Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Simple Pan-Fried Tofu

After I made the muhammara earlier this week, I needed something to eat it on.  Sometimes, you need a base that is simply a vessel for a delicious sauce or topping. Pasta comes to mind, but all carbs all the time is bad news for me - I need more protein than that. This tofu makes a perfect base for whatever sauce you're looking for any excuse to eat (maybe this peanut sauce?). The tofu gets slightly crisp on the edges, chewy in the middle, and is a source of complete protein.

If you're not looking for a simple base, you can make the tofu the star of the dish by marinating it before cooking. I haven't come up with any particular marinade for you yet, but perhaps that will be a future meatless mondays series post. You may want to lightly salt your tofu slices before frying them, particularly if your sauce isn't very salty. 

I slice the tofu into large, thin pieces, then cut them up when I'm eating them. I've tried cooking tofu cut into smaller chunks, and I got so frustrated trying to flip 20 or more tiny pieces in the pan that it wasn't really worth the effort. I like using the slices because they are large enough to flip easily, and you still get lots of golden-brown edges.

Although you're using a few tablespoons of oil to cook the tofu, at least half of the oil will remain in the pan, and more of it will drain off onto paper towels. In the end, it's not that much oil per serving, so don't worry! (This is the oil left in the pan - at least a tablespoon, although I didn't measure it.)

The level of heat is important here. You want your oil hot enough, but not too hot. Hot enough means you need to pre-heat the pan, so the tofu isn't going into cold oil. (If the pan is hot, the oil will heat very rapidly - I don't wait between adding the oil and adding the tofu.) On my stove, the right heat is between 4 and 5 on the dial (5 is exactly medium heat). If the oil starts to smoke, or is splattering more than sizzling, turn back the heat a bit. It might take a few tries to figure out what exactly works for your stove.

Simple Pan-Fried Tofu
This is an easy way to prepare tofu, and quick enough for any night of the week. 
Yield: per block of tofu, 2-3 servings

1 block of firm or extra firm tofu
2-3 tbsp olive oil (extra-virgin is fine)

1. Drain the tofu, and use either a clean kitchen towel or paper towels to press out some of the excess water. Slice the tofu to your desired size (I make slices about 1/4 inch thick, about 15 per block of tofu), and lay in a single layer on top of some towels. Cover with another towel, and place a baking sheet with some cookbooks or other somewhat-heavy objects on top. Let sit for 15-30 minutes.
2. Heat a large skillet over medium heat.  Add 2 tbsp olive oil and about half of the tofu slices (or whatever fits in your pan). Cook for about 4 minutes on the first side, then flip and cook 2-3 minutes on the second side, until golden brown. (When flipping, be careful not to splash the hot oil.) Set up a plate with some paper towels.

3. Remove the tofu from the skillet to the prepared plate with towels to drain. Place another layer of paper towels on top and press lightly with the back of your spatula to remove the excess oil (don't use your hands, the oil is still very hot).
4. If you have remaining tofu to cook, add another few teaspoons to a tablespoon of oil to the pan, and repeat the process.
5. Serve topped with the sauce of your choice.

Like I said, I've been enjoying this with generous amounts of muhammara. I highly recommend it!

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