When someone jokes about vegetarians, tofu is often in the punchline. But, I think that tofu’s strangeness is also it’s power (not unlike the voice of Tom Waits or Leonard Cohen). Tofu isn’t full of flavor but because of this, what you can do with tofu is practically endless – it can be blended into creamy sauces or desserts, scrambled with spices for breakfast, or stir-fried, just to name a few possibilities. It took some time for me to realize how to stir-fry it properly; here’s what I’ve learned over many years:
1. Choose firm or extra firm tofu to stir-fry. I prefer extra firm because it’s very easy to work with. Never stir-fry silken tofu.
2. Before cooking the tofu, place it between two plates, with a heavy jar or can on top. Leave it like this for at least 15 minutes. This will press out any excess liquid. I like to chop vegetables with waiting for this (or wash the dishes leftover from breakfast).
3. After pressing the tofu, I like to cut it into six pieces, and then cut each piece in quarters. I love this size tofu, but cut it how you like.
4. Coat the bottom of a wok (or frying pan) with your choice of oil. I usually use canola. Heat the oil over medium high heat, and add the tofu.
5. Now, here’s the trick. Let the tofu just sit there for a few minutes. Don’t be tempted to move it around. You want the bottom to turn golden brown. Check a piece, and when it’s light brown, start to flip all the pieces. Use a spatula. Repeat the process, until you’ve browned a few sides.
6. Once the tofu is a nice golden brown (see above), add your vegetables. If you need to add some more oil, you can. If you want to get really fancy, you can remove the tofu from the pan and place it on a plate and then cook the vegetables. This will ensure that no tofu piece breaks. I do this when I’m making something really special, but on a week night, I usually don’t bother.
7. You only want to cook the vegetables for a few minutes to keep them crispy. Keep the heat nice and high. I have a wok that can be covered, and I love to do this to use the steam to help cook my veggies.
8. Once the vegetables are cooked, but still crisp, add the sauce or seasonings of your choice. Find your favorite homemade peanut sauce recipe (there are tons out there!) or look in Asian food sections to buy pre-made sauces. If you will be eating the stir fry with rice noodles, I add these to the pan at this point too.
9. Serve your stir fry! You can eat a stir-fry on its own, with rice, or with noodles. I usually top mine with sesame seeds.