Tofu, tofu — I just don’t know howI feel about you. That’s not merely a really cool rhyme but a real struggle. Tofu can be so controversial; some people hate it, others are conflicted, but it’s absolutely loved by so many vegetarians and old hippie types, it’s almost mainstream. In a lot of restaurants, it’s the go-to vegetarian menu item. Because it has a texture that’s almost chewy, almost dense, almost appealing, it can be an easy meat substitution in non-vegetarian restaurants. And, to be honest, it really can be a fun ingredient to work with.

For the past few weeks I’ve been asking you, my loyal readers, for recipes or questions that you’d like me to Chef Up. So for this week’s issue, I chose a recipe sent to me from local health food store, Native Sun. This recipe, as you can guess, contains tofu. Tofu, aka bean curd (specifically, soybean), is frequently used in many Asian cuisines mainly because of its high protein content, and because it can absorb and carry other flavors.

Let’s talk about the proper way to handle the stuff. Tofu, which has little or no flavor of its own, benefits greatly from a quick marinating. Begin with large uniform pieces of tofu; don’t crumble it because uniform pieces are much easier to sear. Tofu is porous like a sponge, so first lightly press the tofu to expel excess water, then use a flavor combination in the marinade that complements the other components of your dish. When envisioning vegetarian dishes, chefs will ask themselves: How do I balance a multitude of complex flavors and textures? That’s right, flavors and textures.

These two ideas jazz up vegetarian cooking. A big plate of mushy vegetables may have health benefits, but it’s boring to eat. So add texture — remember you have teeth for only part of your life, so take advantage of them while you can!

To add texture to tofu, sear it just like you would treat a piece of beef. First wipe off the marinade and dry the tofu slightly, then sear in oil. You’ve added some depth and flavor to your tofu, along with a little extra texture, which will help the tofu stand up to further handling.

These little tips will definitely improve your tofu, but at the end of the day, something a little less processed might be a better option. Either way, here’s a quick recipe to marinate and sear your tofu and it’ll be ready to add to the next stir-fry you cook.

Chef Bill’s Marinated Tofu


  • 1 block of tofu
  • 2 oz. tamari sauce
  • 1 tbsp. rice vinegar
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 2 tbsp. mirin
  • 1 tsp. garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. ginger, minced
  • 1 tbsp. sambol or Vietnamese chili garlic sauce
  • 1 tbsp. sesame oil


  1. Lightly press the tofu with a sauté pan for about 30 minutes. Dry.
  2. Cut tofu into 1-inch-by-1-inch cubes.
  3. Mix all the other ingredients and marinate the tofu pieces for 1 hour.


Until we cook again,


Contact Chef Bill Thompson, owner of Amelia Island Culinary Academy in Historic Fernandina Beach, with your recipes or questions at [email protected], for inspiration to get you Cheffed Up!