I don’t think I tried tofu until I was 20 or 21 years old. Right around the time I became a (mostly) vegetarian. At first I had NO idea what to do with that wet, white block of “food”. It might has well have been that freeze-dried astronaut food you can randomly find at toy stores sometimes. It just seemed…foreign to me. I did not grow up eating tofu, and until I had it in a few Thai dishes at restaurants, I didn’t realize that it could actually be really delicious.
So, this post goes out to 21-year-old Emma. To her (young me) I want to say: life’s gonna be OK. Just chill out. And that guy that just broke your heart, he’s gonna ask you to marry him in about six years. Just work on yourself and have some fun. Oh—and also, Emma, here’s how to cook tofu. You’re gonna need to know this.
I almost always use firm or extra firm tofu when I plan to bake or cook it. It just holds its shape better under pressure and heat. First I drain the tofu from the liquid it’s packed in and place it on a plate lined with paper towels. More paper towels go on top and then another plate and a can or jar or something with a little heft. The goal is the squeeze out excess liquid so all that liquid doesn’t come oozing out once we start cooking, ruining the crispy texture we’re going for.
I usually let tofu drain like this for 8-10 minutes.
Whether I plan to bake or pan fry the tofu, my next step is to cut the block in half lengthwise and then cut into small cubes or triangles. I then gently toss the tofu in 2 teaspoons of either arrowroot powder or cornstarch. Either one works well here.
The 2 teaspoons of powder here is for a 12-13 oz package of tofu. If you are cooking more, feel free to adjust this.
Pan frying produces my favorite texture. You’ll get crispy exteriors with still soft insides. I pan fry in a tablespoon or two of oil (usually olive oil) for 3-5 minutes on medium heat. Just make sure not to let the tofu stick to the pan and also rotate so that every side, or almost every side, gets cooked.
Once done, move to a bed of paper towels to remove excess oil.
The method I probably use the most often is baking tofu. Why? It’s pretty hands-off, unlike pan frying, so you can get a nice stir fry or curry going to add the tofu to. It also uses no oil, so it’s a bit lighter as well. But it takes quite a bit longer. And there’s all the pros and cons I can think of. 🙂
After tossing the tofu in the arrowroot or cornstarch, place on a baking sheet lined with a silpat mat or parchment paper. Bake at 400°F for 35-40 minutes, rotating the tofu every 12-15 minutes or so.
All of these methods are best consumed the day they are made (within the first few hours really), but this one holds up the best over time. So any baked tofu you don’t eat can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator and added to salads or other dinners that week. It won’t be quite as crispy as the day you baked it, but it’s still pretty close.
The third method is to marinate the tofu before baking. There are probably hundreds of different marinades you can make here, but the one I use most often is simply: juice from one orange, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 1 teaspoon sesame oil, and 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes. Whisk together. Once the tofu is drained and cut, place it in a small baking dish (like a pie pan) and pour the marinade over the top. Let that soak for at least an hour, rotating once. Or you can cover and store in the refrigerator during the day while you’re at work, or overnight. Then bake in the marinade pan at 400°F for 30-40 minutes. Halfway through spoon the marinade back over the tops of the tofu.
Marinaded and baked tofu has the softest texture of these three methods but the most flavor. Yum! xo. Emma
Credits // Author and Photography: Emma Chapman. Photos edited with A Beautiful Mess actions.