Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Soy-Glazed Tofu

This recipe is still in heavy rotation, although now (2014), Ben is more likely to make it than I am. Because life is good.

Doesn’t “soy-glazed” sound so lovely? It was either that or “pan-roasted tofu” or “butter-browned tofu”—the idea being, of course, to make it sound like it’s halibut at a fancy restaurant, not like it’s a one-pound block of quivering beany blandness. Ah, tofu. We eat a lot of it. It’s inexpensive, it’s incredibly good for you, our kids love it, and you can treat it like a blank canvas. Plus, it fills us with nostalgia for the early days of our great romance. Yes, welcome to another episode of Dalai Mama Dishes up memories of falling in love with her husband in a vegetarian co-op...

Speaking of which, if you’ve ever lived in a vegetarian coop, then you know how easy it is to make tofu taste exactly like, er, tofu. Michael and I have eaten great panfuls of tofu parmesan, for example, that tasted like sauce and cheese that had been dumped on slices of a wet sponge, and I don’t recommend it (we used to call it, not unaffectionately, toe-food). The trick is to use tofu’s mild sponginess to your own advantage, preferably by impelling it to soak up a lot of salt and butter. Hence the following, which is our current go-to recipe, and we eat it at least once a week. Allowed to brown in a pan with soy sauce and lemon juice, the tofu gets crispy-edged and tangily addictive. Just be sure to buy extra-firm tofu, since any other style will fall all to pieces in the pan—especially “silken tofu” which has the texture of jellied library paste. In my supermarket, tofu is in the produce aisle, I’m not sure why. But then again, this is the same supermarket that packages Halvah—which is a kind of gritty candy made from ground sesame seeds—and labels it “cheese alternative,” so what do they know? (Maybe I’ll start thinking of maple fudge as a “cheese alternative” when I’m preparing lunch for myself.)

Back to tofu: If you’ve got babies or toddlers in the house, then thank your lucky stars you’re not a withered old Mama like me with only ginormous galumphers clomping through the house on their way to college. Wait, no. I was going to make a relevant point. Oh right: babies and toddlers might like to eat cubes of raw tofu, which they mistakenly take to be delicious, probably because it feels like getting away with something, such as eating salt-free Play-Doh.
Soy-Glazed Tofu
Leftovers make terrific lunchbox fare. These days, now that Ben eats like a vacuum cleaner, I double the recipe to guarantee there will be some extra; I simply wipe the pan out with a paper towel between batches.

2 tablespoons butter
14 ounces extra-firm tofu, cut into 12 skinny slices
Juice of half a large lemon (around 2 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons soy sauce

In a very large non-stick skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. When it is foamy and very hot, lay in the tofu pieces to form a crowded single layer; if the first piece of tofu sizzles only noncommittally or not at all, give the butter another minute to heat up. Now brown the tofu undisturbed for around 5 minutes; when the underside is a deep golden, flip all the pieces and allow the other side to brown for another 3-5 minutes.

Now pour in the lemon juice and soy sauce, and shake the pan to coat the bottom of every piece with the mixture, then flip all the pieces and cook, shaking the pan, until the liquid is all cooked off and the underside of the tofu looks glazed and brown. Serve hot or at room temperature with brown rice and a salad. Leftovers are great cold as is, or sliced into skinny strips and sprinkled over a big green salad.


  1. Yum, this sounds thoroughly delicious, and very much like something my little family of tofu-munchers will enjoy. A few questions...do you press/drain the tofu first? And do you combine the lemon juice and soy sauce before pouring them on? I guess I don't really need to ask, I can just do what I think, but since you made this sound so delicious, and I love your chatty style, I guess I just want to keep you talking/writing!

  2. Shiloh1:51 AM

    We love your Maple Lemon Tofu and I wanted to make this tofu for dinner tonight. Butter, lemon, and soy sauce are such an awesome combination! Oddly, the store was completely out of tofu... so I used cod. The fish completely fell apart in the skillet, but it sure tasted good. Definitely want to try the recipe with tofu as it's intended!

  3. Allyson3:40 AM

    My on-again-off-again vegetarian daughter loves this, but only as leftovers. When I served it to her the night I made it, she ate about half of her serving and shrugged. When I gave her some sliced the next day in her school lunch, she raved about it. So thanks, Catherine, for giving me a recipe I can keep stashed in the fridge for the nights when the rest of us are eating your roast chicken or Saturated Pork Chops.