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Basics to help achieve tofu perfection
September 8, 2016, 9:25 am

Treat it right, and tofu will provide an unending stream of breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert, snack, and condiment options. Treat it wrong, and you’ve got one soggy, flavorless bit of soy protein on your hands. Unlock the secrets to dynamite crispy, golden-brown perfection, and you’ll never underestimate tofu again. Do you know, use, and love all of these tofu tips?

Not all tofu is created equal: From creamy, pourable silken tofu to the brick-like extra-firm variety, there are a lot of options available. While some types can be substituted (firm and extra-firm are largely interchangeable), you will never have a successful stir-fry with silken tofu. Here is a rundown of the most commonly-available types, and how to use them.

Soft block tofu: Versatile enough to be used in puréed applications and savory dishes, this variety of tofu is equally at home in a puréed dessert (like pudding) as it is lightly battered and deep-fried.
Medium block tofu: Firmer than soft block, but delicate enough to crumble with excess handling, medium tofu can be baked to ensure it does not fall apart.
Firm/extra-firm block tofu: If you have a stir-fry in your future, you should get to know firm and extra-firm tofu varieties. They keep their shape under pressure.
Soft silken tofu: This creamy tofu has a pudding-like consistency, and is ideal for blending into salad dressings, desserts, and even puréed soups.

Firm silken tofu: Made from denser soy, this has a creamy consistency but holds its shape better than soft silken tofu.
Yuba: These soy ‘noodles’ come from the skins of freshly-made tofu, and are a fantastic substitute for rice noodles in a stir-fry.

Drain well: Block tofu is packed in water to help preserve and keep it fresh. That means as much excess liquid should be removed as possible before cooking. Whether you are baking, roasting, or frying, the results will be better-tasting and crispier-crunchier if you drain it first. To avoid soggy tofu-syndrome, sandwich it between multiple layers of paper towel-lined plates and weigh it from the top. Your tofu sandwich should be constructed as such: plate, paper towels, tofu, paper towels, second plate, heavy can or cast-iron pan. It will not hurt to go through two rounds of pressing and draining.

Create and use the perfect marinade: To infuse tofu with flavor from the inside-out, embrace acidic, bold marinades. The tofu will take on flavor faster than meat-based protein, meaning that a quick 10-minute spin in a garlicky-gingery marinade can pack a punch.

Embrace cornstarch: You could coat your tofu with a traditional 3-step breading process, but that is labor-intensive and also stops flavor from permeating the tofu. (If you are opting for bread, be sure to marinate it first.) It is recommended to bypass the breading in favor of a double dip in a bowl of cornstarch. The drying qualities of cornstarch help suck up excess moisture, and get the tofu’s exterior deeply golden brown and crispy.

Use the right pan for the job:  If you have got a nonstick pan, then this is the right time to use it. if not, then it is recommended to buy one. Tofu has a tendency to latch onto pans, and a nonstick will set you up for success.

Use high heat and fat: When sautéing, use high heat and plenty of fat. This will not  only keep your tofu from sticking to the pan, they contribute to that toasty, crispy-chewy layer on the outside of your tofu. Meanwhile, the interior stays tender and creamy. Preheat your pan before adding the fat and tofu, and do not crowd the pan. Adding too much tofu at once will cause the surface temperature of the pan to drop, meaning soggy, not crunchy tofu.

Do not be constrained by Asian flavors: Just because tofu is a traditionally Asian ingredient, it does not mean it should always be cooked with soy sauce and rice vinegar. Tofu can be a great stand-in for chicken, beef and lamb. And, because it takes on the flavors it is cooked with, tofu provides a blank canvas for whatever great combinations you are dreaming up. 

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