Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Cooking Tofu the Right Way

how to cook tofu
In less than one month, it will be five years since I quit eating meat. For a while, I slipped into a too often habit of cheating on veganism with diary product - specifically cheese. I have paid the toll and learned the lesson and have once again gone cold turkey on that.

One thing I really did not get into until recently was tofu. When I first went veg, I didn't want to be pegged as a 'hippie granola lover'. I wanted to do it all by simple eating fruits and vegetables. Tofu was something stuffy, boring poop analyzing nerds took a liking to. Not me.

Sure, it was a great part of so many Thai and Vietnamese meals that I had. Those folks from the Far East sure can make Tofu taste and look like just about anything. But, I did not dare cook the stuff at home.

Then, my personal economic meltdown arose and suddenly, the benefits of Tofu started to shine through. I started by adding it to slow cooked curried pasta dishes. Yet, even with all the ingredients like curry powder, garlic, coconut, tomato - a bitter taste would be prevalent.

I was doing it all wrong!

Tofu, when packaged in those nice one pound cubes, is packaged in a watery brine. It seems the Tofu soaks this stuff up and you have to remove it before eating the stuff can be enjoyable. Tofu cannot soak up and take on the flavours you're cooking with if it's already saturated with 'enbalming fluid'.

It turns out, the process of draining the brine is quite simple. It can take a little bit of time but nothing too serious. Here's how it goes (Don't worry, there's a video below):

  1. Unleash the tofu from its plastic prison (the packaging). It's best to use firm tofu.
  2. Drain as much of the fluid into the sink before pulling the tofu out of the packaging.
  3. Grab two plates and some paper towel. Oh, and a heavy item - I use one of my wife's nursing text books.
  4. Place one plate flat. Take about three feet (3 sheets) of paper towel, fold it and place it on the plate. You need to be careful during this process to tuck in any paper towel that might hang over the plate. Why? As the paper towel soaks up the fluid, if it is hanging over the edge of the plate, a drip will begin and a puddle will form...
  5. Place the tofu in the centre of the paper towel on the plate.
  6. Take another two or so sheets of paper towel and, placing on top of the tofu chunk, tuck around the sides and underneath. It does not matter if all the tofu is covered. You're really just trying to cover the top.
  7. Place the second plate upside down on top of the tofu.
  8. Put your heavy weight (text book) on top of the plate.
This process is dubbed a 'Tofu Press' and should be sustained for at least thirty minutes. When you pull off the weight and top plate, your paper towel should be soaked - more so, depending on the brand. I find the stuff out of Quebec that we buy at Costco is really well vacuum sealed and doesn't contain much brine.

At this point, it is time for your creative juices to emerge. You need to carve the tofu up into the pieces you want to eventually cook with. Many make triangles because they claim they are easier to work with. I have done triangles, big cubes, tiny cubes, thin slices, big slabs - it doesn't matter.

Once your tofu is carved up, the next step may begin. This is called the 'Dry Fry'. Place a non-stick pan on the stovetop at medium heat. It is important that it is a non-stick pan because you cannot use oil or margarine at this stage.

Place your pieces onto the pan. What your goal is essentially at this stage is to eliminate the rest of the fluid. You want a dried up, wrinkly piece of tofu, in the end, that is ready to soak up all that you have to offer during the final cooking stage.

What is really helpful in this process is a solid and stiff spatula. You want to press down on the tofu pieces fairly hard while they're cooking to force out the liquid so it will burn and evaporate. You also want to keep flipping the pieces fairly often so they don't burn. Your goal is tofu pieces, golden brown on all sides. You want to press down with your spatula hard enough to hear sizzling (when the tufu whistles, you're really doing it right) but not so hard to split or break up the pieces.

And, you're done. You've got golden brown. You hear no more, or very little, sizzling when you press on your pieces. Now, remove from stove and let cool. This is where your own personal creativity needs to flourish. What I often do is put the pieces in a sealable container with some sort of marinating concoction (don't ask - it changes every time), seal it up, shake it like crazy (tofu won't bruise) and let sit for a few hours or even overnight. When ready, you can re-fry these babies back up and do with them as you please.

The following video shows the press and dry fry process is fairly comprehensive detail.

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