Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Tofu Prep and Tofu Scramble - A beginners guide.

The very first time I tried to cook with tofu I was just throwing around the idea of going full on vegetarian.  I hadn't told anyone my ambition yet for fear of having to commit.  I was pretty much living on Srees in Squirrel Hill - this "fast food" Indian place where you could get enough food to feed a family of eight for like $5 bucks.  To this day I still find myself - mid-day - craving Srees.

Anyway, one day - in the midst of the hottest part of summer - I decided that I could make General Tso's Tofu and it would be every bit as good as the General Tso's Tofu at New Dumpling House (also in Squirrel Hill.  Sorry for all the S'quill shout-outs, I lived there for like 8 years and became a vegetarian there, and pretty much made all of my subsequent major life transitions there up to, and including marriage.) 

So anyhow - this really hot summers day I found this recipe online for General Tso's Tofu and I was all "This cant be that hard!" and I boldly walked myself up to Giant Eagle ('cause in the city you can walk everywhere) and spent the next 45 minutes wandering the aisles until I finally found the tofu.  I bought the extra firm kind because at New Dumpling House when you bite into that awesomeness its like taking a big meaty bite of chicken.  I then located all the other ingredients, I have no memory of what they were because - as you will discover - this project was a total failure and I never tried it again.

So I went home and started all my prep work.  When it came to the tofu I kind of pushed it to the back, letting it kind of hang out there in its pool of tofu water - sure, the recipe said to press it or whatever - but I'd get to that.

When I first gingerly removed the blubbery rectangle - I truly felt like I was holding something so fragile, like a new born or an injured animal - it could never become the meaty, manly morsel I so desired.  That's about the time my hopes began to dwindle.

I did what the instructions said - I tried to squeeze it.  Ever so cautiously did I squeeze - it just seemed like any amount of pressure would cause the thing to crumble into watery white bits.

All said and done - the meal was a mess.  The tofu remained blubbery and jelly-esque, the other flavors did not seem to really penetrate it beyond an outside coating.  I left my first tofu-making experience severely uncertain that it was something I could ever master.

A year or two later, I happened upon a blurb on a message board explaining a method of tofu preparation that saved my life (so to speak).

So - for anyone just starting out as a vegetarian who wants to make that firm tofu you can man handle with no fear of endangering its fragility - read on:


(There's a lot of pictures in this, bear with me...)

There are a billion ways of preparing tofu - this is just the method that has worked best for me.  If you are just starting out as a vegetarian, this is something you can try that might make the process of getting that firm, meaty tofu down without a ton of frustration.  It's not the hardest food to work with, but you definitely have to make it a few times to get it down.  Have fun!

Here's your tofu, dude (or dudette) - 

Peel that bad boy open and reveal the Tofu (yes, we'll give him a capital T) resting luxuriously in his pool of tofu-water - his veritable spa of soy bean liquid.  Behold:

He rests magnificent.

Now remove him - he is ready, fear not.  See him stand proud, dripping in your hands (I recommend you do this by the sink, BTW.)

Now, with no hesitation, take your sharpest blade - and SLICE him width wise!  Hear the whistle of your truly forged blade as the tofu who once stood defiant is hewn asunder!  (I have been reading a Song of Ice and Fire recently, by the way.  Your patience is greatly appreciated.)

Now cut him again, into quadrants - eight pieces now in all!

Encase him in your most versatile of casks (yeah, just kind of space the cut tofu into a tupperware container - the object here is to leave some room around the pieces, so kind of stagger them as shown.  This creates air around them and also will leave room for you to grab them later, once it's ((spoiler alert)) frozen.)

Place the cask hidden safely in your coldest chambers.  (put the tupperware in the freezer.)

(It's good to freeze it for more than a day.  What this does is - it creates large pockets of air in the tofu and makes the tofu really firm and easy to work with.)

Now behold!  Time!  It passes before your eyes!

Several days have passed!  The Tofu!  It is FROZEN!

(I find it weirdly fun to remove the frozen tofu from the tupperware - just a heads up - it's oddly satisfying.)

I think it's a pretty good time to leave behind the voice of the dramatic narrator.  Sorry bud, your purpose was served.  From here on out, there is no drama.  You know why?  Because now I'm going to show you this dude's method of preparing Tofu Scramble - and with breakfast, there can be no drama.


First, you want to get a pot of water boiling on the stove.  Your Tofu is frozen, and now we've got to reverse the process.

Once the pot is boiling, submerge the frozen Tofu into the boiling water and cover:

Boil for a while (I know - thats vague - just boil it till its - you know - not frozen)  as soon as you find the Tofu is thawed, pour it into a strainer, and run cold water over it:

The reason for the cold water shower is because in the next step you will be squeezing the crap out of this tofu, so its important to run cold water through it so you aren't burning your hands for the next few minutes.  Once the tofu is cool enough to handle, grab a piece of it and really give it a squeeze!

Remember in my story from the beginning about how fragile the tofu was when I tried to squeeze it?  Not the case now.  This is tough as nails Tofu!  The object now is to squeeze out as much moisture as you possibly can.  The more moisture you squeeze out of the Tofu, the firmer it will be when you cook it.

Whats kind of cool is, after you put the squeezed tofu aside, it will retain its original cube shape:

Now tear the water-free tofu cubes into smaller cubes (I will admit that I also find this part weirdly fun...  take from that what you will...)

Now, preheat some extra virgin olive oil in a pan:

Then add the tofu and toss until all the tofu is coated and simmering.

Turn down the heat to about medium heat.  Then add some Turmeric (for a yellow coloring, and also for the myriad of health benefits associated with turmeric), soy sauce (I use this instead of salt, but you can use salt instead if you want - I wouldn't recommend using both unless you like things ultra salty and enjoy dehydration), garlic powder (this is key), oregano, basil, parsley (I typically use the 1/4th teaspoon measuring spoon thing for all of these.  Give the garlic maybe two, or three teaspoons if you feel bold - I typically do.)  You can also use whatever else you happen to have i.e. cumin, curry powder, garam masala, etc...  It will turn a nice yellowy color from the turmeric, as shown below:

What is really important from here is that you press down on the tofu - HARD.  You will hear a hissing sound as still more of the liquid inside the tofu quickly evaporates from the heat.  Keep doing this for a few minutes, until you feel most of the moisture is out of them.

Not to be vulgar, but a friend once described this process by stating:  "You have to press the shit out of it."  And it's true.

After that, you are sort of free to add at will.  Below, I added a can of tomatoes, frozen broccoli, and frozen collard greens:

Once the veggies are cooked, you're good to go.  I like to add a ton of veggie to mine because - and this is my own thoughts entirely - idealy, I want to have the tofu in the meal as a protein - not the major player.  I like there to be more veggies to bulk the nutritional profile, and have the tofu there to supplement.

Again - this is just one dudes take.  Give it a shot!


  1. Brilliant! You know, in all the years I've made tofu, I've never tried the freezing method. It's about time! And the scramble looks like heaven in a pan. Hooray! Thanks for posting this.
    And hi!


  2. Hi Nikki! Hope you are doing well! I had never tried the tofu freezing method before Jason showed it to me, it really works well though. Especially if you like tofu super firm, which I am definitely a fan of. Hopefully it works well for you too! Glad to hear from you!

    - Gina

  3. Jay/Gina, ever since you showed me this freezing method (coincidentally, the last time I had your scramble), it is the only way I want my tofu. My question to you is, have you guys ever forgotten tofu in your freezer for months and then tried to use it? Dani has some tofu in her freezer that is...mmmm...3 months old I think. I wonder if I can still use it. It probably wouldn't hurt me, just taste like you are licking a freezer tray.