Due to its long history in Japan, tofu is considered a regular protein alongside meat and seafood here. It does not have the image of being an "alt protein" like it does in the West, so people use it interchangeably with meat. That's why Tofu Steak (豆腐ステーキ) is a common home-cooked meal that's enjoyed not just by vegans and vegetarians, but by the rest of the population as well.
The trick to preparing a delicious Tofu Steak is to think of tofu like a blank canvas on which you can paint textures, tastes, and flavors.
Why This Recipe Works?
- Using extra firm tofu and pressing it minimizes the water content in the tofu, which allows the soy protein to puff up and crisp. Once glazed with sauce, this gives the tofu a meaty texture.
- Frying garlic into crisp garlic chips infuses the oil with flavor, and the garlic oil can then be used to pan-fry the tofu and mushrooms.
- Ingredients in the Japanese steak sauce like sake, soy sauce, and ketchup, and the sauteed mushrooms are loaded with umami-producing amino acids. This imparts a lip-smacking savoriness to the bland tofu.
- Tofu - Tofu is basically soy protein and water. When tofu is fried, it puffs up, creating layers of firm soy protein with a meat-like texture. But as long as there's an abundance of water present, the soy protein will boil instead of fry. That's why it's essential to lower the water content of the tofu by as much as possible. Firm tofu is made by adding a coagulant to soy milk and then straining and pressing the curd. The longer the curd is pressed, the more water is removed, and the firmer the tofu gets. This is why I recommend starting with extra firm tofu and then pressing it some more so you're able to get the tofu to brown faster.
- Salt - Salting the tofu helps draw out excess water from it. It also lightly seasons it.
- Potato starch - Coating the Tofu Steak with potato starch helps the tofu form a brown crust on the outside. Then, when the sauce is added, the crust soaks it up, creating a gloriously glossy glaze that clings to the tofu like cold molasses.
- Garlic - The best way to integrate garlic into this dish (or any steak for that matter) is to fry thin slices to infuse the oil with garlic flavor. Then, by pan-frying the Tofu Steak in the garlic oil, you're able to add another layer of flavor to the tofu. The crispy garlic chips can then be used as topping for the finished steak to add texture and a garlicky wallop of flavor.
- Sake - Sake is a beverage made by fermenting rice. The fermentation process breaks down the protein in rice to its constituent amino acids, which create the taste of umami. The alcohol will be burned off as the sauce boils, so you don't need to worry about that.
- Ketchup - Ketchup is really just concentrated tomatoes, sugar, vinegar, and spices. Since these are all ingredients you'd add to a Japanese steak sauce anyway, it's much more convenient to use ketchup.
- Soy sauce - Like sake, soy sauce contains loads of amino acids for umami, but it's also the main seasoning in our sauce. Use a Japanese dark soy sauce such as Kikkoman. If you want to make this gluten-free you can use tamari.
- Brown sugar - Japanese steak sauce is savory, sweet, and sour, and the sugar combined with the ketchup brings the sweetness.
- Black pepper - I'm all about a generous coating of black pepper on my steaks, and Tofu Steak is no different. Use freshly cracked black pepper for the best flavor.
- Mushrooms - Mushrooms contribute a meaty flavor and texture to the Tofu Steak. I've used a combination of enoki and shiitake mushrooms, but any flavorful mushroom, like maitake, porcini, portobello, or even button mushrooms, will work.
- Scallions - I like to garnish my tofu steak with some chopped scallions for a pop of flavor and color, but herbs such as chives, parsley, or chervil will also work great.
How to Make Tofu Steak
The first thing you want to do is slice the block of tofu in half horizontally so that you end up with two steaks that are about the same thickness.
Transfer the sliced tofu onto a rack set over a tray and sprinkle both sides with the salt. Plate something flat on top like a tray, plate, or cutting board, and then weigh it down. You'll want to let this drain for about an hour. You can also use a tofu press.
While you wait for the tofu to drain, trim, clean, and slice the mushrooms. The Enoki can be pulled apart by hand after trimming off the growing medium on the bottom. The Shiitake should be wiped down with a damp paper towel and then have the stem trimmed off before slicing the cap up.
To get the garlic brown and crisp evenly, it must be sliced thinly and evenly. I recommend using a mandoline set to 1mm to do this.
After about an hour, your tofu should have released a bunch of liquid. Dry it off with paper towels, and then sprinkle both sides with freshly cracked black pepper. Then you want to dust the tofu steaks with a thin, even layer of potato starch.
To fry up the tofu steaks, you first want to infuse the oil by making garlic chips. Add the oil and sliced garlic to a skillet over low heat and spread the garlic out into a single layer. You want to do this slowly; otherwise, the garlic will burn and get bitter. Just keep flipping the garlic over until it starts to tan around the edges, and you no longer see bubbles coming up from each slice. Some pieces of garlic will get to this state faster than others, so remove the garlic chips as they're ready.
Once all the garlic is out of the pan, increase the heat to medium and add the tofu steaks. Let these fry undisturbed for about three to four minutes, or until they're golden brown on one side. Flip the steaks over and brown the other side (another 3-4 minutes). Transfer the steaks to a plate and set it aside.
Add the Enoki and Shiitake to the pan and stir-fry them until they've released all of their moisture and have started to brown. This should take about three to four minutes. When the mushrooms are done, remove them from the pan.
To make the Japanese steak sauce, add the sake, ketchup, soy sauce, and brown sugar to the pan, and increase the heat to bring the sauce to a boil. Continue boiling the sauce until the bubbles get big and shiny.
Add the tofu steaks to the steak sauce and flip them over a few times to glaze both sides with a thick layer of the sauce. Add the mushrooms back in at this point and stir them in with the remaining sauce.
Serve the tofu steaks topped with the mushroom sauce, crisp garlic chips, and some chopped scallions for garnish.
Serve it With
Other Tofu Recipes
Tofu Steak (豆腐ステーキ) is a Japanese dish made by pan-frying tofu until a browned crust forms on the outside, and then glazing it with a Japanese-style steak sauce. The browning transforms the soy protein, giving it a meaty texture, and the sauce soaks into the crust to infuse it with flavor. Tofu Steak is usually served with a stir-fry of mushrooms or other umami-rich ingredients on top, which adds another layer of flavor to the dish.
All of the ingredients in this Tofu Steak recipe are plant-based, so this dish is vegan and vegetarian friendly.
Tofu is soy protein and is fundamentally different from beef. So if you are expecting it to taste just like a regular steak, you will be disappointed. That being said, when prepared well, it can have a fun texture and be loaded with flavor. In fact, I would prefer this Tofu Steak over a mediocre beef steak any day.
You could, but it will take longer to do and won't change the nutritional value of this dish (it may even turn out more greasy), so I would not recommend it.
For tofu steak
- 350 grams extra firm tofu
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- Black pepper
- 1 tablespoon potato starch
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 15 grams garlic (2 large cloves)
- 100 grams Enoki mushrooms
- 60 grams Shiitake mushrooms
- Scallions (chopped for garnish)
For Japanese steak sauce
- 2 tablespoons sake
- 2 tablespoons ketchup
- 1 ½ tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
- Drain the tofu and then use a sharp knife to slice the tofu in half horizontally into two steaks roughly the same thickness.
- Place the tofu steaks on a wire rack set on a tray and sprinkle with the salt. Place another tray or flat plate on top of the tofu, and then balance a heavy weight on top. Let the tofu drain for at least an hour.
- Trim the growing medium off of the Enoki. Clean the Shiitake with a damp paper towel, trim the stems off, and slice up the caps.
- Peel and slice the garlic about 1mm thick. I recommend using a mandoline so the slices are an even thickness; otherwise, they will not crisp evenly.
- When the tofu is done draining, transfer it to a dry work surface and season both sides with a generous amount of black pepper. Dust all sides of the tofu steaks with an even layer of potato starch.
- Heat a frying pan over low heat and then add the oil and sliced garlic. Spread the slices out into a single layer and continue frying, flipping them over in sequence until they've started to tan around the edges and there are no longer bubbling.
- Transfer the garlic chips to a paper towel-lined plate as they turn golden. Be careful not to let the garlic get too dark, or it will become bitter.
- Add the tofu steaks to the pan and turn up the heat to medium. Let the tofu fry undisturbed until it's golden brown on one side (3-4 minutes). Next, flip the tofu over and brown the second side (another 3-4 minutes).
- Once the tofu is browned, transfer to a plate and add the mushrooms. Saute the mushrooms until they're starting to brown (~3-4 minutes), and then transfer them out of the pan.
- Add the sake, ketchup, soy sauce, and brown sugar to the pan and turn up the heat to bring the mixture to a boil. Let the sauce reduce until the bubbles get large and glossy (about a minute).
- Return the tofu steaks to the pan and flip them repeatedly to glaze with the sauce.
- Return the mushrooms to the pan and coat them with the remaining sauce.
- Plate your tofu steaks and top with the sauteed mushrooms, crispy garlic chips, and chopped scallions to serve.