seared tofu with asparagus

Photo: Kelly Rossiter

When people tell me that they don't like tofu, it usually ends up being a matter of texture. Silken tofu has a texture that becomes more like custard when it is heated, and people often find that weird. I have a fantastic recipe for a ginger garlic tofu that uses a softer version that I have used for some 25 years to introduce tofu to novices. Nowadays when I cook with tofu, I usually choose either firm or extra firm, depending on what I'm making. When it comes right down to it, there isn't a whole lot of flavor to the tofu itself, but it is a fantastic vehicle for whatever delicious sauce you have covered it with.
This recipe for seared tofu works best with extra-firm tofu, because part of the trick to getting it crispy is to get as much liquid as possible out of it by pressing it, which just doesn't work with silken tofu. In the past, I have complained to my son (who cooks tofu all the time) that I could never get it really crispy on the outside. He told me that I turn it too soon, that I should just leave it alone and let it do its thing. So reading through Melissa Clark's story in the New York Times, I was interested to see her write that she realized that her tofu was never crispy because she didn't have the patience to leave it long enough before turning it over.
I was determined to get this recipe crispy, but I still turned it a bit too soon for some of the pieces. Interestingly enough, I had a slice of tofu left over, which I stir fried with some vegetables for lunch the next day. I got side-tracked and forgot about my pan for a little bit, and when I returned to it the tofu was fantastically crispy and really delicious. The recipe is originally written for sugar snap peas, which haven't arrived at my market yet, so I used asparagus instead which was excellent. You could use green beans as well. I also used dried peppers from my garden rather than fresh jalapenos. I served it over rice as suggested, but it would be good with noodles as well.

Prep time: 10 minutes  

Total time: 20 minutes  

Yield: 2-3 servings

Hot and Sour Seared Tofu With Asparagus


  • 1 14-ounce package extra-firm tofu
  • 4 large garlic cloves, grated
  • 2 small jalapeño chiles, seeds and veins removed if desired, thinly sliced
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons grated ginger root
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice, more to taste
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons toasted (Asian) sesame oil, more for drizzling
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Asian fish sauce
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 2 tablespoons peanut oil, more if needed
  • 6 ounces asparagus, trimmed and thinly sliced
  • 3 scallions, thinly sliced
  • Sprinkle of sesame seeds, for serving
  • 2 cups cooked rice, for serving
  • 1 tablespoonchopped cilantro or basil, for serving
Cooking directions
  1. Drain tofu, wrap it with a clean dish towel or several layers of paper towels and place on a rimmed plate; top with another plate and a weight (a can works). Let drain further.
  2. Meanwhile, make the sauce: In a small bowl, combine garlic, chiles, soy sauce, ginger, lime juice, sesame oil, fish sauce and honey.
  3. Unwrap tofu and cut crosswise into 3/4-inch-thick slices. Pat slices dry.
  4. Heat a large skillet over high heat until very hot, about 5 minutes. Add peanut oil and let heat for 30 seconds, then carefully add tofu. Don’t touch tofu for 2 to 3 minutes, letting it sear until golden brown. Flip and sear for another 2 to 3 minutes. Move tofu to one side of pan (or stack pieces on top of one another to make room in pan), then add asparagus, scallions and, if needed, a few drops more peanut oil. Stir-fry vegetables until they start to soften, 1 to 2 minutes. Add sauce and stir well, cooking until asparagus is done to taste, another minute or 2. Spoon sauce all over tofu, unstacking it if necessary.
  5. Sprinkle sesame seeds over tofu and vegetables and serve over rice, sprinkled with cilantro or basil.

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