Before I dive into cooking…
You might be thinking: that’s great that you can make crisp tofu but, should we even be eating soy??
When I began my plant based journey, I was avoiding soy at all costs because I had heard that soy has estrogen-like effects in the body which theoretically increases the risk of breast, ovarian, and endometrial cancer. It was unfortunate because soy is used in a lot of meat alternatives and is an excellent source of plant based protein. I was getting frustrated by not being able to use soy in my cooking so I began to do some deeper research on how safe is soy, really? I found really mixed answers from my google searches, so I settled on having extremely limited amounts of soy in my diet.
Recently, I was lucky enough to have a conversation with my husband’s aunt who is a professor of nutrition at a major university. She’s brilliant and sincere, and I really trust her opinions. I asked her what her thoughts on soy were and she directed me to a website called NutritionFacts.org and a book by Michael Greger, M.D. called How Not to Die. I love this website and book because I work in health care and am not easily fooled by doctors on TV disguising product advertisements in fake science. I believe in using evidence-based practice when I take care of my patients, so I need some damn good evidence when making decisions for my own health and wellness. Dr. Greger turned out to be an excellent resource.
It turns out that I was given incorrect information all along! I’m not going to explain the science because Dr Greger does an excellent job speaking in plain terms, but here’s the breakdown: Soy does NOT cause cancer, may IMPROVE survival for women who have breast cancer, and also has the benefit of increasing bone density! If you want to know more, I encourage you to watch his videos, read the transcripts, and check out his sources yourself. This is an excellent video to start with.
*And no, this is NOT an advertisement and I did NOT receive compensation for saying this*
Okay so soy is back…now what?
Now that we have welcomed soy back into our kitchen, what do we do with it? When I tried to make tofu in the past, I was never able to firm it up and always found the inside extremely bland and mushy…yuck. That’s because tofu has a super high water content. You need to squeeze it out!
For tofu going in a stir fry, on the grill, or really any time that you want it firm or crispy, here’s what you do:
- Start with purchasing the firmest tofu you can find. Extra firm is pretty much always what I buy. Open the package and drain the water.
- Make a tofu-towel “sandwich” like the one pictured above:
- Take two plates and two dish towels, fold each towel into small rectangles (I fold mine in half about 3x). Put the first towel on top of one plate, then the tofu, then cover it with the second towel and the other plate. Squeeze the plates toward each other to get the liquid out:
- A new tip I just learned was that right after purchasing, you can drain the tofu package freeze the tofu for a firmer, chewier texture. I still recommend squeezing out some liquid first with my sandwich method.
- If you’re like me and rarely plan your meals more than a few hours in advance, here’s your plan B. Take your tofu-towel sandwich, stack something heavy on top and let it sit for at least two hours for ideal moisture drainage. Put the “sandwich” back in the fridge while the tofu drains. Don’t ask me why, but the cold seems to really aid in keeping it firm! (Still didn’t plan far enough ahead? Yeah…I usually don’t either. Just do the same process and pop it in the fridge as long as you can while you measure your spices, chop your veggies, and prep your other steps).
- After the block is drained, cut it up into the size and shape desired for your recipe. If you want the tofu crisp and crunchy, I really like how it comes out by tossing in corn starch. Feel free to add seasoning to the corn starch as the first layer of flavor. I have also subbed the corn starch for flour in the past and it still works.
- Bake at a high heat to ensure crisping. If you have a convection oven, this is a good time to use that setting. This is also a great time to use that air fryer if you have one! Preheat your oven or air fryer to 350 degrees. Spray a flat baking tray with a light coating of cooking spray that can tolerate a high smoke point (canola, avocado, grape seed oils all work). Place the tofu on the tray, give it another light coat of spray to get the top of the tofu.
- The main difference between the air fryer, convection oven, and regular oven is cooking time. In the air fryer I need only 5 minutes per side. In the regular oven I generally leave it in for 10 minutes, check on the tofu, flip, and leave it in for another 7-10 minutes. The tofu will be a light golden color when it’s done. If the color is lighter than you expect, just touch it with a fork to make sure it’s crisp and firm. The color will deepen a little after you take it out of the oven as it cools.
Do you have any other tofu tips you want to share? Drop a comment below, I would love to try them!