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The other day I prepared General Tso's Tofu. It tasted good, but the result was not quite what I wanted. Like with many other Chinese dishes, the tofu cubes in General Tso's Tofu are coated in a thin jelly-like layer consisting of cornstarch, liquid and seasoning. The coating is supposed to darken a bit, once it caramelizes in the hot pan. This adds a nice sweet-sour taste and appetizing gloss. (This is a nice example.)

The coating stuck well to the tofu cubes as long as they were raw. But once I had stirred the cubes in a hot pan, the coating came off the cubes and accumulated in lumps that eventually stuck to the spatula.

How can I prevent the coating from coming off the cubes while stir-frying? Is there a way to do this without deep-frying?

  • 1
    What kind of tofu are you using (medium-firm, firm, extra-firm) and what else are you doing to get as much moisture out of the tofu as you can (pressing it, etc)? – PoloHoleSet Oct 17 '16 at 19:58
  • firm, but I did no pressing, drying etc. good suggestion! – henning Oct 18 '16 at 10:22
  • Definitely pat it all dry on the outside with paper towels, too, just before you coat it.. – PoloHoleSet Oct 18 '16 at 13:24
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    Other recipes I've seen simply coat the tofu in the cornstarch without adding wet ingredients or trying to build a thick layer. I was planning to have tofu tonight anyway, and I've got the ingredients so I'll have a try. – Chris H May 30 '18 at 8:50
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The key in a stir-fry is that the ingedients can at all times move about freely. A spatula shouldn't really be needed, the way it is in sautéing, rather you use a spoon/ladle to just, well, stir the loose mixture. In fact even that isn't ideal: arguably, it should rather be called toss-fry, because vigorously moving the pan is the best way to keep everything apart, while minimising damage to items like coated tofu.

A proper wok is certainly the best utensil for doing this since its round shape keeps the tossed-up ingredients best from flying out of the pan. I don't actually have a wok, but I find non-stick aluminium pans to work well too, as they can be controlled easily and conduct heat quickly. (Purists will probably disagree here...)
At any rate I wouldn't care to do a stir-fry in a heavy traditional european cast-iron pan. Way too inert.

Apart from that, a couple of conditions are important to allow for easy enough movement:

  • Not too much finely chopped material or viscous liquid should be in the pan, as both hinders movement.
  • Nothing can be allowed to start sticking to the bottom.
  • There needs to be sufficient heat, and enough heat transfer, so you actually get the cooking done quickly.
  • Not too much water to absorb/vaporise away heat, at least at the beginning. Rather more than less oil helps though, but of course not as much as in deep-frying.

Again, all of this is clearly best accompished with a wok over an intense gas flame, but can also be done without.

  • "Toss-fry". I like the idea and it sounds plausible that my pan was too heavy and the contents to liquid. Will try with a wok next time (and probably accept your answer later). – henning Oct 18 '16 at 10:24
  • Maybe a tosspot would be better than a wok :) – rackandboneman Oct 18 '16 at 10:34
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Use extra firm tofu for frying or stews. Pat it well before marinated but do not pat after as tofu do not pick up flavor to well. After marinated pick up the tofu cubes with a fork or drain them leaving out the liquid. Toss them around in your flour, rice, corn or potato, until the seem dry. Now the important part, cook them immediately don't let them sit as they again gets moist on the surface, just take them out of the flour give them a shake to get rid of eccess flour.

Also have a good heat in your pan and a oil that can be heated well, absolutely not olive or cold pressed oil. Don't fry to many at a time never more than 1/3 of the pan size.

2

I finally figured it out!

  1. Heat the high-heat oil (grapeseed, etc) in the pan, on medium high
  2. Right before putting the tofu in the pan, give it one more quick toss in the cornstarch so the cornstarch is still white powder. (If the cornstarch starts to get absorbed by the marinated tofu (i.e. loses its whiteness), you waited too long to put it in the pan.)
  3. Quickly put the cornstarchy marinated tofu in the pan and then quickly move it around the pan so the oil covers each piece of tofu. The tofu should not stick and then it can be nicely browned.

Good luck!

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