Stir-fried tofu is not, perhaps, at the top of your list of scintillating weeknight dinners. But in its own humble, unassuming way, tofu can be downright sexy. Give it some time by itself in a hot wok, and you'll get golden edges and bouncy texture that will surprise you with its ability to make you swoon.
Basic Stir-Fried Tofu
Let me be upfront: this is not the kind of crispy, crunchy tofu that comes from a deep-fryer. This is its simpler cousin, which besides being easier to make, is quite a bit healthier and better suited for an average weeknight meal. This stir-fried tofu has a tumbled character, a hint of wok-imbued char, and a soft-yet-chewy texture — all of which combine to make it surprisingly irresistible.
Which Tofu to Buy
For tofu stir-fries, buy extra-firm tofu (or if you can't find that, buy firm tofu). Grace Young, wok guru and author of Stir-Frying to the Sky's Edge, says that for the best texture, "You want to remove as much liquid as possible before you stir-fry, so start with extra-firm. The firmer it is, the less liquid there is."
Press the Tofu Before Stir-Frying
Young also advises pressing the tofu, even extra-firm tofu, between a few layers of paper towels and with something heavy to weigh it down. It's a few extra minutes of work, but there's a big payoff in the texture of the finished tofu. She recommends first cutting the tofu into cubes and then pressing — this presses the cubes more evenly.
Cut the tofu into cubes (it presses more evenly that way) and press for at least 20 minutes, but you can also put it in the fridge and leave it to press during the day while you're away. Note that you may want to change the paper towels once or twice if they have absorbed a lot of liquid.
A Bit of Crumble Is Expected
When you stir-fry tofu, Young explains that you should do it in two steps. First you arrange the tofu in a single layer in the hot, oiled wok and let it sear for a minute to sear. Then stir-fry the tofu gently for another minute or so.
Some crumble is normal and expected — embrace it! I find that the crumbled bits pick up more of that charred wok flavor and texture. The crumble is part of what makes this tofu special.
Tofu Likes Some Friends
Tofu does best if you cook it on its own in the wok — otherwise it tends to crumble too much. But once out of the wok, you can pair it with all sorts of foods. Keep it simple with some rice and wilted greens, or serve it alongside a big plate of stir-fried vegetables.
You can also flavor the tofu with a simple stir-fry sauce at the very end of cooking. Young likes a sauce of two tablespoons oyster sauce and one tablespoon rice wine. If you're in the mood for kung pao tofu, use Young's combination of one tablespoon each of broth, black rice (chinkiang) vinegar, dark soy sauce, rice wine or dry sherry, and a teaspoon or two of sesame oil. (You might also like adding dried chilis or Szechuan peppercorns to the skillet just before stir-frying the tofu for the kung pao version!)
How To Stir-Fry Tofu
What You Need
14 to 16 ounces (1 standard block) extra-firm or firm tofu
2 teaspoons vegetable or peanut oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
14-inch flat-bottomed carbon steel wok or skillet capable of high-heat cooking (not nonstick)
Wok spatula, fish spatula, or another spatula with a thin, metal blade
- Drain and rinse the tofu: Remove the tofu from its packaging and rinse it under cold water.
- Cut the tofu into 1-inch cubes or slices.
- Press the tofu: Place 2 to 3 layers of paper towel on a dinner plate or cutting board. Lay the tofu on top in a single layer and top with another 2 to 3 layers of paper towel. Weigh it down with a skillet or with another dinner plate topped with something heavy. Press for at least 20 minutes, or place in the fridge and press for a few hours. Replace the paper towels as needed if they become soaked.
- Heat the wok: Set your wok or skillet over high heat until a drop of water evaporates within a second or two of contact.
- Add the oil: Pour oil down the side of the pan. Swirl to coat the bottom and lower sides of the wok evenly
- Cook the tofu about 1 minute: Add the tofu to the wok and spread it into a single layer. Cook without stirring for about 1 minute, so the bottoms begin to brown.
- Stir-fry the tofu 1 more minute: Sprinkle the tofu with the salt, then stir-fry, moving the tofu quickly but gently around the pan. Don't worry if some of the tofu crumbles — this is normal.
- Serve the tofu while hot: Transfer the tofu to a serving dish. Serve immediately on its own, or stir-fry your other ingredients and add the tofu back to the wok at the very end once stir-frying is almost complete. Serve while hot.
- Crispier tofu: While it won't be quite as crispy as deep-fried tofu, for a little extra texture, you can dust the tofu lightly with some cornstarch before stir-frying.
- To make this a meal, combine the stir-fried tofu with any other stir-fried vegetable. See How To Stir-Fry Vegetables for more information.