Tofu’s proponents have tried to get us to see all the ways to improve its texture — freezing or pressing or boiling to rid it of spare water, broiling or roasting to crisp it up. These are all effective at making tofu friendlier to cook with, but nothing is as guaranteed to seduce a skeptic as dredging tofu in cornstarch and pan-frying it to a shiny crisp, while the inner bits go soft and custardy.
The just-fried nubs are almost too crunchy to eat, which is why it’s a good idea to add them to a pan of shallots, chiles, ginger, and garlic that have stewed in butter and soy and heaps of black pepper. In the sauce, the fried cubes will relax just enough, but main- tain all the integrity you’ve fried into them.
This — with some brown rice — is as impressive a vegetarian dinner party main dish as you can get. And cheap, too — despite the 11 tablespoons of butter and 5 tablespoons of black pepper. The tofu called for, even organic, costs less than $6 and feeds at least four, generously.