Fool-Proof Tofu (Even If You Think You Hate Tofu)
Here’s the thing about tofu: It can be kind of a hard sell. Personally, I like tofu’s versatility—the fact that it has very little taste on its own and will happily soak up whatever flavors you choose when preparing it makes it an easy ingredient to incorporate—and it’s relatively cheap and high in protein. The stumbling block for most folks who are sure they don’t like tofu isn’t the taste (though if you don’t add enough seasoning, yes, it will be bland), but the texture. This goes double if you’re trying to use tofu as a meat substitute; you may be able to make it taste like chicken, but the mouth-feel is going to be decidedly un-meaty unless you know what you’re doing.
And that’s how most people end up preparing blah tofu and deciding that they hate it.
Over the years since my daughter became a vegetarian, I’ve been experimenting with tofu. We don’t eat it all that often, but the running household joke for years was that we were raising the only vegetarian in existence who didn’t like tofu. I would buy the extra firm tofu and press it to get the water out, but no matter what I did, there was always a complaint that it was “too mushy.” And although I finally found a preparation my kids both liked (it involves slicing it very thin, so it crisps up more easily), my husband still insisted he does not like tofu in any form.
Know how I said you need to know what you’re doing? I don’t. I mean, I didn’t. I tossed a brick of tofu into the back corner of my fridge at some point, and one day when I decided to pull it out and cook it, I discovered—to my horror—that it was frozen solid. Naturally I took to the Internet to ascertain if tofu was one of those things you could freeze or if I’d ruined it, and that’s when the magic happened.
It turns out that freezing tofu is a common trick, and no one ever told me. (I’m a little bitter.) I know I’m prone to hyperbole, but this discovery changed my life, or at least the way I prepare tofu. Frozen tofu thaws out and has a completely different texture. It’s crazy. Crazy delicious.
Ingredients for Fool-Proof Tofu
1 block extra-firm tofu
1/3 cup cornstarch
4 TBL coconut oil
salt, pepper, and soy sauce (optional)
Directions for Make Your Own Carnivore-Approved Tofu
1) Buy the extra-firm tofu of your choosing, and store it in the freezer.
2) Put your frozen block of tofu in the fridge the night before you want to use it, or out on the counter a few hours before.
3) Once the tofu is mostly defrosted, open the carton and pour off the free liquid and free your chunk of tofu. Knock off any ice crust that may remain.
4) Cut the block into 1-inch cubes. (This step is actually easier if the tofu is still a little frozen.)
5) Spread cubes out in a single layer on paper towels or a clean dish towel to continue draining.
6) Go back and check on your cubes after an hour or so. Are they completely defrosted? If so, pick them up a handful at a time and squeeze them out like little sponges over your sink. This is my favorite part because it’s kind of fun. (Pro tip: Try this wringing-out method with tofu that hasn’t been frozen and it will crumble into mush. This is the magic of frozen tofu!)
7) Return your wrung-out tofu to dry towels, top with another dry towel, and put something heavy on top to press out any remaining moisture.
8) When your tofu’s nearly dry, grab a quart-sized zip-top bag and put the 1/3 cup of cornstarch, half a teaspoon of salt, and a quarter teaspoon of pepper into it. Zip and toss it around a bit to blend evenly, and maybe panic just a little bit that this tiny amount of coating will never be enough for all that tofu.
9) Put a large, heavy-duty skillet on the stove on medium-high heat and add the coconut oil. Note that this recipe uses kind of a lot of oil, and I’m okay with that because coconut oil is a healthy oil and imparts a lot of flavor. If you don’t like coconut oil or are otherwise averse to using a sizable amount of oil, you could go with a lesser amount of good olive oil, but it won’t taste as good. (And don’t even bother with vegetable or canola; you need a flavorful oil here.)
10) Put your tofu cubes into the plastic bag, zip it up, and shake-shake-shake. (If you’re like me, this is where you remember helping your mom make Shake-N-Bake chicken.) That scant amount cornstarch will be enough to coat all the tofu. Magic!
11) Once coated, dump your tofu cubes into a sieve to shake off the excess powder.
12) Add the tofu to the oil in your pan in a single layer. (If you have a big skillet, you can cook it all at once. If you don’t, halve the oil and do it in two batches.)
13) You’re aiming for a couple of minutes on each side, but these are little cubes and it’s not an exact science. Let it go a couple of minutes, flip everything over and shake it around, wait another couple of minutes, repeat, etc.
14) When the cubes are lightly browned on all (most) sides, you can sprinkle on a little soy sauce before giving everything a final toss in the pan, or just leave them as is.
Serving suggestions and notes
I popped one of these into my husband’s mouth the first time I did it, and he chewed and said, “That’s tofu?? That’s good!” Carnivore stamp of approval!
My kids tend to be unadventurous when it comes to food and, as illustrated above, prefer that foodstuffs not be mixed. They will happily eat this tofu alone, or will grumble through some coconut rice and veggies alongside (but not touching! never touching!) if I insist. (I mix mine together in a bowl; the sweet coconut rice with the salty tofu is one of my favorite flavor combos.) And they’re not wrong, really; this is a super-simple preparation, but the tofu can stand on its own here. The texture is meaty, the oil and salt infuse the cubes and make them totally yummy without any further window dressing. Cold leftovers are a favorite lunchbox treat, too.
That said, this is a great base preparation for just about any dish where you’d like to substitute tofu for meat. Add the cubes to stir-fry, use them to top a salad, put them in tacos, whatever. You’ll figure it out. But I bet that you only have to do this once to become a frozen tofu convert for life.