as the pan can hold. Be careful- sometimes the oil will splash due to the water content in tofu, and that’s why I recommend using as little oil as you can use (you can put more later if you need it).
Fry and flip until each side is a golden, crisp brown- the tofu slices should hold really well together and not be prone to breakage. You should have slabs of nice fried tofu, and you can season or marinate it however you wish.
The sauce in the photo above is a mix of 1/4 cup soy sauce, 1 TB sesame oil, 1 TB roasted sesame seeds, some finely minced garlic (about 2 cloves – don’t overdo, as it is raw), and 1 tsp chili pepper. You could also add black pepper or some ginger.
This is adapted from Vegan Soul Kitchen by Bryant Terry. Preheat your oven to 450. Take one block of tofu, drain via brick-and-plate method above, and cut into cubes (about 1″ across). Gently toss this tofu with 1 tsp olive oil, 1/2 tsp salt, and 1/4 tsp paprika or pepper. Spread on parchment paper or silicone mat over a cookie sheet, and cook for 30-45 minutes, turning every 15 minutes or so (the longer tofu is in oven, the crisper they’ll be). The tofu cubes should be golden and crisp all over and look like they’ve been deep fried, though, they really aren’t.
You can also marinate them further, or use them in sauces or as toppings (I like them in a rice bowl, like below).
Additional tip: In addition to draining tofu with a brick, you could also freeze tofu. Just freeze it overnight after draining (slice in desired shapes first) and put it in your fridge the next day to defrost. Freezing will give tofu a chewier texture.