You gotta keep it pressed.

By Margaret Eby
July 23, 2019

 

Tofu gets a bad rap. It's the butt of jokes about vegetarian eating and environmentalism, generally symbolic of something that's virtuous rather than actually tasting good. But most bad tofu isn't so because of a failure of the ingredient itself, it's because it hasn't been cooked well. 

Tofu by itself has a mild flavor, which can be great to counter richness or acidity in a dish. But where it really shines is as a vehicle for spices, sauces, and salt. It is one of those ingredients, like mushrooms, that turns into a sponge for flavors, sopping up all that saucy goodness. It's rich in protein, which is why it's so often used as a meat substitute for vegetarian dishes. But it doesn't have to be used in exclusively meatless ways. Ma Po Tofu, for example, is a classic preparation that combines crispy bits of tofu with ground pork, giving it an extra dimension of flavor. Another good place to start would be Tofu Nuong Xa, a Vietnamese preparation of tofu in a lemongrass sauce. 

Part of the trick of cooking tofu is realizing that there are different types available, and they range from silken to super firm. Silken is what you want when you're looking for something creamy and full of moisture, like a cream cheese substitute. but when you're searing or sauteeing or otherwise hoping to get a golden crust on the tofu, you're going to want to look for tofu that's extra-firm. 

The other thing that will go a long way in making your tofu hold its shape and texture is pressing the tofu. If your tofu isn't extra-firm, that's particularly important. All you have to do is slice the tofu, place it on a sheet pan lined with pape towels, cover with more paper towels and another sheet pan with something heavy on it— a can or two of beans or a cutting booad will work. Let it sit for an hour. 

All pressing does is extract moisture fom the tofu, making it easier to sear and crisp up. Water is the enemy of crispiness, so taking it out of the equation will help. There is a danger of drying out the tofu if you bake it for a long time, but for most searing and grilling recipes, this shouldn't be a problem.  

Once your tofu is pressed, it can go in everything from stir-fry to spaghetti sauce. If you're looking for an easy way to use it on a weeknight, try this Greek Eggplant Skillet, which combines a doctored up tomato sauce with tofu and eggplant for a dinner that's full of vegetables and protein. And don't be afraid of tofu ever again. 

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