I basically bullied Cousin Michael into typing up this recipe, which he makes all the time but never wrote down. Personally, I feel like I’m incompetent with tofu, so I’m thrilled to get “proper” directions from someone who knows what they’re doing. With tofu, at least 😉
When you buy the tofu, put it straight into the freezer. Old tofu can apparently start to taste sour, so freezing has the dual effect of changing the texture in desirable ways AND preserving it for longer.
Thaw the tofu within 24 hours of cooking – Michael says he’ll take it out of the freezer when he gets up in the morning and leaves it in the sink until needing it for dinner, but it sounds like there’s some wiggle room, timing-wise. In fact, every part of this recipe seems to have some wiggle room, which makes it much less intimidating, in my opinion.
Unattributed quotes are from Michael, the tofu expert.
one block extra firm tofu (but firm is acceptable) – frozen and thawed
your preferred rice
(You can find a frozen “stir fry starter” in most grocery freezer sections, but you can also use fresh garlic, onion, carrot, bell pepper… whatever floats your boat)
whatever other flavors you like (vinegars, juices, spices, sauces…)
oil with a high smoke point, like veggie, canola, peanut…
First off, pull the tofu out of the freezer, if you haven’t yet, and about an hour before you’re ready to eat, get your rice of choice going in the rice cooker. “If you don’t have a rice cooker, add ‘buy a rice cooker’ to the pre-cooking prep steps.”
Drain the tofu – open the package and gently squeeze out as much water as you (gently!) can. Then wrap the tofu in paper towels, put it on a plate, and put another plate on top of it. Put something heavy, like a phone book, on top to force out more water.
Start heating oil in a big pan or wok – use more or less oil as your taste and health dictate. “My stove has a setting called ‘fry’ which is the 2nd highest setting; I’ll usually set it to that.” Michael uses about 1/4 inch of oil in the bottom of the pan.
Cut veggies to your preferred chunkiness. If you’re using frozen veggies, put the bag near the stove to encourage thawing. If you’re using fresh, cut the denser stuff into smaller pieces (i.e., carrots) and the less-dense veggies (i.e., bell pepper, mushrooms) into larger pieces. Remember: the smaller the chunk, the faster the cooking.
I had to read the recipe a few times before I realized we are NOT just throwing veggies in the pan as we finish chopping them, which is weird to me. Wait to cook the veggies!
Start working on the sauce: put the dry stuff in a bowl, stir, then add the wet ingredients once stuff is cooking. Michael recommends: a spoonful of corn starch, spoonful of sugar, half a spoon of salt, half a spoon of MSG. Then add whatever spices sound tasty. Again, deferring to Michael: chili flakes, black pepper, garlic powder, tiny amount of cinnamon or nutmeg, basil or other herbs if it feels like that kind of day. Then mix the dry stuff.
Unwrap the tofu and cut it into whatever shapes feel right, cubes or triangles or whatever. Try to make the tofu chunks no more than twice as thick as your oil is deep – if the oil is 1/4 inch, then aim for 1/2 inch chunks, so everything gets cooked after one flip.
Make a mix of cornstarch, salt, and garlic powder to coat the tofu pieces thinly.
Put the tofu in the oil. If the oil seems to disappear, you may have used too much cornstarch to coat the tofu, or you may be cooking at too low a temp. “You can either hang your head in shame, or you can turn up the heat, add some more oil, and try to do it different next time.”
After a minute or two, check the bottom of a piece of tofu to see if it’s looking fried – when it does, flip all the tofu.
When the whole tofu chunk looks fried, carefully remove the tofu – it’s hot! Put the tofu on paper towels on top of a plate. Tongs or long chopsticks or even a slotted spoon are helpful, here. We’ll put the tofu back in the dish at the end.
Michael usually waits until the rice cooker says there’s 10-15 minutes left before completing the final steps.
Lower the heat to medium, and add a bit more oil if necessary. Throw in the bag of frozen veggies, or add the fresh veggies.
While the veggies cook, finish making the sauce: add a big squirt of soy sauce, some sort of acid (vinegar or lemon or whatever citrus juice), and stir vigorously. Sometimes Michael adds sesame oil, vegan oyster sauce, hoisin, hot sauce, whatever. Taste and adjust, adding water if things aren’t mixing smoothly.
When the veggies are close to done, quickly mix in the sauce, stir a bunch, and when the sauce looks like it’s starting to reduce, add back the tofu and stir everything up. When the sauce looks like the right thickness, plate it.
Hopefully the rice is just about done, so add that to the plates, as well. Garnish with chopped green onion, toasted sesame seeds, or both.