This article will help you understand the 3 easy steps to making perfect tofu every time. It will explain what tofu is, the different types of tofu, and when to use each. When switching to a plant based diet you will probably be tempted to try some tofu recipes and if you don’t know what you are doing, tofu can end up like a flavorless squishy mess.
What is Tofu?
Tofu is bean curd made from soybeans. However, being the food nerd that I am, I really wanted to understand what that meant and so I decided to make some myself. The process is pretty straightforward, though too time-consuming to make from scratch all of the time. Basically, you buy some dried soybeans, soak them in water overnight, and blend them together with water. Then you simmer that mixture, strain the pulp out, and add a coagulator (I used lemon juice). The curds rise to the top. You can then skim them out and press them together into a block. One thing that is totally different with homemade tofu is the flavor. Store bought tofu, in my opinion, has very little flavor. However, when you make it yourself it is quite tasty even without marinating it!
Types of Tofu
Another thing that trips people up when they are trying to start cooking with tofu is not understanding the different kinds and what each kind is best for.
We will start with silken tofu. Unless a recipe specifically says to use silken tofu, don’t use it. Silken tofu has a completely different texture from other types. Silken is almost the texture of jello. As a vegan, it has many uses. It is great in smoothies, cream sauces, or as a yogurt replacement in some recipes. Silken tofu can be added directly into recipes without worrying about the steps below.
Next, we have firm tofu, which is probably the variety I use the least. Firm tofu is good if you plan to crumble it like in a tofu scramble or tofu ricotta. The texture is not dense enough to make it a very good meat replacement. It could work in recipes calling for extra firm tofu if it is your only option, but you may be disappointed with the texture of the dish.
Extra firm tofu is, in my experience, the most useful variety of tofu. When pressed (more on that later) it becomes a good replacement for chicken cubes or cutlets of fish or even steak. This “meaty” dense texture is why people love tofu.
Perfect Tofu in 3 Easy Steps
Step 1: Press it
Most tofu you will find at the store is packed in water to preserve it. The unfortunate part is the tofu absorbs that water like a sponge. This is why so many people end up with a squishy mess instead of the satisfying dense texture they expected. Pressing tofu will squeeze out the excess water and make it able to absorb flavor in the next step. You will be surprised how much water comes out of a block of tofu that you thought was dry. To press your tofu place it on a small plate with a rim or in a bowl. You can add a layer of paper towel under it to help absorb water, but it is not necessary. Then simply place a flat heavy object on top of it. I like to place my tofu on a small plate, then I put another upside down plate on top of it so I don’t ruin the books I stack on top. I have also used my cast iron skillet to press tofu. Cartons of juice or nut milk also work well for overnight pressing in the fridge. You want to press your tofu for a minimum of 20 minutes. For best results try to press it overnight. The longer you press it the firmer your tofu will be. It’s not a good idea to press it for more than 24 hours or it will be at risk of drying out or going bad.
Step 2: Marinate it
Store bought tofu just doesn’t have much flavor. That is a positive quality, though. Its neutral flavor makes it extremely versatile. You can truly make tofu into anything you want it to be.
You don’t need a recipe to make a marinade. You can make a simple marinade from soy sauce and a little agave nectar. You can also add ginger, garlic, rice vinegar, and chili sauce for Asian dishes. Marinades need to be liquid, but don’t let this stop you from adding your favorite dried herbs and spices. If you wish to use a dry ingredient as a marinade, you can just add a little bit of water to your mix so it can absorb into the tofu.
I find my tofu turns out the best if I marinate if for at least 30 minutes, preferably longer. You will want to have your tofu cut into the desired shape before you start marinating it. Remember the more surface area you have, the more flavorful it will be. I often cut mine into cubes or thin slices. You don’t need to make enough marinade to completely cover the tofu, just stir or flip often while marinating to make sure it is evenly absorbed. If you want a more hands off approach you can put the tofu and the marinade in a small zipper bag together and squeeze out all of the extra air. This way you can have it totally immersed in the liquid.
Step 3: Cook it
I love tofu when it has a crispy outer crust on it. The easiest way to achieve that is by coating the outside of the marinated tofu in flour and pan frying it. For those of us who cook without oil, it can be a bit more challenging. I have found that you can get crispy tofu without oil by mixing some almond meal or flax meal in with the flour. Almond and flax meal have a higher natural fat content so they can get crispy when sautéd without oil, just be sure to use a very low temperature because they are also more likely to burn.
Baking your tofu in an oven can also result in a crunchy outside, just be aware that it might give you a somewhat dry result. This method of cooking works best if you are planning to add it into a sauce.
Grilling tofu can also be a great way to cook it. I love getting beautiful grill marks on my tofu slices. The slight char taste also provides another level of flavor complexity. The look of grilled tofu can also make it more appealing.
Here are a few of my favorite tofu recipes:
- Spaghetti Squash Bake
- Vegan Shish Kabobs – Lebanese Shish Taouk
- General Tso’s Tofu Stir Fry
- Vegetarian Lettuce Wraps
- Simple Tofu Scramble
Now you are ready to make some delicious tofu! If you enjoyed this article let me know in the comments below. Subscribe to receive future posts directly to your inbox.