by Forest Crosbie
Today I want to share with you one of my favorite recipes for preparing tofu, which is a staple that I eat almost every day – especially during competition prep. Tofu is a great source of plant protein that is rich in all eight of the essential amino acids, as well as supplying iron, calcium, and some healthy omega-3 fatty acids. By itself it has a very mild taste, but it readily takes on the flavor of any sauces or seasonings it’s paired with, which makes it a very fun and versatile ingredient to use! And no, eating soy products will not give you “man-boobs,” as discussed in this article by our colleague Max Seabrook. 😛
This recipe is loosely adapted from one I found in the official Thug Kitchen cookbook. I definitely recommend checking them out if you’re looking for more great plant-based recipes – and don’t mind a bit of “adult” language. 😉 All you’ll need is the tofu itself, plus a pinch of salt and any other spices that you want to sprinkle on top!
1). Start with a block of extra-firm tofu. In my opinion it’s always a good idea to opt for extra-firm if possible, because you will get a higher-density block that contains less water and more actual food. If you don’t have extra-firm, or if your tofu seems like it has a lot of excess water in it, you can simply wrap it in a paper towel and press it between two plates (setting something heavy on top to add pressure) for 30-60 minutes. This will squeeze out some of the extra water which you can then drain off, leaving you with a denser block of tofu which will work better for this recipe.
2). Preheat a pan over medium to medium-low heat (this depends on your stovetop, but you don’t want too much heat). Make sure your pan is well seasoned, or use a ceramic non-stick pan if you have one. This will help to prevent the tofu from sticking to the pan, since you will not be using any oil (Dr Esselstyn would approve!). Adding just a light dash of salt to the pan while it is preheating will also help ensure that the tofu does not stick.
3). While the pan is preheating, take your block of tofu and cut it into 8 equally-sized “planks,” each of which should be roughly rectangular in shape. Then cut each of the planks in half, to make a total of 16 square-ish pieces. Once the tofu is cut up, use a paper towel (or two) to blot off any excess water that remains. Do not skip this step! Through much trial and error I have discovered that it is critical in making sure that you don’t end up having to chisel your tofu off the pan with a jackhammer. Once your pan is hot, go ahead and add the tofu, laying the pieces down flat. It should sizzle and steam a bit when you add it – if this doesn’t happen it likely means your pan is not quite hot enough, so adjust accordingly.
4). Once all the tofu is in the pan, press down on it gently with the back of a spatula, which will cause some extra water / steam to escape. Let it cook over medium heat for about 5-10 minutes, but keep an eye out to make sure it doesn’t get too dark. You can tell by peeking at the edges of the tofu squares where they make contact with the pan – they should start to look golden brown. This is also a perfect time to sprinkle on any dry seasonings you want, such as black pepper, garlic powder, nutritional yeast, etc.
5). Once the tofu is looking nice and brown around the edges, use your spatula again to carefully get underneath the squares and flip them over. At this point they should have formed a skin on the underside, which will help them to flip cleanly and without sticking to the pan or breaking. Once you flip the tofu, let it cook for a few more minutes before turning off the heat and letting it coast until cool enough to touch. Pop it off the pan and you’re all set. These delicious crispy cutlets are perfect in sandwiches, salads, or stir-fries, as well as atop pasta or a myriad of other dishes, or simply enjoyed on their own if you’re on the go!