Melissa Ray Davis is a freelance writer and photographer who enjoys writing about DIY topics, including cooking.
If you are a vegetarian, you know it well: tofu disaster. Cooked incorrectly, tofu can turn out slimy and disintegrate into a flavorless mush. How do restaurants do it? My special method uses dry-frying and marinating, resulting in firm, flavorful tofu that leaves even meat-eaters impressed.
Quick Guide to Dry-Frying and Marinating Tofu
To make your own delicious tofu dishes at home, do what the restaurant chefs do! Here's a quick overview of the steps. For a full ingredients list, marinade recipes, and detailed instructions, please continue reading below.
- Drain 16 ounces of extra-firm tofu and cut into 1/2-inch-thick strips or triangles.
- Place between cloth napkins or towels and gently press to remove water.
- Slow cook in un-oiled pan on low to medium heat.
- Use spatula to press, releasing water.
- When golden brown, turn over. Tofu is done when golden on both sides.
- Stir pieces into marinade of your choice and allow to sit for 1/2 hour.
- Tofu is now ready to be incorporated into your favorite stir-fry.
- 1 (16-ounce) brick of extra-firm tofu (feeds four people)
- Prepared marinade in a bowl (see recipes below)
- Cutting board and knife
- Cloth napkin or dish towel (not terrycloth)
- Teflon or very well-seasoned cast-iron pan*
*A note on the pan: Since no oil is used, your tofu will likely stick to a stainless steel cooking pan without a non-stick coating. Teflon isn't supposed to be dangerous at low to medium heat, but to be safe I've switched to using a very well-seasoned cast-iron pan. As long as I'm careful to watch it, I don't have trouble with sticking.
Here are some example marinades that work well with dry-fried tofu. These also do well with meat. The following recipes should make enough for one 16-ounce block of tofu after frying.
Simple, All-Purpose Tofu Marinade
- 1/2 cup Braggs Liquid Aminos (for a salty, smoky flavor)
- Splash of rice vinegar
- 1/2 large sweet onion, diced
- 5 cloves garlic, crushed
- water to cover
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Chinese Tofu Marinade
- 1/2 cup shoyu (or soy sauce)
- 1/4 cup rice wine (or sherry)
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 1/2 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated or crushed
- 1 teaspoon palm sugar (or brown sugar)
Thai Tofu Marinade
- 1/2 cup fish sauce (or soy sauce)
- 1/2 cup rice wine (or sherry)
- 1/4 cup palm sugar (or brown sugar)
- Splash of rice vinegar
- Juice from 1/2 lime
- 1 small shallot (or half onion), finely minced
- 1 tablespoon chili paste
- 1 tablespoon finely minced lemongrass (fresh or dried)
- Tofu comes packed in water. Drain and cut it so that your pieces are 1/2 inch thick. For most recipes, you will want to then cut it into triangles, but some recipes call for strips.
- Put the tofu pieces between two absorbent cloth napkins or woven dish towels (not terry cloth) and gently press, hard enough to get a lot of water out but not to squish.
- Use a Teflon or well-seasoned cast-iron pan. Heat on an electric range at medium heat or low to medium heat on a gas range. Slow cooking is the key to keeping the tofu from sticking to the pan and insures that the water has time to evaporate out before the outside is browned. Do not use oil. You want to leech all of the moisture out of your tofu, so do not use oil. Leave the pan dry.
- Place tofu in the pan leaving room around each piece. You may need to fry a few batches to give it enough room.
- As they cook, use a spatula to frequently press down on the pieces. You will see water seep out and sizzle in the pan. Once the bottoms are very firm and golden in color, flip and fry the other side. Again, frequently press each piece with a spatula. When they are golden and firm on both sides, they are done.
- It's time to marinade: The dry-frying method has left your tofu ready to suck up the flavors of a marinade like a sponge. Place the tofu pieces in the prepared marinade and stir well, making sure the tofu is submerged. Marinate for at least a half an hour.
- Use this delicious firm and flavorful tofu in a stir-fry. Combine with asparagus or your other favorite vegetable in season and serve over rice.
How to Store the Tofu
- If you have leftover uncooked tofu, simply store in a sealed container completely submerged in water (a Ziploc baggie will do in a pinch, but some sort of Tupperware container is best).
- Cooked tofu, on the other hand, can be stored just the same as any other leftovers.