We're Back, Baby
Plus, vegan fried rice and my current fav freezer-staple.
Long time no see? Kinda? Honestly, probably not. Given my propensity to overshare online, I’m sure we’ve been in dialogue in one way or another over the past three months. But regardless, it feels good to be back on the newsletter writing horse because I’ve got more than a few kitchen tips stored up my sleeve for you.
Before we dive in I want to mention that while I know the conversation about taking a break for mental health reasons is definitely trite, more than a bit personal, and absolutely overwrought, especially situated in a newsletter about cooking tips, I’m feeling 100x better than I was this winter. Big, big, big thanks to all of you who checked in on me—those check ins, taking a little hiatus, and doing a lot of therapy helped me immensely, and I truly appreciate being welcomed back into your inbox!
Another, (decidedly lighter and much more relevant) thing I want to mention is that Abigail and I have two cooking classes coming up! This Sunday, we’re hosting the final in our Winter/Spring Meal Prep series. Join us for this extra juicy class—as always, the meal prep will be fun and tasty, but we’ll also be announcing some exciting plans for the rest of 2022 and sharing a big token of appreciation with anyone in attendance! Sign up to be in the know and to get a little gift on us. Or, if you’re looking to hone your knife skills, we’re teaching a Knife Skills Basics class where we’ll dice our way to a delicious dinner. That’s Thursday, May 19th and we’d love to chop with ya.
Okay, finally, let’s get into the meat of this week’s letter. Well, really, meat is a major misnomer because today, I want to talk to you about tofu.
Specifically, let’s talk about the joy and deliciousness that is frozen tofu.
Have you frozen and thawed a block of tofu before? Perhaps you have, since it’s a practice from China that dates back hundreds of years. I, unfortunately, didn’t grow up eating much tofu, and so only became acquainted with the joy of freezing it a few years ago in culinary school.
We learned that the process of freezing and thawing tofu yields a truly unique, chewy (almost meat-like) texture that lends itself especially well to soaking up sauce and more importantly, crisping up absolutely perfectly in a pan. This is because of ~science~ which I can ever-so-briefly attempt to explain: when a block of tofu is frozen, the liquid inside crystalizes. Once thawed, those crystals melt, leaving small holes in their wake that make for an extremely pleasant spongey texture with the perfect amount of bite and chew. It also leaves the tofu much dryer, meaning it’s ready to get extra crispy.
Over here at Fresh Erica HQ, because I’ve been fixated on this very special ingredient, I’ve had a continuous rotation of tofu in and out of my freezer for the past few months. If you’re not already freezing your tofu, I want you to try so…
Here’s how to freeze tofu:
Remove your firm or extra firm block of tofu from its packaging and drain any excess water. Place it in a freezer-safe storage container with a lid or a ziplock freezer bag and freeze at least 4-6 hours, preferably overnight.
Thaw the tofu. I am impatient, so often do this in a bowl in the microwave in 1 minute increments until it’s fully thawed. You can also just transfer the tofu to the fridge for about a day or leave it out on the counter for a few hours.
As best you can and over the sink, press all the water out of the tofu with your hands. The joy of this method is that the water will come out rather quickly and easily because of the ~science~ described above. If you microwaved the tofu, let it cool before you do this step.
If you’re feeling extra, you can repeat this whole process for an even more meat-like texture, but I often keep it to just one freeze-to-thaw cycle.
At this point, I like to tear the tofu into bite-sized pieces because I think the thawed tofu crisps up even better with craggy edges, but if you want, cut it into whatever shape you’d prefer.
Here’s a spectacular recipe for vegan fried rice that incorporates this gem of an ingredient:
¼ cup neutral oil, divided
1 16oz block firm or extra firm tofu, frozen and thawed per instructions above, torn into bite-sized pieces
1 yellow or sweet onion, small diced
¼ cup soy sauce, divided, plus more to taste
2 cups leftover white rice
2 cups mixed frozen peas and carrots
1 Tbsp toasted sesame oil
In a large skillet, heat 2 Tbsp neutral oil over medium-high heat. Once the oil is shimmering on the pan, add the tofu. It should sizzle. Cook, stirring and scraping up the crispy bits every couple minutes, until the tofu is golden and crisped on the outside (5-10 minutes). Drizzle with 2 Tbsp soy sauce and stir to evenly distribute.
Add the onion to the pan and cook until it’s softened (3-5 minutes). If anything seems like it’s getting too dark, turn the heat down to medium, add 1-2 Tbsp water to the pan and stir to distribute the browned bits.
Add the remaining 2 Tbsp neutral oil, rice, frozen veggies, and remaining 2 Tbsp soy sauce. Stir to combine and cook until the rice is a bit crispy and the frozen veggies are thawed (3-5 minutes).
Cut the heat and stir in the toasted sesame oil. Serve topped with whatever garnishes of choice (I like chili crisp, kewpie mayo, and scallions) and enjoy.
Okay, have I convinced you? I hope so! Because for me, having a block of tofu hanging out in my freezer most of the time has really quashed a lot of “what’s for dinner” type angst around here and I think it would for you too.
Alright, I’ll leave you here, but as always, keep me posted about what’s going on in your kitchen. You can respond directly to this email, leave a comment, or shoot me a DM over on Instagram.
With love and a tip of my chef’s hat,