Attention, tofu lovers (and those curious to try it): Imagine a world in which tofu isn’t limp and anemic. Instead, it has a crispy golden brown exterior and melt-in-your-mouth pillowy interior. But how, you ask? The trick to cooking it is twofold:
Get rid of moisture. Some recipes might tell you to “press” it before cooking. They aren’t lying. Cut the tofu into slices, cover it in several layers of paper towels, and weigh it down with something heavy (like your cast iron skillet) for about 15 minutes. Then—and this is possibly one of our biggest secrets—toss it in a thin layer of cornstarch just before cooking. It absorbs every last bit of surface moisture.
Why is this important? To get all sciency on you, food turns brown and crispy because of something called the Maillard reaction—which happens when the surface temperature of food surpasses 300°F. The dryer your tofu is, the more reactions will occur.
Cook on high heat, in a screaming hot skillet (or 400°F oven). It’ll speed up that Maillard reaction so the tofu browns quickly on all sides but doesn’t overcook in the middle and become tough. Basically, cook it like you would steak. Quick, high heat makes for the tofu equivalent of medium rare filet mignon with a thick, crackly crust.
And there you have it: mind-blowing, dinner-party-worthy tofu. If anyone asks? It’s just science.