Tackling Tofu: Survival Tips from a Meat Lover
For those not active in vegetarianism, tofu can be a tough sell. That said, whatever your reasons for considering the inclusion of more soy in your diet . . . health, a relationship with a vegetarian, curiosity, affordability . . . or because you just plain like the stuff, having some strategies to make it easier is a good thing. Here are some ideas, suitable for once-a-month-cooking, given to me by the woman who owned my favorite Thai place on Guam.
I always used to order the fried tofu pad Thai at this restaurant and loved it. The problem? When I would try to make it on my own, I could never get the same texture no matter what I did. I also couldn’t get the solidity factor right when cutting it up for other non-fried tofu dishes this restaurant had on the menu. When this restaurant was getting ready to close, I asked the owner if she would be willing to share with me what to do to get it right. Thankfully, she agreed.
- Start with extra firm tofu and get all the water out of it that you possibly can. This you do by pressing it out, and no, you don’t need a fancy gadget. Just put the large cube of extra firm tofu in a bowl with a flat bottom and place a plate on top. Put something heavier (yet safely balanced) on top of the plate, like a large can of coffee, or more plates. The heavier the item, the quicker your fluid will press out. Also of note: the wider the base of the heavier item, the more evenly this process will be. This is important if you want to stack and press more than one brick of tofu at a time. Personally, I’ve successfully done up to three in one stack. More than that got a little precarious. You can put this whole thing in the fridge over night, dump out the water and then re-stack before you go to work. Empty it out again when you get home. That should be enough. You’ll know it’s fully pressed when it sits for an hour or so with little to no fluid being released. Point of info: it will really be quite a bit smaller than when you started out.
- Once your tofu is fully pressed, cut it first into slices, then into sticks, and then into cubes or smaller rectangles. If the fried tofu texture isn’t important to you, you are basically done. Toss all the cubes in a freezer bag, date it, label it, and put it in the freezer. The next time you need a little extra protein in your vegetable lo mein, or want to do a quick stir fry, reach in and grab a handful of the cubes to get dinner on the table in a flash. I also like to use these smoother cubes with coconut milk, veggies and Thai curry paste. I toss everything in the crock pot, put it on low and head out the door for errands or whatever else is taking me away from the home office that day. When I come home, I just need to toss some rice or barley in the rice cooker.
- If you have certain dishes where you feel the fried texture is more important, you have one more step to go. If you have a Fry Daddy or similar device, this’ll be easy. Basically, all you have to do now is to deep fry the cubes until they start to get golden brown around the edges. Then remove them from the oil with a slotted spoon, drain and cool. Place all the cubes in a freezer bag, labeling and dating as you did with the others. Store in the freezer until needed. Hint: having the tofu thoroughly pressed is even more critical with the deep frying step, because the extra water interacts with the hot grease by excessively bubbling up. Even though I make sure I am very thorough about pressing out all the extra fluid, I add the extra safety step of not frying too many cubes at the same time. This helps prevent the grease bubbling over and causing a dangerous situation (fire, burns).
Acknowledgement: all this effort can be a bit much at the end of a long work day, particularly for just one meal. That’s why I highly recommend doing a bunch of it at once to make it worth your while, and tackling it when you have a block of time and quite possibly as part of your once-a-month cooking regimen if you subscribe to that.
As a meat hound, I think part of the reason I could finally embrace tofu with these strategies is that the pressing of it brings it closer to a “meaty” texture. Also, having them in my small, over-the-fridge freezer where I can reach in and grab enough for a quick meal makes it really easy.
This really is a great once-a-month or once-a-quarter cooking idea if you eat a lot of tofu on a regular basis, and also if you are in an apartment or small home without a larger freezer. When I first started looking for bulk and make-ahead recipes and strategies, I saw lots of great ideas. The problem was they all needed a huge amount of space to store. At that time, like many of those just starting out, I didn’t have the money or space for a big freezer. This can be done by those in a small space or those with a more modest financial situation as well.
Call for Ideas: Regarding softer forms of tofu, particularly the silken variety, I would LOVE some additional ideas. I’ve tried really hard to embrace silken over the years, including numerous rather lengthy afternoon sessions assembling various tofu lasagna recipes. They always ended in disaster and frustration as I inevitably could not even begin to stomach what I had spent all afternoon painstakingly preparing. I always heard the silken was easily flavored, but I have to say I have not found this to be the case. Perhaps there are some hidden tricks for the softer types as well? Looking forward to hearing them.