For Extra Crispy And Flavorful Tofu, Brine It First

If you're bored with your go-to plant-based meat alternatives, rest assured. Tofu is the unofficial tried-and-true vegetarian protein for a reason. In some dishes (like the artfully imagined tofu wings from Cleveland Vegan) preparing tofu can be a nuanced art. Don't hesitate –- it can sense your fear. In other dishes, however, making a killer tofu doesn't have to be scary. Maybe softer tofu is your thing. Even Anthony Bourdain — an outspoken self-professed critic of vegetarianism — lauded soft mapo tofu as his all-time favorite Sichuan dish, via CNN. Indeed, you can even use silken tofu as an egg replacement as part of a vegan diet. But, if you like your tofu crispy, we have one simple tip for achieving extra crisp, flavorful tofu: Brine it first.

It might seem counterintuitive, but brining tofu in a simple saline solution actually helps draw the moisture out. According to America's Test Kitchen, the hot water and salt of the brine are natural dehydrators. Hot water also affects the molecular structure of the tofu, explains the outlet, by "tighten[ing] the proteins at the surface of the tofu." These factors combine to create a crispier tofu during frying. Here's how to do it.

Grab a little salt water (or get creative)

According to the Instagram cooking account @omsom, all it takes to make a surefire tofu brine is one-fourth cup of salt and some hot water boiled on the stove. Just drop in your sliced tofu and brine for 15 minutes. America's Test Kitchen recommends allowing it to drain for another 15 minutes before frying. From there, pan-sear as usual, and your tofu is ready to crisp up like never before.

But, is salt water the only solution you can brine your tofu in? As Buddhist theologian, Sylvia Boorstein observed, "The mind is like tofu. It tastes like whatever you marinate it in." If that's the case, then we only want to brine our tofu in the good stuff. Food Network suggests pickle juice. (It also recommends freezing your tofu before brining it for added firmness, strengthening the structural integrity.) Chinese fermented tofu called "fu ru" or "jiang dou fu" is brined in fermented red rice yeast, per Food & Wine. There's also a version brined in sesame oil and chili flakes. Vegan cooking blog The Plant-Based Wok suggests brining your tofu in oolong tea leaves, and Chinese cooking blog The Woks of Life brines its tofu in a simple mixture of water and a few spices: garlic powder, onion powder, sugar, and salt. With all these varied flavors, there probably won't be any leftovers. (But, if there are, here are some ideas for putting them to good use.)