There was this e-mail asking me about tofu. At first, I thought the question was about the difference between firm tofu and silken tofu but, when I reached the end of the [kilometric] e-mail, I wasn’t sure anymore what the question was. From what I gathered — and I could be wrong — it was about which kind of tofu, silken or firm, was good for frying. I hope I got that right. Actually, even if I got the question wrong, the e-mail provided a pretty interesting topic for a food article and I hope that other readers will find this tokwa frying entry useful.
First, kinds of tofu. In the Philippines, tofu for cooking (tokwa) generally means firm or silken tofu. In China, they have hundreds of tofu varieties but since I don’t live in China, I can only talk about silken and firm tofu or what we know by the generic term tokwa. I won’t include tawpe, taho or even miso because although most know that they are soy bean products, they are distinctly different from what we know as tokwa.
When I was a child, there was only one kind of tokwa. When one went to the market to buy tokwa, it meant firm tofu. There were two sub-varieties though. The small square ones and the big rectangular ones. I used to think that there were small ones for smaller families but I was wrong. Fried, the small ones were more compact than the larger variety which had a softer interior. Why that was so, I don’t know.
Anyway, it wasn’t until about ten years ago that silken tofu started to become a regular item in supermarkets. If they had been available in Chinatown or specialty stores earlier than that, I really have no idea.
Most people will tell you that only firm tofu can be fried. Wrong. I’ve eaten at least four different dishes with deep fried silken tofu that had been dredged in crumbs or batter. I’m sure it’s all done very gingerly considering how easily silken tofu falls apart. I haven’t mustered the guts to try it. But I’m pretty good at frying firm tofu. So, we go into the subject of this entry which is how to fry tokwa or firm tofu.
How do you make sure that the tofu does not stick to the pan? Simple. Use a non-stick pan. :razz: Kidding, kidding. I lived without a non-stick pan all my non-married life and my tofu never stuck to the bottom of the frying pan. Here’s how.
1) You need lots of oil because the tofu has to float in oil. Even if you’re using non-stick pan, it’s still wiser to use lots of oil to ensure even browning. And you do have to turn them over for even browning even if they are already floating in oil.
2) Heat the frying pan before adding the cooking oil. To test if the pan is hot enough, sprinkle some water and if the droplets dance around before they sizzle and evaporate, you’ve got a hot frying pan. You can now pour in the cooking oil.
3) Make sure that the cooking oil is hot before adding the tofu. Otherwise, the tofu will just soak in the oil while waiting for it to get hot enough to allow the surface to brown. How hot is hot enough? Normally, with the heat on the highest setting, I allow the oil to reach the smoking point. Then, I lower the heat to medium and allow the oil to cool for about 30 seconds. Then, I add the tofu and turn the heat to high again. I know it sounds weird but it works for me. Too hot and the tofu browns too fast. I like mine golden — fully sealed but still a shade of light brown.
4) Don’t crowd the pan. Never crowd the pan. The temperature of the oil will drop too fast if you add too many tofu pieces at the same time. It will be as though you never allowed the oil to reach its smoking point at all.
Do you cut the tofu into slices or do you cut them into small squares before frying? Well, that’s a matter of personal preference, I think. My father sliced the tofu and fried them like that. Then, he cut them into squares after frying. Me, I like to cut them into squares before frying because I like to have all sides nicely and uniformly browned.
But there’s another angle to the sliced-or-cubed dilemma. If you intend to eat the fried tofu with a dipping sauce, they will catch more sauce if they have been cut after frying because the still-white parts will easily absorb the sauce. But if you add them to a stir fried dish — exposing them to tossing and stirring — they are more likely to fall apart. Cutting into cubes before frying under the circumstances sounds like a better idea.
And that ends my tokwa-frying entry. :)