Every once in a while comes a glorious day when my husband offers to make dinner, and when he does it’s almost always his world famous stir-fry. I hate to admit it (like really hate to), but he makes a way better stir-fry than I have been able to make. Despite being an avid carnivore, he also makes the BEST tofu for me to go along with it, which is also way better than any tofu I’ve been able to make.
I think maybe he began crafting his skill back in college, where he would carefully pick ingredients from the salad bar in the dining hall, traffic them to our dorm, and lovingly steam them in our electric hot pot on the floor before adding a package of ramen and an instant seasoning packet. It was a far better dinner than anything our college fed us. We ate that at least three times a week for years. He was the ramen king. That’s why I married him. Or something like that.
I asked him to share his tofu secrets with us and he agreed! Warning: my husband is extremely detail oriented and so his recipe could more appropriately be called a NOVEL. He’s nothing if not thorough. There’s a concise version in the recipe box. Take it away, honey!
Step 1: The Marinade
First I marinate the meat. I usually use chicken, either white meat or dark meat (whatever we have), but I’m sure beef and pork would also be delicious.
Trader Joe’s soyaki sauce*
Garlic cloves, minced or pressed
Thai chile peppers, dried or fresh
*TJ’s soyaki sauce is my absolute favorite sauce to stir fry with, both for taste and consistency, but any teriyaki sauce will work. I would describe TJ’s soyaki as a combination of teriyaki and soy sauce, with probably 70% teriyaki and 30% soy. It’s not too thick like a teriyaki glaze but it’s also not too thin like soy sauce.
I cut the chicken into strips or cubes, however you like. Put the chicken pieces into a bowl or container that you can cover and put in the fridge. Pour a splash of soyaki sauce over the chicken, just enough to coat all the pieces. Then squirt on some sriracha sauce (or a lot in my case). For extra spice, either crumble dried chile peppers onto the chicken or slice some fresh Thai chile peppers and drop those in. Mince or press a few cloves of garlic and add. Toss in a pinch of black pepper. Add a teaspoon of chile oil for more subtle heat or sesame oil if you’re into that. Stir all of this up real good and then put in the fridge for a few hours.
When you’re ready to cook, preheat a wok or cast iron skillet on medium heat and dump the chicken in. If you put oil in the marinade, you’ll probably need only a little bit in the pan to make sure the chicken doesn’t stick. If you omitted the oil from the marinade, preheat a couple teaspoons of oil in the pot – vegetable, canola, peanut, mild olive oil. Really anything except extra virgin olive oil, which can be overpowering.
Cook the chicken until done, which will take around 5 minutes depending on how hot the pan is (I usually cut a larger piece in half to check doneness). Dump chicken into a bowl and set aside for later.
Step 1, Option 2: Tofu Marinade
For those of you who would prefer to have tofu in your stir-fry, here is my method for making delicious tofu.
First, you need to press the tofu to release some of the water it is holding. I used to skip the pressing, but then would have a hard time getting the tofu to sear nicely (I think the excess water would release while it was cooking and kind of boil the tofu). I don’t use a press or a plate or anything. I usually just cut a little slab of tofu off of the block it comes in, maybe half an inch thick. Then, I wrap it in a couple of paper towels, put it on a cutting board and press it gently with my hand onto the cutting board for a few seconds. You don’t want to press it so hard that you smash it or it crumbles around the edges.
Next, I cut the slab into half-inch cubes (or rectangles or triangles, it really doesn’t matter).
Last, I put them into a bowl or container with the marinade, just like I do with meat. The only difference is, I usually stir the marinade together before I add the tofu because tofu is so delicate. Gently use a spoon to roll the tofu cubes around in the sauce to make sure that every cube is covered.
Important note: tofu absorbs the marinade much faster than meat, so it only needs to marinate for maybe half an hour to one hour. If you let it sit too long, it can absorb too much of the marinade and become very salty.
Like I do with the chicken, but for different reasons, I cook the tofu in advance of everything else. Those of you who have cooked with tofu, especially the normal or silk kinds, know that it is very delicate and can’t really hold up to true stir-frying. For that reason, I sear it first, remove it while I stir fry the vegetables and noodles, and then re-introduce it in the last couple of minutes to reheat it.
Pre-heat some oil on medium-high heat in a cast-iron pan or wok. (I personally have been unsuccessful at searing anything in a nonstick skillet.)
When the oil is hot, add the tofu one piece at a time with a fork. If you just dump the bowl of tofu into the pan, all of the extra marinade sauce will go in with it and burn off. I usually save this sauce for later and add to the pan after I cook the noodles/rice (for example, when I say below to add a splash of soyaki sauce). It’s less wasteful that way.
To get a proper sear on each cube, you want to make sure the cubes are all spread out and touching the pan on the bottom. They should sizzle when you put them in the pan.
And yes, I know cubes have 6 sides, but I only sear two sides. That’s good enough.
Another special hint: even after being cooked, tofu is delicate. So, when I toss it back into the pan at the end, I don’t just stir it in like I do with meat. I usually push everything away from one side of the pan and clear a few inches of space for the tofu. I re-heat it by cooking it for a minute, flipping them over with a spatula (not as carefully as before since you’re just reheating), and cooking them for another minute.
When serving with tofu, I typically remove the rest of the stir fry with a spoon or tongs, place in a bowl, and then set the tofu on top, rather than mixing it in (again, so that it doesn’t crumble).
Step 2: Vegetable Phase
At this point, you will want to either deglaze or rinse the pan to get rid of any stuck on marinade. Then preheat some oil on medium-high heat. (If you don’t deglaze, you may have the unpleasant experience of burnt sauce fleks in your veggies and/or your veggies will stick to the pan when you try to cook them.) Meanwhile, chop up some vegetables. I usually use broccoli, onions, and mushrooms, but green onions, bell peppers, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, and bak choy are welcome additions when we have them.
When the oil is hot, add vegetables. Stir constantly to avoid burning on one side. When the vegetables are cooked about half way to how you like them, add a couple more teaspoons of oil and cooked rice or noodles. I like to add minced or pressed garlic at this point. This is also a good time to add more thai chile peppers (if desired)!
Continue to stir fry for about two minutes. Then pour in some soyaki sauce and toss rice/noodles and vegetables to coat. Dump in the cooked chicken/tofu you set aside earlier.
Continue to stir fry for about three minutes, until contents are piping hot (sometimes I cook longer to caramelize the soyaki sauce on the noodles, which is how I like them).
Finally, pour the contents of the pan into a bowl and enjoy!
- ¼ c. Trader Joe's Soyaki (or teriyaki sauce of your choice)
- ⅔ c. cubed chicken breast or cubed firm tofu
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 c. chopped raw vegetables (broccoli, mushrooms, and bell peppers work well)
- 2 c. cooked rice or rice noodles
- canola oil
- Marinate chicken or tofu in 2 of the garlic cloves and just enough of the teriyaki sauce to coat the cubes. If you like spicy food, you can add sriracha sauce, chili oil, and/or thai chili peppers to the marinade for extra heat.
- Refrigerate up to 30 minutes for tofu, or up to overnight for chicken.
- When you're ready to cook, heat a large skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Add enough canola oil to coat the bottom of the pan.
- For tofu, sear in the hot pan until the sides turn golden brown. For chicken, cook in the hot pan until the chicken is done. Set aside.
- Deglaze skillet and wipe clean (optional).
- Heat just enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan again over the same heat. Add in the vegetables and sautee until they are cooked through. Add in the last clove of garlic, the tofu/chicken, the rest of the teriyaki sauce, and the noodles/rice. Stir fry until everything is coated and heated through.
- Serve and enjoy!
Thanks for sharing your secrets, man! Seriously guys, this dinner is to DIE FOR! Just looking at these pictures is making me starving!!!
And as a little bonus surprise, we filmed this tag video so you all could get to know us a little better! Jason used to be more involved with the blog (anyone remember his hot sauce post?) and I think he’s making a comeback.
I really rushed through the explanation in the actual video, so here it is: we answered a series of questions to test how well we really know each other. Once I say the question, we’re supposed to simultaneously yell out what we think is the correct answer. The first question was “If your spouse could be married to a movie star, who would it be?”. Kind of a tricky game but by the end we got the hang of it. Sort of. Either way, I hope it gives you a chuckle! Jason declares his hatred for nutritional yeast. Our puppy comes in to say hello. It’s a good time.
See you soon!