For a home cook, the day you successfully recreate your favorite restaurant dish is a proud one. It’s even more exciting when you realize this once intimidating dish is ridiculously easy and that there is really very little you can’t do in the kitchen. This empowering kitchen moment came when I made Pad Thai with perfectly cooked tofu for the first time.
Pad Thai with tofu has been one of my favorite dishes since Ruth and Gill introduced me to Thai food my junior year of undergrad. Since that enlightening day, I have had tried other Thai dishes (Drunken Noodle is another favorite) but I only crave Pad Thai. My friends are all well aware of my Pad Thai addiction, so I was not surprised when several of them sent me this New York Times article several years ago. I tried the recipe and it came out perfectly the first time – except for that dreaded tofu.
See, since that first enlightening bite of Pad Thai, I have tried it with chicken, shrimp, and beef, but I always go back to tofu. Everywhere I went the tofu was well flavored and firm. Both the texture and taste the perfect complement to the rest of the dish, but whenever I tried to cook it at home my tofu was bland and a bit slimy. The basic Pad Thai was easy to master, but that tofu just kept disappointing me. Until I learned about dry frying my tofu. Hallelujah! By using a non-stick pan and no oil over medium-low heat, you essentially dry out the tofu, which then allows it to soak up a flavorful marinade without becoming slimy and falling apart. Even better, it is incredibly easy.
Dry Fried and Marinated Tofu
1) Begin with a block of extra firm tofu and press it, as shown in the video below. I like to pour off the excess water half way through the 40 minutes and then continue pressing, but that isn’t really necessary.
2) While you press the tofu, prepare this simple marinade:
1/2 cup soy sauce or fish sauce
1/8 cup rice vinegar
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
1 tsp honey
3) After pressing the tofu for about 40 minutes, cut it into half inch slices.
4) Heat a non-stick pan (or very well seasoned cast iron skillet) over medium-low heat for about 2 minutes before adding the tofu, leaving space between each piece. You may have to dry fry the slices in several batches.
5) Using a spatula, carefully press down on the tofu slices in order to squeeze out extra moisture. Once the first side has turned a medium golden brown, flip over and repeat on the other side.
6) Cut the slices of tofu into cubes and add to the prepared marinade. Let it sit for half an hour to an hour. (Just enough time to make your Pad Thai sauce and stir fry your veggies).
(adapted from the Minimalist)
4 ounces fettuccine-width rice stick noodles
1/4 cup peanut oil
2 to 4 tablespoons tamarind paste
1/4 cup fish sauce (nam pla)
1/3 cup honey or brown sugar
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or more if you are like me)
1/4 cup chopped scallions
1 garlic clove, minced
About 3 cups shredded cabbage
1 & 1/2 cup broccoli slaw
1/2 pound pressed tofu (or chicken or peeled shrimp)
1/2 cup roasted peanuts, chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 limes, quartered
mung bean sprouts (optional)
1) Bring a large pot of unsalted water to a boil. Add rice noodles and remove from heat. Let soak until the noodles are just tender, checking frequently to avoid over-cooking. Drain and toss with a drizzle of oil to keep them from sticking together.
2) In a small sauce pan, combine fish sauce, honey,tamarind, and rice vinegar. Bring to a simmer. Add red pepper flakes and let simmer for another minute. Remove from heat.
3) Heat a generous drizzle of oil in a large frying pan (I like to use the one I had just used to dry fry the tofu). Add garlic and cook until fragrant. Add scallions and eggs. As the eggs begin to set, scramble them with your spatula.
4) Add cabbage and broccoli slaw to the pan and cook until the cabbage begins to wilt.
5) Drain tofu and add to veggies and eggs.
6) Add noodles and sauce to pan and toss to coat and mix everything thoroughly.
7) Serve with a sprinkling of chopped peanuts, a little cilantro and bean sprouts, and a lime wedge on the side.