Oh no! The dreaded edible white sponge! Run for your lives!
Honestly, though, tofu is actually a pretty easy protein to work with. It can take on all different types of flavors, which means it can easily be substituted in for so many different recipes. As long as you know how to prepare it properly then the sky is the limit.
Like with most recipes easy pan fried tofu with no oil has pros and cons to other types of tofu preparation. It has way less fat than traditional fried tofu, which is good since no one needs those added fats. It is more hands on than throwing it in the oven and baking it, which can be both a pro and a con. With pan frying you have to check it more often, but it normally takes less time than baking, depending on which method you use. The only oil I use is a light coating of non-stick cooking spray, just to make sure it doesn’t stick. Trust me it’s not a pretty sight when it does.
One cannot simply take the mighty tofu out of it’s packaging, cut it up, and serve it. My work does this and I cringe and sigh over the fact that the edible white sponge has to go through something like that. Tofu simply does not work that way. For pan frying extra firm tofu is best. I’m not sure I ever got my other pan clean when I tried with firm.
The first thing to do is to take the tofu out of the packaging, but be careful. It is full of liquid so please do this in the kitchen sink.
Take the tofu and squeeze gently to remove some of the excess water. Squeezing too hard can result in it crumbling on you so be careful.
The you want to turn the tofu on it’s side so the long thin side faces to the sky. I am not very good at explaining this so I will insert a picture.
I do admit now that I think about it that slicing at this stage might very well be optional, but I think it allows for a more even pressing. As for why we need to press it I’m not kidding when I call it a sponge, so we need to take the current liquid out of it and add in a marinade full of flavor so it will take that on.
Then, you get to make a tofu, cutting board, and hand towel sandwich topped with something heavy! The bottom cutting board acts as a stable and level base, while the top cutting board is used to distribute weight evenly. You can certainly go without them, but I find them to be very beneficial. The two hand towels absorb the excess moisture from the tofu and keeps the table or counter you have it set on dry. The heavy object can be anything from a dictionary to what I have, which is a case of cans. This presses the water out of the tofu.
You want to press the tofu for at least 20 minutes, but if you’re like me and have things to do it’s perfectly okay to leave it there to press for an hour or five. Now you are finally ready for the pan!
Make sure to use a non-stick skillet or you’re going to have problems. You’ll be frying until you think it’s done but I like mine golden brown on all sides.
I have 3 different sauces that I’m trying out. The top left is a salsa and taco seasoning mix. The top right is a barbecue, maple syrup, and Montreal steak seasoning. The bottom is a tried and true Asian mix with soy sauce, peanut butter, sugar, and a touch of garlic chili sauce.
Method 1: Marinate First
I found this one a hit and miss. I marinated for about 30 mins before frying, and the flavor was awesome in the barbecue and Asian sauce. The salsa one not so much. I think the reason that the salsa one didn’t do so well is because it was a chunky salsa so it couldn’t absorb the flavor from the tomato and onion. Enchilada sauce might have been a better option and one I might try later.
The tofu stays very soft, so if that’s what you’re looking for then go for it. I found it slightly off putting with just how soft it was. The texture was almost like scallops, but I am unsure if there is a sauce to replicate the taste. Maybe an Alfredo sauce? Something I will definitely have to try.
You have to keep a close eye on your pan otherwise it will burn very quickly, and that’s never a good thing. It took me quite awhile to get rid of burned on salsa.
Method 2: Fry First, Then Coat with Sauce
This is my preferred method as it doesn’t leave a very big mess for me to clean up. It stays somewhat firm, but does soften back up, so you’re not really going to get crunchy out of it. It does remind me of chicken in the texture and I do use it in tofu noodle soup.
The Asian is by far my favorite, and that’s because I like the complex flavors of salty, creamy, sweet, with a hint of spice. It is so good.
The barbecue is very spicy, and I would definitely tone down the spices before trying again. Of course, I’m not a very big spicy fan anyways.
The salsa one is just so-so. It tastes like tofu covered in salsa. I’m beginning to think that salsa and tofu were not meant to go together. Such a shame.
Method 3: Fry, Marinate, and Fry Again
This is the method that obviously takes the longest. It is also another one where you have to keep a close eye on your pan for the last little bit. Thankfully it doesn’t take more than a few minutes to fry the flavors into the tofu.
Maybe I am just in an Asian mood, but I like the Asian sauce the best. It comes out a bit sticky, but it’s even more yummy because of it. The flavors stick to the tofu very well.
The barbecue was the next best, in my opinion, and it has a charred taste to it, which works for the type of sauce it is. I think the maple syrup really helped to caramelize the sauce to the tofu.
I am not a fan of the salsa one at all. I will have to reinvent that sauce and try again, I really will.
I find that Asian flavors just work with the tofu. I hardly use it for anything else unless I am blending it with something or trying a new recipe. I will continue to try new flavor combinations and will definitely keep updating this post.