There is an epidemic in the vegetarian community. No, it isn’t heart disease or diabetes (we’ve basically conquered those). It is something I like to call Tofuitis. The art of cooking tofu has been tragically lost in most kitchens around the world. This is a shame. The reason people turn their noses up at tofu is always the result of bad preparation. When tofu is cooked correctly, the wonderful slices develop a golden crust and moist, custardy interior that is unlike anything else.
Learning how to cook tofu is not very hard, either. I’ve broken the process down into something I call The 5 S’s of Perfect Tofu – Slice, Soak, Squeeze, Sauté, and Season. So grab your block of tofu and a knife — let’s get started.
You Will Need…
- 1 block tofu
- 1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- Sea salt
- Sharp knife & cutting board
- Tray with warm salt water
- Stainless or cast-iron skillet
#1 – Slice
Cutting tofu into the correct slices is important. Too thick and they won’t cook all the way through, too thin and you destroy the custardy interior. Ideally, your slices should be somewhere between 1/2 inch and 1/4 inch – shoot for around 3/8 inch.
#2 – Soak
There are numerous reports around the internet that suggest soaking the tofu in salt water for 15 minutes will result in a better crust and texture. I’ve tried this and… it works. Once you’ve cut the slices, set them in a bath of warm salty water and allow to soak for 10-15 minutes.
#3 – Squeeze
Perhaps the most important step of all is squeezing the water out of the tofu. Many people recommend sandwiching the slices between heavy plates or bowls, but I find that simply pressing between paper towels works best. Take your slices and lay them on a paper towel. Then, add another paper towel (doubled over) on top and press down firmly, like you’re trying to flatten the tofu. Repeat this process 2-3 times until the paper towel is no longer drawing out much water.
#4 – Sauté
Tofu must be sautéed correctly in order to achieve the right texture. You’ll want to use a stainless or cast-iron skillet if possible, non-stick doesn’t work as well at high temperatures. Add about a tablespoon of oil (any neutral oil with a high smoke point, like olive or vegetable) and crank up the heat. Get the pan seriously hot and toss in the tofu slices. If you did a good job of squeezing earlier, there shouldn’t be too much splattering as the water hits the hot oil.
Allow the tofu to cook undisturbed for about 4-5 minutes until the bottoms develop a nice browned color, then flip and repeat on the other side. When both sides are lightly browned, the tofu is ready to be taken off the heat.
#5 – Season
The tofu tastes delicious right out of the pan, but a little seasoning can go a long way. At the very least, top with a dash of sea salt before serving. Or if you’re feeling a bit more daring, here are a few seasoning recipes…
BONUS: 3 Tofu Seasoning Recipes
When seasoning tofu, it is a myth that you need to marinate it ahead of time. In fact, tofu is thick and custardy, and won’t absorb much of the marinade anyways. You’re much better off following the instructions above, then tossing the tofu with your favorite sauce for 1-2 minutes before serving. This allows your sauce to absorb into the crust we created, giving you the most flavor while retaining the perfect texture.
Agave Garlic Sauce
This is my absolute favorite way to seasons tofu. It’s simply 2 tablespoons of agave nectar and 2 finely-diced cloves of garlic. Grab the skillet you used to sauté the tofu and let it cool. Then add these ingredients and warm over low heat. Add the tofu and toss until coated. Serve immediately.
Orange Ginger Sauce
This great sauce gives your tofu a wonderful “orange chicken” taste, but much healthier. Take two tablespoons orange marmaleade, one tablespoon orange juice, one tablespoon soy sauce, and some fresh grated ginger root (to taste). Again, add them all to the skillet and let them warm over low heat. Then add the tofu and toss until coated.
Spicy Peanut Sauce
Warm the following ingredients in a skillet over low heat: 2 tablespoons peanut butter, 1-2 tablespoons rice vinegar, 1 green onion (finely diced), 1 clove garlic (finely diced), 1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger, 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1 teaspoon agave or maple syrup. When warm, add in the tofu and toss to coat. Drizzle any remaining sauce over the tofu when serving.