Tofu is yummy, but it gets a bad rap. Lots of people think they don’t like it because they’ve had it badly prepared. Lots of people think they won’t like it because they’ve heard it’s scary.
In general, I have found that people who won’t eat tofu when it is prepared any other way will eat fried tofu.There are many wonderful deserts and sauces where people don’t notice the tofu. But if you plan on confronting a tofu-fearing audience with tofu in a more traditional form, fried tofu is the way to do it.I would rather make something people will eat than prepare something traditionally. So if I am cooking for a potluck, I nearly always fry the tofu.
Frying small things like tofu is easier than you’d expect. I was taught to deep fry in a wok with a spider. This is still good for things that actually need to be deep fried (fattigmand, for instance), but it’s not necessary for small things. I fry very rarely so I’d rather use a small quantity of oil than try to clean and save deep frying oil and hope I remember to use it (and where I’ve put it) months or even a year later. Plus, I’m honestly not sure where the spider ended up after the move.
Start by draining the tofu. Put it in a deep, flat dish. You could use a small pan; I use a soup plate. Stack a plate or bowl on top, then put something heavy on that. Quite a lot of liquid will come out. If you just use a plate on the bottom instead of a bowl, you’re playing a dangerous game of chicken that could result in tofu water overflowing all over the place.
I have no idea what the minimum drain time is; possibly something like half an hour to an hour. But I prefer to minimize effort. I do a few things well in advance then run around like crazy at the last minute. That doesn’t mesh well with doing things an hour in advance. Draining tofu is something I can do while grabbing breakfast without much additional effort on my part, so that is my MO. If I happen by later in the day and pour off the liquid, that’s great. But it’s not the end of the world if I skip that part.
Once drained, I dice the tofu and commence frying. Only use enough oil to partially submerge the tofu. It should be deep enough that as it is stirred and flipped, all the sides will be submerged. In a gas stove you can use even less oil and just tilt the pot to make a small deep puddle. Our new house has one of these newfangled electric ranges where the pan needs to stay flat to be heated so that isn’t an option.
Add tofu to the oil a few at a time. I add the first few with my hands because nothing is splattering yet. Start right at the surface of the oil so they don’t splash hot oil as they drop in. After that, I add them where it looks like there’s space for more with chop sticks so I don’t have to put my hands so close to the splattering oil. Either stir continuously or swirl the pot so that the tofu keeps moving and can’t stick to the bottom. I prefer moving the pot, as tofu is fragile and it breaks less.
Then it is just a matter of fishing out finished chunks and adding in more. Some people might prefer going in batches, but I want the job done faster so I use a first in, first out approach. I pick out the ones that look golden and replace them with raw pieces and keep the pan moving the whole time. The finished pieces go on a rack or plate with plenty of paper towels so excess oil is sucked away. When the tofu is done, it can be added to a meal as the protein component.