The Best Way to Cook Tofu (without frying it)

Of course you can fry tofu and it will be delicious. Everything tastes good fried. There are things that I will only eat fried. Like okra. Or cod. And tofu is no exception to the frying rule, but I also fail to see the point of frying tofu. If I am going to fry something, I am going to fry something that will put my cholesterol levels in jeopardy. Something that is either made of pure starch or used to be alive. If I am eating tofu, it is not to satisfy that craving. If I am making tofu, I want to beam with pride after I eat for how damn healthy I am being.

This is one of the healthiest things I know how to make. Its really more valuable as a technique than a specific recipe. I recently demonstrated it to a friend who is on a super restricted diet and needed anything new to add to her cooking repertoire as long as it qualified as vegetarian, sugar free and gluten free. With one small adjustment, this meets all three qualifications. It is a method for preparing tofu that is infinitely versatile and keeps really well so you can make a big batch of it at the start of the week and then keep it in a fridge to throw in various dishes. It is a way to make moist-on-the-inside, crispy-on-the-outside tofu without frying it. (My favorite part of this recipe is that I got it from David Lebovitz, also known as the master of all things ice cream. What the hell is he doing teaching me to master tofu in his spare time? I don’t know, but if I ever meet him, I am going to thank him for doing what he could to balance my diet.)

The technique is incredibly simple and has three steps. First, you take one pound of firm tofu and press all the liquid out. You take it out of the package, drain it, wrap it in paper towels, set it on a plate, place another plate on top and set some canned goods on top. (I choose the big 24 oz. can of whole tomatoes because the weight is good and I always have some around.) Do this for 30 minutes. At the end of the half hour, the paper towels should be soaked through and the tofu fairly dry to the touch. (When I was first field testing this, I removed the soaked paper towels at the end of the 30 minutes and re-wrapped the tofu, convinced that there must be more liquid to get out, and repeated the pressing, but the next set of paper towels barely got damp. You really just need to wipe the surface moisture off the tofu after you unwrap and you are good.)

Next, you marinate the tofu. You pressed all the liquid out of the tofu so that it will then act as a sponge and soak up the marinade. First, cut the tofu in one inch cubes and then place the cubes in a large plastic bag and pour your marinade over them. Nudge the pieces around so that you get all lying flat (careful not to spill your marinade out of the bag as, ahem, you know someone might have done on the first try) and then seal the bag and put it in the fridge. The time for the marinade depends on two things – how much flavor you want and how much time you have. An hour is enough to infuse it with some flavor, two hours is better (and is what Mr. Lebovitz recommends as a minimum), overnight is what I try to do. You want to flip the bag over at least once at the halfway point, but multiple times if possible. (Obviously, if you do it overnight, you aren’t going to wake up to do this so one side will end up spending longer than the other. It’s perfectly fine. This is where the sponginess is working for you. I will often put it in the fridge before bed, flip it over in the morning as I head off to work and then cook that evening.)

The marinade is where the versatlity comes in. You can marinade it in any damn thing you want. You basically want about 3 oz. (or six tablespoons) total liquid. David Lebovitz provided an Asian marinade in the original recipe here, which is excellent. The marinade that I give you below is inspired by spring and my love of all things lemon, but really, as long as you have the right amount of marinade, do whatever you like. Just don’t increase the total amount of liquid.

After it is done marinading, remove the tofu and pat it dry. Place the tofu in a large bowl and sprinkle one tablespoon of corn starch on over the tofu. (If you need to go gluten free, use potato starch, it works just as well. And if you are gluten free and do not know about potato starch, man, get yourself a box of it.) I use a small mesh strainer to even sprinkle the starch and break up any clumps. Give the tofu a few tosses around the bowl to evenly coat. Then you spread the tofu out on a parchment paper lined baking sheet and cook for 45 minutes at 350 degrees. You want to turn the tofu every fifteen minutes. Unlike almost every other king of roasting, it is the side that is face down on the pan that does not get crispy, so flipping it a few times assures that all sides have a chance to crisp up. When the tofu is done, you can eat it as cubes, toss it with some noodles or rice, add it to a salad. The options are endless.

Go forth and make crispy baked tofu. Then beam with all the pride.

Lemony Crispy Baked Tofu
(Adapted from David Lebovitz)

1 pound firm tofu
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon fresh dill
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon corn starch (or potato starch)

Drain the tofu and wrap it in paper towels. Lay the wrapped tofu between two plates and set one to two (depending on their size) canned goods on top of the plate to weight it down. Set aside for half an hour.

Whisk together all your marinade ingredients and add salt and pepper to taste. (Probably 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of each.)

When tofu has finished draining, pat with dry paper towels to remove any surface moisture and then cut into one inch cubes. Put cubes in resealable bag and pour marinade over cubes. Lay bag and all cubes flat, seal bag and set in fridge to marinate at least 60 minutes, up to 24 hours. Flip bag a few times to allow both sides to marinate as evenly as possible.

When you are ready to bake the tofu, preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Drain the tofu (marinade can be reserved to make a dipping sauce) and put cubes in a large bowl. Using a small mesh strainer, sprinkle the corn (or potato) starch over the tofu to distribute evenly. Toss cubes in bowl and spread evenly on baking sheet.

Bake tofu for 45 minutes, turning every 15 minutes so that cubes crisp evenly.

Remove for oven and serve. Leftover cubes can be stored in the fridge for three to four days.


2 thoughts on “The Best Way to Cook Tofu (without frying it)

  1. This recipe is so incredibly helpful. I’d always wondered how to marinate tofu. I’ve tried to do it– unsuccessfully– a number of times. Did not know about squeezing out all the moisture so that the tofu acts like a sponge! My tofu at home always tasted like stereotypical tofu. Thank you from the bottom of my vegetarian heart, Jen! This is a real life and money-saver. Hoping to give actual cooking– rather than reheating Progresso– a go. Also speaking as a vegetarian– I particularly love that summer smell of grilled meat. Intoxicating!


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