Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Perfect Sauteed Tofu Cubes Every Single Time

By Lisa

Just a little over a week ago, E. Victoria Flynn and Christi Craig and I were tossing around the idea of a group blog over hot-from-the-brick-oven Flying Cow Pizza from Oconomowoc's Farmers Market (I ordered one with artichokes and olives and left not so much as a crumb) and coffee/tea from Whelan's Coffee and Ice Cream. Thank you to the kind worker at Whelan's for documenting our day (we took it as a good sign that we arrived color-coordinated):

Lisa, Christi, Victoria
The result of our conversation? Writing Up an Appetite: Wisconsin Writers in the Kitchen, and I am delighted to start us off with the answer to a question I hear often, both from seasoned cooks unfamiliar with tofu and from young adults who want to learn to make more vegetarian meals: How does one cook tofu so that it's not a flavorless, unappetizing blob?

The secret to crispy tofu that will absorb the sauce of your favorite dish is a three-step process. First, a towel soaks up excess moisture. Then the intense heat of sauteing browns the tofu. Finally, the dry heat of baking firms it up. Time consuming? A little, but the result is well worth the wait. If you thought all tofu had to be bland and mushy, you are in for a real treat.

1. Start with one pound extra firm tofu. Remove from package and drain.

2. Cut in half to form two blocks, then slice each block to halve the width.

3. Lay the four slices evenly on a clean, non-fuzzy kitchen towel.

4. Wrap the towel around the tofu.

5. Weight down with a heavy bowl or pan for at least 30 minutes. The towel will absorb excess moisture from the tofu.

6. Unwrap the tofu and cut it into cubes.

7. In a wok or large skillet, heat a thin layer of peanut or other oil (I like a garlic-flavored stir-fry oil). When oil is hot (and not before!), add tofu cubes, salt lightly, and saute until golden brown, stirring occasionally. (After this step, if you wish, you can marinate the sauteed cubes for 20-30 minutes in your favorite marinade or sauce.)

8. Transfer cubes to a baking dish, and bake at 350 degrees F for 25-30 minutes, until firm and a little "puffy." You can make these ahead of time and refrigerate for later use (warning: very high snack-ability factor, so you might want to make extra). This is another point in the process when you can marinate the cubes, if you wish.

9. Add to stir fry, pad thai, kung pao, spaghetti sauce, or whatever catches your fancy!


  1. Fantastic idea! What's better than writing AND cooking together? Not much!

    Thank you for the tip on drying out the tofu - who knew! I'll be sure to check back next Thursday for another recipe.

  2. I love the color coordination of your outfits. The fact that you didn't plan it does seem to signify that this was meant to be! I agree that writing & cooking is a terrific combination. If you haven't read Ruth Reichl's books, such as Tender to the Bone, I strongly recommend them. I love her humor. Your tofu recipe adds more steps than I've done in the past, but the results seem worth it! I love the color, step-by-step photos. Thank you three!

  3. Thanks so much for the comments! Getting as much moisture as possible out of the tofu makes all the difference. There is a fourth step that makes for an even chewier dish: When you buy the tofu, open it, re-wrap it in freezer-proof plastic or bags, and freeze at least overnight (or for several weeks). Thaw in the refrigerator before continuing with step 2, above.

    Christine, I haven't read Ruth Reichl's books, but will definitely check them out.

  4. Wishing at the moment we lived in Wisconsin so we could hang with y'all! We use these same tofu methods and you're right they do work!

  5. Lisa, I'm thrilled to be a part of this blog! Thanks for starting us out with some great tofu tips (my husband will thank you as well) :)

  6. I truly cannot wait to try this recipe, as I love tofu cubes, and have never been able to get them just right. Lisa, it was wonderful to meet you at the SENG Summit! Thank you so much for your hospitality.--Stephanie