Last night we decided to host our friends for dinner, and not only cook a vegetarian meal, but also attempt to cook tofu. For the first time. Ever.
It was a pretty gutsy (read: dumb) move since they have been vegetarians for years and have cooked tofu a million times. But this experiment is about taking chances and they agreed to be our guinea pigs.
One of the first roadblocks I ran into was not knowing there were so many different kinds of tofu. Soft (which looked liked ricotta cheese in a tube *shutters*), Medium (a slight step up in hardness, but still not necessarily solid); Firm (a solid, sponge-like block in water); and Extra Firm (like Firm, but tougher and less water content). Un/Fortunately I had already blindly purchased the firm variety, not knowing there was a difference, so that’s what I went with.
Then I discovered a long-held debate in the Tofu World: To Press or Not to Press? In Western culture, people generally prefer to press to get as much water out as possible so that the tofu itself is harder and so they are avoiding a spongy texture. But according to a YouTuber I watched who is from Korea, they don’t mind the spongy texture and therefore they don’t press it. Since I’m neither Korean, nor really know what I’m doing, I went with a happy medium: squeezing the tofu between two cutting boards once or twice. Was this the right thing to do or even the right method? Probably not. I could make a whole other post on the varying methods for how to press, including stacking books on top … (which just seems dangerous, but ok).
Next , it was time to transform the tofu from a tasteless, egglike mass into something resembling food. I chopped it up into cubes and put it in this marinade to sit overnight:
- Oyster sauce
- Soy sauce
- Rice vinegar
- Maple syrup
I discovered the next morning that the tofu sucked up most of the marinade. So my effort to press it now seemed moot. Maybe that’s why Koreans don’t bother.
Finally it was time to bake it. I found a recipe that recommended coating the tofu in cornstarch to help get it crispy and baking it at 350 degrees. But here’s the part that killed me – it said to cook it for between 20 and 45 minutes. That’s a big range. How would I possibly know when it’s done?!
In the end, I cooked it for 30 minutes total, flipping at the 10 minute marks as suggested. The tofu did not turn out crispy, but it also wasn’t terrible. It held its shape and tasted like the marinade. For being my first time cooking it, I was pleasantly surprised.
Here are my general observations about tofu:
- You really have to put some time and work in to make it taste good.
- It’s not a very forgiving product to work with (cutting, pressing, etc).
- I doubt I will become tofu’s biggest fan by the end of this experiment.
P.S. Who can name the cartoon this clip came from?!