alternate title: “Taking the FU out of tofu”.
Warning! That is the last colorful picture in this post. There is a whole lot of monochromatic blandness ahead!
I am still learning the ways of tofu preparation but have become adept at the art of losing half of it to the pan or never actually getting it to brown. When I see a recipe that instructs “crumble tofu and brown”, I think, “ha, ha, April Fool’s, you almost got me again!” Recipes that tell you crumbling precedes browning were either not tested or are a carnivore’s sick joke on novice vegetarians or Super Bowl hostesses considerately attempting to make Chili for the new Vegans that moved in next door. This method results in reducing your tofu by half: half that generously coats the pan and browns but cannot be retrieved, and the half above it that rolls around like scrambled egg, protected from any hint of browning or desirable texture by its burned former self.
A better method of ‘browning and crumbling’:
Tofu is packed with water, there are any number of methods to remove some of the water and improve the texture, including salting, boiling, freezing, and pressing. In the spirit of time-saving, I usually press my tofu overnight in the fridge. This is easily done by placing the block of tofu on a large plate, inverting another plate on top, and placing a pot or bowl on top. This works best with firm or extra firm tofu, and a large glass bowl or small-medium cooking pot works nicely. Don’t worry, unless you are using a huge enamel Dutch oven, the tofu will keep its shape. Tofu is a tough cookie as long as it is still in one block. If you have a couple of baking sheets and some 28oz. cans, you could press multiple blocks at the same time. Just be sure your bottom plate/pan has a lip or rim since you’ll be able to extract 1/3-1/2 c. of water from the tofu. Drain water off and pat dry.
Cut the tofu horizontally into 1/4″ thick rectangles, patting each layer dry. This is a great size and shape for most tofu recipes, as you get optimal browning and have a piece that is easier to handle. (Why tofu producers don’t just sell it this way already pressed and dry is beyond my understanding.) Tofu browns best when breaded or dredged, but since I am not eating wheat or dairy I salt each “steak” and brown in oil, brushing the top before flipping to prevent sticking.
Once browned, I cut into rough cubes then mash each piece in the pan with a fork, adding into a recipe where instructed.