May 28, 2021
When I start talking about tofu – which I have done a lot this past year – my friends give me a sideways glance and as they start to walk away:
“Tofu!? I HATE tofu!”
“What is wrong with tofu?” I ask.
“The flavor and the texture!”
Oh, is that all? Flavor and texture? I can fix that. In all my posts about tofu I’ve said “Tofu: It’s all about the sauce.” Actually, it’s more like 75% the sauce and 25% texture. I’ve found the best method to get tofu that is crunchy on the outside and creamy on the inside is to deep fry the tofu like I did with this tofu with broccoli stir fry. But it’s a bit more of an effort I want to make on a busy day. I’ve experimented with another wok frying method with this tofu and mushrooms in oyster sauce recipe. I’ve made this recipe at least three times working to improve it each time; my vegetarian son and daughter-in-law said it was their favorite tofu dish I’ve made.
But sometimes I want to make a tofu dish that is really easy yet tasty. Crisping tofu in the oven is the way to go. I’ve experimented with different ways of baking/roasting tofu and have finally came up with a very good way to get that crispy/cream texture I want from tofu. This is actually a pretty common method, but this recipe from Cookie and Kate is a good representative.
Before cooking, two things are essential:
- Use extra-firm or firm tofu because you’ll be tossing it about a bit and we don’t want crumbles; we want cubes.
- Get out as much moisture as possible. I’ve experimented with various pressing methods, but a few weeks ago I learned about tofu presses and I thought “why not?”.
Of course I couldn’t settle on just one, so I bought two different styles to see which one does the best job. Buying two isn’t as crazy as it seems; when we have a crowd for Sunday dinner I need to use two blocks of tofu.
Starting out, a 16 ounce block of tofu is almost 2 inches tall.
The first press uses a spring to put pressure on the tofu.
The tofu goes into another little tub that fits on top of the spring inside the catch basin.
Then a lid to press down on the tofu; push down – hard – against the spring and latch the cover in place.
Let it sit for an hour – or longer if you put it in the refrigerator.
When done, the tofu has lost some height
The second tofu press is made of bamboo and uses a couple of screws to squeeze a plate on top of the block of tofu. There is a small catch basin below.
This method makes the tofu even denser, but I may have tightened it too much as it bulged a bit.
I neglected to measure the expressed liquid from this method.
If you don’t have a tofu press, do it the old fashioned way. Drain the tofu and wrap it in paper towels or a clean dish towel. Weight it down with something heavy; I use a cast iron skillet or sheet pan with a couple of unopened large cans of tomatoes. It’s nice and heavy and gets the water out. You’ll need about an hour to do this and you’ll need to swap out the towels once or twice.
Now that the excess liquid is out of the tofu, we can cube it. I usually go for ~½-inch cubes. Cut once through the height dimension then 7 cuts on the long end and 3 on the short end. Uniformity is the goal; but as you see I’m far from perfect.
Now it’s time to add some flavor and ingredients to get it crispy in the oven. First, turn the oven on to convection mode at 375°. I’ve found that convection does a very nice job of adding crispness. If you don’t have a convection oven, set the temp to 400° in a regular oven.
Place the tofu cubes in a large mixing bowl and add 1 Tablespoon each of soy sauce and an oil (I’ve used both olive and toasted sesame for different cooks). Gently stir the tofu, soy sauce, and oil with a non-metal spatula until each tofu cube has a little of the sauce on it.
Next, sprinkle 1 Tablespoon of cornstarch a bit at a time continually mixing into the tofu until the cubes are coated. The cornstarch will help the tofu brown and crisp in the oven.
Place the tofu on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper and bake in the oven for 15 minutes (20 minutes if not using convection). Remove from oven and flip the pieces. I’ve found using a spatula and a spoon or butter knife helps to quickly flip the pieces.
Return tofu to the oven and bake for another 15 minutes (20 if not using convection heat). At that point, check the tofu every few minutes until the texture is right – a bit of brown but not burned. I usually take a piece out with some tongs, let it cool a bit and give it a taste to see if the texture is right. Don’t freak out about tasting tofu at this step; you’ll find that the tofu has flavor from the soy sauce and oil and a hint of crunch from the cornstarch. Here are a couple of picture of tofu after it finishes in the oven.
One recipe suggests that it’s ready to serve at this point. I laughed out loud ready that, thinking “not for most of my friends.” Instead, I think we have the tofu ready to be combined with a sauce and maybe some vegetables in a stir fry.
Here is a tofu stir fry with broccoli. After sautéing broccoli florets with a Tablespoon of oil in a wok, I added the still- warm crisped tofu and a sauce from Serious Eats
- ¼ cup Xiaoshing wine or dry sherry
- ¼ cup low sodium chicken stock – or vegetable stock if staying vegetarian
- 2 Tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 Tablespoon fermented black bean sauce
- 2 Tablespoons sugar
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
- 2×1-inch segments lemon peel
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
Dinner is served: oven-crisped tofu stir fried with broccoli served over jasmine coconut rice.
But maybe you don’t want to go to the trouble of stir frying. Here is a super simple sweet and garlicky sauce that makes the tofu sing.
- 2 Tablespoons honey
- 1 Tablespoon soy sauce
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- Freshly ground pepper, to taste
Combine the first 3 ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer for a minute. Add pepper to taste then toss with tofu in a large bowl.
Serve over rice.
Put your qualms and preconceived notions aside and try it, I dare you! And let me know what you think.
Rating: ★★★★ 4 stars.