The #1 Secret to Tastier Tofu
I’d be the first to admit that some so-called “cooking secrets” are simply bits of knowledge that are under the “new to me!” umbrella. That said, over the last year I’ve been constantly learning new things from my vegetarian and vegan friends, whether it’s using coconut milk to add a silky mouthfeel to dairy-free dishes or how to cook gnarly veggies I hadn’t considered before.
And among the best tips I’ve snagged recently was how—and why—to dry out tofu. I used to skip right by it in the refrigerated aisle, preferring to get my protein from meat, cheese, or beans. Nowadays, though, I’m trying to dial down my intake of animal protein for health and environmental reasons, so I finally asked my vegan friend Beth how to cook tofu best. The trick, she told me, is to get it really dry. “Basically, always use extra-firm, press it, and use a seasoned cast iron pan.”
Now, this might be old hat for savvy vegan and vegetarian cooks, but pressing soybean curd to extract water completely transforms it. Beth directed me to a “dry-fried” tofu recipe, too, which employs zero oil but results in a golden sear and a crisp, fried-like texture. Dry-frying is a great technique, but it requires a lot of attention to the open flame, pressing down squares of tofu in order to get every drop of water out. For my money, that’s not always necessary, because among tofu’s pleasures are its silky texture and ability to soak up the flavors of a sauce.
Springtime brings with it an urge to keep the oven off and use the stovetop more, so I’ve been making Melissa Clark’s coconut red tofu curry packed with mushrooms and whatever other veggies I have. She dries out tofu by simply cutting it into long, one-inch slabs, putting them on a paper towel-lined sheet pan, and covering them with more paper towels and a second sheet pan. But if you’re pinched for time or spare sheet pans, you can do what I do:
Take a whole block of extra-firm tofu out of its packaging and place it on a steady, small raised surface covered with a paper towel. (I like to use a small plastic cutting board.) Place another paper towel on top of the tofu, and put the whole contraption on a large plate with a curved lip so that there’s a “well” into which water can pour. Place a heavy cast-iron pan lid on top of the tofu, or place another plate on top and balance a large, heavy can of vegetables on it. The idea is to put a good amount of weight, centered, on the tofu. Set it aside in the fridge for 20 minutes to two hours, carefully draining water from the bottom plate periodically.
Then, you’re good! Drying it will make a difference in how much curry, stir-fry sauce or dressing the tofu will sponge up, and you’ll find yourself eating more of the high-protein, low-cholesterol food before you know it.