We have lost count of how many times we have heard the statement: “Yeah, I have tried tofu… I hated it.” In fact, maybe you have even said this yourself, I know I did at one point. Chances are this bad experience was only because no one truly knew how to cook tofu. In order to turn your experience around, we have compiled tons of tips and tricks to make this amazing protein into a tasty meal, and it’s truly not too difficult to do either.
Tofu can be absolutely delicious, versatile, and freezer safe (great for cutting down on your food waste in the kitchen). It can not only serve as a replacement for meat, but it can accent other dishes. In fact, you can now buy tofu in the shape of noodles too! With all the choices you have, it is definitely worth a try. As we already mentioned, the key to unlocking the deliciousness of this food lies in cooking it the correct way! Worry not, by the end of this article, you will be a master chef when it comes to this magical ingredient.
First, The Basics: What Is Tofu?
Now before we get into making tofu, it’s pretty important to understand exactly what you will be cooking and putting into your body. Tofu is made entirely from soybeans and is also known as bean curd. Soybean is the source of tofu’s protein power!
Contrary to what may be your first reaction, tofu is actually minimally processed. Really! Next time you pick some up, check out the ingredient list; you won’t find much. As a staple food in East Asian and Southeast Asian cultures, this food has been around for centuries. (1) Standing the test of time, it deserves a spot in your diet.
Remember, tofu is not only for vegans and vegetarians! Have fun and experiment with your diet more and celebrate different foods that can nourish you throughout the day. Maybe you will even add it into your rotation for meals! As we all know, switching up our protein sources is not only important for our health but for the sustainability of the planet as well.
Buying the Right Tofu For What You Are Cooking
This may be one of the most important things to learn from this article! You can’t just grab any old package of tofu and chuck it into your cart. Turns out there’s more than one type of tofu, and the choice you make is extremely important. Just to name a few, there is silken, soft, firm, extra firm, and each type serves a different purpose in various recipes. So without further ado, let’s get straight into them:
- Silken/Soft Tofu:
This form of tofu differs greatly from the others. It is actually very “squishy” in consistency and should only be drained before using.
- Medium Tofu:
This tofu is pressed into a block but it is still relatively soft and delicate in texture. It is great in recipes that cook over a very low simmer.
- Firm/ Extra-Firm Tofu:
This type of tofu is a dense and more hearty block. More often than not, I choose extra-firm over the firm, but really it’s your choice. There are countless ways you can jazz up firm tofu including marinading, baking, and even grilling it! (4)
How To Give Your Tofu Some Texture:
Now that you have got your correct type, let’s learn how to cook tofu so that it will actually taste good.
Pressing your tofu is another absolute must if you want it to turn out tasty and crispy. Essentially, you need to squeeze out all of the water that it was sitting in, so that you can make room for some delicious marinade to soak up.
The key is to press your tofu for at least 30 minutes, but longer time is even better. In fact, we recommend stretching out the process for at least an hour to two if you have the time. Just simply wrap it in a clean kitchen towel, place it between two plates, and stack some heavy items on top of the plate. You may have to change out your towel a couple of times throughout.
If you’re in a pinch, you can press your tofu ahead of time and place it in the fridge. It should stay fresh for a day or two (1).
Some recipes may not want you to press your tofu but rather simply drain it. This method should only be used when you want a softer texture, and should not be used when you are wanting to use tofu as a meat replacement.
Here’s a pretty cool trick to get firmer, more flavorful tofu: freeze it! After draining all the liquid out, cut it into small chunks or thin stripes depending on how you plan on using it, place them into an air-tight container, and then into the freezer they go (for even up to three months). When needed, simply thaw them in the fridge before cooking.
Turns out freezing tofu causes ice crystals to form and expands your tofu. This will make it more chewy, firm, and it will absorb more flavors! (2) In fact, this method will work better no matter how long you press your tofu. (3)
Adding Some Flavor Your Tofu:
Now just to be honest, no tofu tastes that great straight out of the package. You really need to season the block up if you are expecting it to blow your taste buds away. A simple sprinkle of some salt and pepper is not going to cut it for tofu unfortunately. Instead, you can get a little creative in the kitchen, which is always a bit more fun anyway!
One of the easiest ways to cook tofu with a zing is to marinate it in a sauce. However, the types of marinade out there are endless. You will want to use extra-firm tofu as the others will fall apart. All you need to do is soak your pressed tofu in a sauce of your choice for at least 15 minutes to overnight. The longer you let it soak, the more flavor it will absorb. Typically, tofu is also marinated before being tossed to stir fry, as it adds another level of flavor to the dish. (4)
Pro-tip: Add some cornstarch or arrowroot to your marinade to make your tofu bake or fry up really crispy. The choice between the two is entirely up to you. Cornstarch is more processed, but will give you crispier tofu. Arrowroot is less processed, but can make the tofu feel slippery if you add it to a sauce after.
- Coat The Tofu in Dry Ingredients
Another tip for how to cook tofu would be to coat it outside in seasonings. You can even preseason the block before marinating for a full punch of flavor.
If you are looking for crispy tofu, you can actually just coat the outside in a mixture of cornstarch and seasonings. This is a quick substitute for breading, which is also an option. (1)
Now Let’s Get Into Actually Cooking The Tofu
Baking your tofu produces some of the best results than any other cooking method. It is also a healthier alternative to frying! After some time in the oven, your tofu will transform and become golden and crispy on the outside while still pillowy soft on the inside. It will be ready to be used straight out of the oven as a topper for a bowl, or you can add it to your stir fry, or cover it in a sauce. You really can’t go wrong with baked tofu. So, I bet you’re dying to learn how.
Another great way to cook tofu is through sauteing it on the stove in a super hot skillet. In fact, heating your skillet is super important to avoid soggy tofu. You will want to throw the tofu in with some healthy oil (preferably avocado or sesame which have high smoke points) and brown each side for around 15 minutes total. Once the cubes are evenly cooked, throw in about ¼ cup of a sauce of your choice and stir frequently until the sauce has been absorbed and caramelized. You will be left with extremely flavorful and crispy tofu!
Scrambled tofu offers a great alternative to eggs for a filling breakfast. You can either take your pressed block of tofu and crumble it up with your hands prior to placing it in the pan, or you can break it up with a spatula while it’s cooking. Once your tofu is broken into tiny crumbles, you will want it to cook undisturbed in the pan with some oil for around 4 minutes, so that it can get a little crisp. Stir lightly and let it sit again. Repeat this process until your tofu is crispy and brown
You can spice up this breakfast how you normally would with an omelet. We recommend adding a sprinkle of turmeric not only for health benefits, but also for the great color and flavor it adds to the dish .
Now, don’t you feel less afraid of trying tofu? It truly is an amazing food that works great in many dishes. Make sure to share this article with anyone who could use some tofu tips.
If you’re interested in any other healthy and sustainable protein alternatives, then hop over to our food sustainability tab for some more information.