Sunday, January 13th, 2013

Tofu 101: Crispy Style

I’m just learning how to prepare tofu, and it’s not a New Year’s resolution to eat better or a sudden veering towards vegetarianism; tofu was just never a major part of my life before, so I had absolutely no idea what to do with it. I didn’t even know that it came in so many different textures until pretty recently: silky, firm, extra firm (it’s almost like buying a mattress). But now I’m winging my way through the world of tofu, because it goes so well when I make big bowl of brown rice/quinoa/barley/couscous for lunch, and then throw in some avocado, maybe a poached egg, roasted seaweed, pickled cucumbers, grated carrots…the options are endless.

The trick with tofu though is that it can be pretty flavorless and bleh unless you season it and add flavor in the form of a sauce of some kind (at least this is my experience as an amateur in tofu management). You can flavor your cooked tofu with a drizzle of soy sauce, rice vinegar, or sesame oil; I like to combine all of these into a crunchy peanut sauce (see above).

Crunchy Asian Peanut Sauce

Combine: 1/4 cup peanut butter (I use crunchy but smooth is fine if you prefer), 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 teaspoons sesame oil, 2 teaspoons rice vinegar or lime juice, a big pinch of sugar, and salt and pepper to taste. Taste the sauce and see if you’d like it saltier, sweeter, more acid. Add a little bit more of whatever you think it needs until it’s just right.

Cooking the tofu:

I like to use the extra-firm variety of tofu and sear it into crispy batons. This way they stay tender on the inside but have a little crunch on the outside. Before cutting them though, it’s important to get the excess liquid out. I do this by cutting the block in half and then placing one of the halves between two layers of paper towels. Press down gently on the top of the towel so that the liquid in the block seeps into the paper towel, but not too hard that it crumbles or gets smooshed (yes, that’s a technical term).

Once most of the liquid is out of the tofu, cut the block into batons (see top photo for visual), and then season with salt and pepper, or whatever spices you like, cumin, smoked paprika, turmeric or a combination are all nice.

I like to sear mine in a hot pan that’s barely coated with peanut oil, because peanut oil works well at a high temperature and adds flavor; but you can do canola or safflower oil if you prefer.

Heat the pan on high heat, add the oil, and when simmering, lay the tofu batons in a single layer. When one side is brown, turn gently with tongs. Continue cooking until seared on all sides.

Place the seared tofu on a paper towel and season again with salt and pepper. Add to your bowl of rice or grains, with a big spoonful of the peanut sauce and any vegetables you have on hand.




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