It might have been nearly a decade ago that I flirted with being vegan (I made it nine months), but the best lesson that stuck was how to cook perfect tofu every time.
I brag a lot about my cooking skills, so I guess it could be difficult for someone to determine exactly WHEN they should believe me when I say I’m a pro at a recipe.
This is that recipe, fam.
Unfortunately, most of my advice isn’t really something that translates into a direct recipe, so you’ll have to bear with me while I describe my process in excruciating detail.
Ingredients & Tools
- Block of whole, EXTRA-FIRM tofu
- Oil with a high smoking point (I use grapeseed oil, but canola oil or vegetable oil will work well, too. DO NOT USE OLIVE OIL).
- Large frying pan/skillet
- Fork or spatula (or both)
- Paper towels
- Dish towel
- Sheet pan
- Stack of books or other items that can be piled up
Step 1: Press the Tofu
For those who don’t know, pressing tofu just refers to the process of squeezing out excess water from your tofu. This is a key step because the wetter your tofu is, the longer it will take to cook.
However, you don’t want it bone-dry or it’s going to taste like cardboard.
Now, I’ve heard that some fancy people out there own tofu presses and that I, too, could acquire one. But ya girl works hard for this bread, so if she can save a $20, she will.
Rather, you can remove your tofu from the packaging, wrap it in some paper towels (think about it like wrapping a gift box), then wrap that in a dish towel.
Once it’s tucked in, get either a heavy, cast iron pan or some kind of baking sheet. Place the baking sheet on top of it. Then stack books or other heavy materials on top of it, being careful to rest it against something so it doesn’t fall over.
Heat up enough oil to cover the bottom of your pan/skillet, about 1/4 to 1/2 a cup.
Now, go about your business for a while. Chop some veggies for the rest of your meal, unload and reload the dish washer, forget about the tofu. Give it a good 15-30 minutes.
Step 2: Slice and Press Again
Unwrap and cut your tofu however you like. My preference is down the middle, long-ways, then sliced perpendicular from there. Thickness should be about about 1/4 to 1/2 inches (about half to one centimeter).
Lay the slices over more paper towels on your work surface. Lay paper towels on top of the tofu slices. Gently pat each slice until perfect little water squares appear on the paper towel.
Now they’re ready!
Step 3: Cook the Tofu Slices
By now your oil should be good and hot. If you can see light reflected on it, it should look like it’s ever-so-slightly rippling.
A WORD OF CAUTION: This is going to splatter everywhere. You’re essentially putting water-soaked bean goo into hot oil. Wear sleeves and an apron if you have it. If you don’t, wear a shirt you don’t like.
Using a fork or spatula, gently place each slice into the hot oil, making sure not to crowd the slices. They should not touch. One block of tofu should cook in about 2-3 batches.
Lightly sprinkle salt over the slices.
Forget about the tofu. Walk around, set the table, take a Buzzfeed quiz, do something.
Step 4: Flip the Tofu
This is going to sound nuts, but the tofu will tell you when it’s time to be flipped.
You see, when the bottom cooks, it shrinks because it has less water than in the other half. The result is that each slice looks slightly curvy—almost a little round.
Here is a picture pointing out the difference between a slice that’s ready to flip versus the other slices still cooking.
It should be golden brown on the cooked side. If it’s not, leave it for a few more minutes.
Note: There’s a chance the tofu will feel stuck to the pan when you try to flip it, so before you stab it with the fork to flip, run the fork under it to ensure it’s loose.
Sprinkle some salt on the cooked side.
Now, forget about the tofu. You know the drill.
Step 5: Remove from the Pan
When it’s ready to come out of the pan, it will start looking similar to the top, but not as exaggerated because both sides of the slices are cooked. I don’t have as handy a picture, so just trust your instincts on this.
Before taking it out, just check to make the it’s golden brown on both sides.
Place it on paper towels to pull out some of the excess oil. Now, you’re ready to eat it or throw it into another recipe!
Bone apple tea, friends!