Crispy fried tofu.
Tofu: Either you love it, or you haven’t had it prepared well. The jiggly soybean product has been around for eons—William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi’s History of Tofu digs up a mention of tofu in a Chinese text dating to AD 950. Buddhist monks spread the good word about tofu across Japan and Korea, and a few centuries later, the protein made its way to the US. (Fun fact: Benjamin Franklin is the earliest known American to write about tofu, in a letter mailed—with soybean samples—from London to Philadelphia in 1770.) Packaged tofu cakes hit American grocery stores in the late 1950s, packed in water-filled, heat-sealed plastic bags. But tofu wasn’t exactly an instant hit.
During its introduction to the US, tofu was mildly misunderstood by some and downright reviled by others. Its reputation for being bland and boring led most American families to shy away from the wobbly blocks. As recently as 1986, tofu was declared America’s most loathed food. But the misunderstanding between Americans and tofu has eroded in recent years. In fact, tofu—high in protein, low in cost, and easy to work with—has come to endear itself to our country. Today, it’s widely accepted, and commonplace at many restaurants and groceries, where shoppers have a vast array of tofus to choose from.
But what is tofu, anyway? It’s soybean milk—not from fuzzy green edamame pods, but from mature white soybeans—boiled, curdled, and pressed, similar to dairy cheese. The soybeans are soaked and ground into a slurry, which is warmed with water, then strained to become soy milk. This milk is combined with a coagulant—traditionally nigari, the dried liquid (mostly magnesium chloride) that remains after common table salt has been removed from seawater. Other coagulants, such as magnesium chloride, calcium sulfate, or magnesium sulfate, can be used as well. The soy milk and coagulant are simmered until the curds and whey separate, then placed into cloth-lined molds and pressed until the whey drains out. The length of pressing time is relative to the quantity of curds and the desired firmness; it averages around 15 to 20 minutes. The longer it’s pressed, the more whey is released, and the firmer the finished product will become.
- Prep Methods
- Block Tofu
- Silken Tofu
- Soft Silken Tofu
- Advanced Studies
- 1. Not Using the Right Tofu for the Recipe
- 2. Not Pressing the Water Out of the Tofu
- 3. Not Cutting the Tofu Correctly
- 4. Not Seasoning the Tofu
- 5. Not Cooking the Tofu Properly
- Everything you need to know about tofu
- Watch how to cook tofu:
- How To Bake Tofu
- How To saute Tofu
- How To Fry Tofu
- How To Scramble Tofu
- Do You Have To Cook Tofu?
- How Do You Press Tofu?
- How Do You Cut Tofu?
- What Kind of Tofu Should I Use?
- 1. You bought the wrong kind
- 2. You didn’t remove the liquid
- 3. You cut it too large
- 4. You used oil in your marinade
- 5. You breaded it
- 6. You didn’t cook it long enough
- 7. You used the wrong pan
- 8. You didn’t store it well
- Asparagus Tofu Stir-Fry
- Better than Egg Salad
- Butternut Harvest Pies
- Vegetable Pad Thai
- Makeover Meatless Lasagna
- Crispy Tofu with Black Pepper Sauce
- Southwest Vegetarian Lentil Soup
- Tofu Chow Mein
- Veggie Thai Curry Soup
- Cauliflower & Tofu Curry
- Asian Tofu Noodle Soup
- Saucy Vegetable Tofu
- Creamy Berry Smoothies
- Hot and Sour Soup
- Tofu Chocolate Pie
- Moist Banana Nut Bread
- First, you need to “press” tofu. Here’s how:
- What You’ll Need to Cook Tofu
- It tastes best when marinated, just not with oil.
- Use cornstarch to make tofu crispy.
- You can also broil and grill it.
- Here’s what you can make with tofu:
- Our Favorite Tofu Recipes
- Not All Tofu Is Created Equal
- Draining Is Good—Pressing Is Better
- Create and Use the Perfect Marinade
- Why Vegetarians Eat Tofu
- Storing Tofu
- Popular Ways to Cook Tofu
- Tofu Transforms Your Old Recipes
- Crispy Tofu
- The variety
- The treatment
- The perfect crispy fried tofu
Cutting and draining block tofu.
Before we get into all of the different kinds of tofu, let’s take a minute to review some of the steps you should take to get your tofu ready for action. Because tofu has a high water content, it’s wise to remove excess liquid to avoid diluting flavors or causing explosive frying incidents.
- For Eating Raw: Pretty straightforward. Soft and silken tofu are ready to go right out of the package (though, technically, any tofu can be eaten raw). Drain off the excess water, and eat up!
- Draining/Blotting: For block tofu, I like to slit the package and drain out the packing water. At a minimum, all tofus (except the silkens—more on them in a minute) should be drained by placing them on an absorbent surface, such as layered paper towels or a dish towel. Often five to 10 minutes will suffice; use this time to assemble your other ingredients.
Top: planks of tofu soaking in salt water. Bottom: firm and extra-firm blocks being pressed under tomato cans.
- Pressing: This is the most common prep step in most tofu recipes. A block of medium to extra-firm tofu is sandwiched between dish towels (waffle-weave towels work best!) or paper towels. Place a flat surface on top, such as a dish or baking sheet, and weigh it down with a heavy item (28-ounce tomato cans are extremely well suited for this job).
- Salt-Soaking and Draining: If pressing seems too complicated, you can bypass that step with a 15-minute soak in salt water. I was introduced to this technique through Andrea Nguyen’s book Asian Tofu. She promotes it as a way to pre-season the tofu and create a crispier crust and texture. The soaking is followed by draining the tofu on a dish or paper towel.
- Freezing: You can just freeze a whole block of tofu, but it’s convenient to cut it into the sizes you want beforehand. Almost all the moisture will be pulled out, compacting the curds and extracting the whey, leaving behind a spongy product that greedily absorbs sauces. Frozen tofu can be defrosted in the fridge or microwave, or tossed into boiling water—boiling may sound counterproductive, but after freezing, the curds are so compact and the water pockets so enlarged that liquid drains freely from the tofu with a gentle squeeze. I find it’s best to drain and/or press the tofu first, or else you’ll end up with a huge icy block.
- Marinating: One the biggest myths about tofu is that it soaks up the ingredients around it. This is only true with hyper-porous frozen tofu. Unless you have six hours to sous-vide the tofu and completely transfuse the internal moisture content, don’t expect a lot of flavor from a marinade. This myth was publicly busted in Deborah Madison’s book This Can’t Be Tofu!, in which she champions the glazing method to infuse tofu with flavor. To glaze, pan-fry the tofu—with or without oil—until golden. Then add a marinade, so that the fried exterior soaks up the flavors and the heat of the pan reduces the sauce to a clingy syrup.
Now, on to the tofu types!
The varying heights and textures of block tofu.
Block tofu is what you’ll find most often at grocery stores and restaurants. Made using the curds-and-whey method explained above, it is sometimes referred to as “cotton tofu” due to the fluffy texture of the curds. You’ll find block tofu sold packed in water in plastic trays—a commercial-friendly storage method developed in 1966 by Shoan Yamauchi in Los Angeles.
Soft Block Tofu
Soft tofu is pressed for the least amount of time of all the block tofus, allowing the curds to blend seamlessly into the remaining whey. This smooth block still has texture when broken up, as it often does with mild handling. It has a delicate body, similar to Jell-O, and a mild, milky flavor. Its similarity to soft desserts makes soft tofu a great neutral base for a sweet element; it works equally well in savory dishes. Because it has a high water content, soft tofu is not recommended for shallow-frying—the sputtering and spit-back can be dangerous. But battering and deep-frying—a method that fully envelops the cubes—produces wonderfully tender nuggets of soybean bliss.
How to Prep: Pressing soft tofu is not recommended, as you will end up squishing it. It is best drained/blotted and raw.
Best Uses: Raw, puréed, boiled, or battered/deep-fried
Soft Block Tofu Recipes:
Almond Tofu Ice Cream With Honey Swirl ”
Squash, Shiitake, Kale, and Kimchi Stew “
Medium Block Tofu
Medium-firm tofu has a rougher texture than soft—the curds are visible—but will still crack with handling. It can have a droopy appearance due to its moderate moisture content, and it’s a good choice for dishes that don’t require much manipulation, like braising or boiling. Because there’s more whey in medium-firm tofu, it may break up during vigorous stir-frying, and pan-frying can lead to sad, deflated tofu planks.
Citrus-Marinated Tofu With Onions and Peppers ”
White Tofu, Sesame, and Vegetable Salad ”
Chilled Tofu With Crunchy Baby Sardines “
Firm Block Tofu
This is the workhorse of the tofu family. If you’re not sure which tofu to buy, a firm block will get you through most savory recipes. The curds in a firm block are tight and visible; it should feel solid, with little give. Its firm body takes on a slight rubbery texture during cooking, which means you can handle each block with (relatively) little fear. Firm tofu holds up quite well to frying and stuffing.
Cantonese-Style Tofu, Pine Nut, and Jicama Lettuce Cups (San Choi Bao) ”
Tofu and Kale Salad With Avocado, Grapefruit, and Miso-Tahini Dressing ”
Easy Vegan Crispy Tofu Spring Rolls With Peanut-Tamarind Dipping Sauce ”
Grilled Tofu With Chipotle-Miso Sauce ”
Phat Phrik Khing With Tofu and Long Beans (Thai Dry-Curry Stir-Fry) ”
Mushrooms and Tofu With Chinese Mustard Greens “
Extra-Firm Block Tofu
This is the most compact of the block tofus. The curds are tight, and the block is noticeably squatter than all others. Its texture has the most chew, making this the tofu best suited to heartier dishes. It makes an ideal dairy-free substitution for paneer in Indian recipes, and it’s our tofu of choice for making crispy tofu worth eating.
Creamy Vegan Saag Paneer ”
Crispy Stir-Fried Tofu With Broccoli ”
Vegan Chorizo for Omnivores ”
Crispy Kung Pao Tofu ”
Grilled Lemongrass- and Coriander-Marinated Tofu Vietnamese Sandwiches (Vegan Banh Mi) ”
Banh Mi Panzanella “
Silken tofu is the next most common tofu style. It’s made in a similar process to block tofu, except that the soy milk is coagulated without curdling the milk. It’s also left unpressed, so every cake retains all of its moisture while cooling. Because curds never form, the tofu—be it soft, firm, or extra firm—has a smooth and “silky” appearance. More delicate than block tofu, silken tofus likewise require delicate handling, lest they fall apart.
Soft Silken Tofu
Delicate and heavy, soft silken tofu falls through your fingers under its own water weight. It requires the careful handling of a poached egg, and will break like one if manipulated too much. It is particularly suited to saucy recipes, such as dressings, smoothies, and egg or yogurt substitutions.
How to Prep: Raw, drained—do not press or freeze.
Best Uses: Blended, room-temperature, battered, sauce
Soft Silken Tofu Recipes:
Vegan Mayonnaise ”
Warm Silken Tofu With Celery and Cilantro Salad ”
Vegan Carbonara Pasta ”
Silken Tofu With Spicy Sausage ”
Soondubu Jjigae (Korean Soft Tofu Stew) ”
Turkish-Style Vegan Tofu Scramble (Vegan Menemen) ”
Vegan Migas (Mexican-Style Fried Tortillas With Tofu) “
Firm Silken Tofu
Firm silken tofu should never be confused with or substituted for a firm block tofu. It also shouldn’t be confused with soft silken tofu—firm silken is made from a denser soy milk, meaning less water is added during the production of the milk. Firm silken tofu has a richer body that holds up better to handling. It’s ideal for dishes in which the silken tofu will be cut into and/or suspended in sauces while retaining its shape.
How to Prep: Raw, room-temperature—do not press or freeze.
Best Uses: Boiled, battered, lightly fried, fermented
Firm Silken Tofu Recipes:
Real-Deal Mapo Tofu ”
Vegan Mapo Tofu ”
Rustic Miso Soup With Tofu and Seaweed ”
Vegan Mocha Mousse “
Extra-Firm Silken Tofu
For most intents and purposes, extra-firm silken tofu is exactly the same as firm silken. But if you like the macho-ness of an “extra-firm,” go for it.
Fresh Silken/Custard Tofu
Fresh silken/custard tofu is best for the most delicate dishes. Because custard tofus are consumed with minimal preparation, your best bet is purchasing them fresh from a local manufacturer. Even the most prettily packaged mass-produced ones taste flat and bitter. But if you can find a reliable local source, the light, slightly sweet, and milky character of a fresh silken/custard tofu is out of this world. Purchase fresh silken/custard tofu right before you need it, as this tofu turns quickly. When you see a pink/orange hue glaze the surface—which can happen as quickly as the next day—toss it. It’s so delicate that the quality shouldn’t be overshadowed by a complex preparation—use a soft silken or block tofu for that.
How to Prep: Raw
Best Uses: Spoon into a bowl, ladle some miso/dashi broth over it, and sprinkle with finely sliced scallions for a light savory dish. Or drizzle with agave for a sweet treat.
This is my personal favorite tofu style. The ultra-dense block is stained a deep purple/brown with seasoning (usually Chinese five-spice powder), and it’s baked and compacted into tight cubes. It closes the circle of tofu preparation techniques, as a dry tofu—like soft silken—requires little to no cooking. On its own, dry tofu has a flappy/rubbery feel, but its chewy texture plays well with anything soft. Chop it up, toss it into a noodle or brothy curry dish, and enjoy.
How to Prep: No prep needed; simply remove the package and go.
Best Uses: Any dish in which you want a chewy texture
Dry/Gan/Five-Spice Tofu Recipes:
Stir-Fried Green Beans and Five-Spice Dry Tofu ”
Pan-Fried Vegetable Dumplings ”
Stir-Fried Chow Mein With Four Vegetables “
This extra-firm tofu is most often smoked in tea leaves, giving it a light hue and smoky flavor. It’s so dry and dense, you can barely see the curds, and is very similar to dry tofu, but with a lighter up-front flavor. This tofu is tough—you could play a game of catch without it breaking.
How to Prep: No prep needed; simply remove the package and go.
Best Uses: Any dish in which you’re looking for a smoky flavor and chewy texture
Smoked Tofu Recipes:
Sichuan-Style Asparagus and Tofu Salad “
Aburaage and Inari
One last option, for extra credit: these sweet-and-salty prepared fried tofu pockets, called inari. This Japanese snack is made of deep-fried tofu, called aburaage, that’s been puffed up and hollowed out, like a pita bread, then simmered in a sugar and soy sauce. Aburaage and inari both come pressed flat and, when cut in half, form pockets that can be stuffed with rice for inarizushi. This is a simple sushi style with a relatively uncomplicated execution. I personally prefer to just buy inari, as the at-home recipes I’ve tried never turn out to my liking, though some may find commercial inari too sweet. Aburaage and inari also make excellent additions to udon or soba soups.
How to Prep: No prep needed; simply remove the package and go.
Best Uses: Stuffed with sushi rice or added to brothy soups
Aburaage and Inari Recipes:
Vegan Tofu and Herb Salad “
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Tofu is delicious. No, really, I mean it. Tofu is one of my favorite foods, but it wasn’t always like that. Before I was vegan, I couldn’t stand tofu. Whenever I would get a Chinese food dish that included bean curd, I would ask them…beg them to leave it out. When I became vegan, I knew that tofu and I needed a fresh start to our relationship. The problem was that I didn’t know what to do with it or how to cook it. I didn’t even know how to buy it because there were so many kinds: silken, soft, firm, extra-firm. And why was it swimming in water? I was lost. At a vegan picnic, I tasted some store-bought, prepared baked tofu and thought it was tasty. Then at a restaurant, I ate my first tofu scramble and was pleasantly surprised at how good it tasted. I knew I had to learn how to cook tofu myself. It took me over a year to learn to love tofu and in that time, I made plenty of mistakes with it. In fact, I think I made every mistake one could possibly make with it. Now, I like to think of myself as somewhat of a tofu aficionado and try to help other people learn from my mistakes.
Also, don’t forget to download the Food Monster App on iTunes — with over 15,000 delicious recipes it is the largest meatless, vegan and allergy-friendly recipe resource to help you get healthy!
Here are five common mistakes made with tofu and how to avoid them.
1. Not Using the Right Tofu for the Recipe
The first possible mistake with tofu happens while you are still in the store. Firstly, always buy tofu made from organic/non-GMO soybeans. Not that we have that part cleared up, there are still several kinds of organic tofu you can buy: silken, soft, medium, firm, and extra-firm. Which one do you buy? It depends on what you want to make. You don’t want to try slicing soft tofu and then have it break apart in your hands. Silken tofu is best used for sauces, creams, batters and in baking. It’s perfect for tofu omelets and mousses. Soft tofu is great for tofu scrambles. Personally, unless I am making a sauce, I buy the extra-firm type for most of my recipes. It holds up to whatever I’m trying to do, whether I’m cutting it into cubes for Chinese dishes, slices for cutlets, or dredging it and frying it for Crispy Tofu Nuggets.
2. Not Pressing the Water Out of the Tofu
For me, this is the step that I most want to avoid but if I do, I’m not going to have the best tofu dish. Tofu is packed with water, and then it is packed in water. We need to get that water out and replace it with flavor. Not pressing the water out of the tofu is one of the biggest mistakes you can make. Open the package and drain the water. Then you have to press the tofu. The only time I get lazy about this is when I make tofu scrambles and even then, I squeeze the tofu in my hands to get out some excess water.
Here’s how to press tofu: Take a plate and line it with paper towels. Place the tofu block on the paper towels and put another layer of on top of the tofu. Put another plate or a cutting board on top of the paper towels and then weigh it down with heavy books or cans. Every half-hour or so, drain the water that has been pressed out of the tofu. If you don’t want to use paper towels, you can just use the plates but drain the pressed water more often. Or you can buy a tofu press and save lots of trouble. Whichever way, you will end up with a smaller, firmer block of tofu. If you are planning to cut the tofu into slices, you can do that first and then press the slices.
If you want the tofu to have an even denser, firmer and chewier texture, try freezing it first. Just remove the tofu from its package, put it in a food storage bag or wrap it in plastic wrap and stick it in the freezer for a few hours. When you want to use it, thaw it out in the refrigerator and then press it. This is an especially good technique to use if you need the tofu to be really firm and allow you to handle it without it breaking. I freeze tofu when I make my Buffalo Tofu Fries so I can work with them and not worry about them breaking apart.
3. Not Cutting the Tofu Correctly
I once went to a restaurant that served a tofu club sandwich where the tofu was a giant block stuck between the slices of bread. Even worse, I had taken a friend there to show him how delicious vegan food is and this was his introduction to tofu. Honestly, it looked like they had just taken the tofu out of the package and stuck it straight into his sandwich. If you want your tofu to have maximum flavor and texture, it is best cut into smaller pieces.
Thin slices are good for making cutlet-type dishes or for sandwiches. Simply cut the block of tofu in half width-wise, and then cut each half into 3 or 4 rectangles for a total of 6-8 thin slices. Those slices can further be cut into squares or triangles depending on the presentation you want for your dish. I use slices like these for my Moroccan Tofu in Lemon-Olive Sauce and they are the perfect shape for sandwiches like this Bad Ass Vegan Fish Sandwich.
Cut the tofu into cubes for stir-fries and salads. Just cut the tofu into 5 even slices width-wise and then 4 slices horizontally. Those 20 pieces can be further cut in half to make smaller cubes if desired. Cut cubes for this Thai Basil Stir-Fry with Tofu and Eggplant and my Pineapple Island Tofu Kabobs. For kids, use cookie cutters to cut tofu into nuggets shaped like hearts or other fun shapes.
4. Not Seasoning the Tofu
This has become a repeated joke between my husband and me. Every time I read a tofu recipe in a mainstream cooking magazine, they instruct the reader to drain the tofu, cut it into cubes or slices and cook it. That’s it – no marinating, no seasoning, just cook it as is. That’s ridiculous. In those same magazines, I would never find a recipe telling readers to cook chicken or steak without first seasoning it and yet they don’t show tofu the same love. Not seasoning the tofu is one of the biggest mistakes you can make with it. Delicious tofu is all about texture and flavor. Without seasoning, it will be bland and tasteless. No one wants that.
After the tofu has all the water pressed out of it, fill it back up with flavor by marinating it and/or seasoning it. A marinade can be as simple as tamari mixed with water. Most people come up with a recipe for a basic marinade that they use in the majority of their tofu dishes. Usually, it’s a combination of tamari, broth or water, oil and a few herbs and spices such as garlic, oregano or paprika. In ethnic recipes like Tandoori Tofu, the marinade is essential to the flavor of the dish. Be sure to pat the tofu dry before cooking it to ensure crispness.
Whether you marinate the tofu or not, a dry rub of seasoning will help add flavor and a crusty texture when you cook it. Choose a few of your favorite herbs and spices, mix them together in a small bowl and rub them over the surface of the tofu. When you pan-fry the tofu, that rub will become a delicious crust. For extra creativity, dredge the tofu in something besides just spices like in this Ayurvedic Lentil-Crusted Tofu.
5. Not Cooking the Tofu Properly
After all the effort of draining, pressing, cutting, marinating and seasoning, be sure to cook the tofu well. Whether you are baking it, frying it, breading it, or battering it, be patient and cook it until it’s as browned or crispy as you want it. It could take as long as 5 minutes per side depending on the size of the pieces. If you are making Chinese food, toss the tofu cubes in some seasoned arrowroot powder or cornstarch before frying it. This will make it super-crispy especially if you are going to cover it with a hot sauce which can make the tofu soggy. I do this with my General Tso’s Tofu and it’s perfectly crispy every time.
I promise you, if you avoid these common mistakes, your tofu dishes will come out amazing every time…unless you drop it on the floor or burn it. I can’t help you then. But short of that, use these tips and try some of the incredible tofu recipes here on One Green Planet.
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Everything you need to know about tofu
Share on PinterestTofu can be served instead of meat or incorporated into a variety of dishes.
A diet that contains a variety of plant-based foods appears to contribute to overall health and wellbeing, and a lower risk of conditions such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
It can enhance the skin and hair, boost energy, and help maintain a healthy weight.
Research has linked tofu, with its high levels of isoflavones, to a lower risk of several age- and lifestyle-related diseases.
1. Cardiovascular disease
Soy isoflavines have been found to help reduce levels of LDL “bad” cholesterol, although it does not seem to increase HDL or “good” cholesterol levels.
Studies have indicated that daily consumption of soy may decrease markers for cardiovascular disease risk, including weight, body mass index (BMI), and total cholesterol. The FDA has set 25 g a day of soy protein as the minimum intake needed to impact cholesterol levels.
Consuming tofu as an alternative to animal protein can help lower levels of LDL cholesterol. This, in turn, decreases the risk of atherosclerosis and high blood pressure.
2. Breast and prostate cancer
Several clinical and experimental investigations have suggested that genistein, the predominant isoflavone in soy, has antioxidant properties that may inhibit the growth of cancer cells.
In the past, confusion has arisen about the safety of consuming soy after a breast cancer diagnosis. This is because isoflavones have a chemical structure similar to that of estrogen, and high levels of estrogen can increase the risk of breast cancer.
However, consuming moderate amounts, or less than two servings a day, of whole soy foods, does not appear to affect tumor growth or the risk of developing breast cancer.
Instead, there is growing evidence that regular soy intake may decrease breast cancer recurrence. However, the evidence is not yet strong enough to recommend soy to all breast cancer survivors.
Researchers call for more studies to confirm how genistein works, how it could be used therapeutically, and its bioavailability, or how well the body can absorb it.
3. Type 2 diabetes
People with type 2 diabetes often experience kidney disease, causing the body to excrete an excessive amount of protein in the urine.
Evidence from one study has indicated that those who consumed only soy protein in their diet excreted less protein than those who only consumed animal protein.
The researchers propose that this could benefit patients with type 2 diabetes.
4. Kidney function
Protein, and particularly soy protein, may enhance renal function, and it could have benefits for people who are undergoing dialysis or kidney transplantation.
One meta analysis of nine trials showed a positive effect of soy on some biomarkers of those with chronic kidney disease.
This may be due to its protein content, but also because of its impact on lipid levels in the blood.
Soy isoflavones may help reduce bone loss and increase bone mineral density, especially after menopause. They have also been reported to reduce some other symptoms of menopause.
6. Symptoms of menopause
Some research has suggested that consuming soy products may help relieve symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes, because of the phytoestrogens they contain.
While symptoms may differ between women, hot flashes appear to be far less common in Asian countries, where people consume more soy.
Conflicting results have been produced, but there is evidence that consuming soy products that are rich in genistein may help reduce the frequency and severity of hot flashes.
However, more studies are needed to establish exactly what happens and why.
7. Liver damage
One study in rats has suggested that any type of tofu that has been curdled with various coagulants may help prevent liver damage caused by free radicals.
Population studies have indicated that, in regions where people consume more soy, there is a lower incidence of age-related mental disorders.
However, results have been mixed.
One research group found that treatment with soy isoflavones was linked to better performance in nonverbal memory, verbal fluency and other functions.
When the same group carried out a further small study, involving 65 people over the age of 60 years with Alzheimer’s, they did not find that soy isoflavines offered any cognitive benefits.
However, findings published in 2017 suggested that soy products may help people with Alzheimer’s due to their lecithin content, which helps the body produce the phospholipids phosphatidic acid (PA) and phosphatidylserine (PS). PA and PS play an important role in the functioning of neurones.
Tofu! Familiar to some and bizarre to many. It can be baked, fried, sautéed, marinated, scrambled – in short: it can really do it all. And newsflash: you don’t need to be a vegetarian to enjoy!
Tofu is super high in protein and low in fat, and is a great alternative in many dishes that have meat. It can be cooked in a flash and served in SO many ways (see below). Gosh, it’s just the best.
Watch how to cook tofu:
In these examples, we used this sesame peanut sauce recipe. It’s our favorite to use with tofu!
How To Bake Tofu
- Temperature: 400°F
- How long: 35-40 minutes
- How to know it’s done: golden brown, slightly crispy at the edges and chewy in the center
Baked Tofu is a great way to prepare a large quantity of chewy bites of tofu that can get tossed with sauce and added to noodle bowls and or a stir fry. This method is also helpful because it frees up stove top space while preparing other elements of your recipe.
Press extra firm tofu for at least 30 minutes. Cut tofu into cubes or slabs and place in a glass dish.
Add a sauce or marinade over the tofu. A variety of oil or soy sauce based marinades work well.
Cover and allow tofu to marinate for about 30 minutes.
Transfer tofu to parchment lined baking sheet. Bake at 400°F for 35-40 minutes, flipping halfway through. Marinade can be reserved and brushed onto tofu during the baking process for extra flavor.
Baked Tofu can be served as a main dish or added to noodle bowls, rice bowls, or salads.
How To saute Tofu
- Temperature: medium high heat
- How long: 20 minutes
- How to know it’s done: golden brown, slightly crispy at the edges and chewy in the center
Sauteed tofu is cooked with a small amount of oil and a bit of sauce to create a delightfully crispy exterior.
Press extra firm tofu for at least 30 minutes and cut into cubes. Add a small amount of oil to a non-stick skillet and heat over medium high heat. Add tofu to pan and brown on each side for about 1-2 minutes for a total of about 15 minutes.
Once all sides of tofu are lightly golden brown, add about 1/4 cup of sauce.
Cook tofu, stirring frequently until sauce has been absorbed into tofu and caramelized around the edges creating a crispy exterior.
Add sautéed tofu to salads, stir fry, noodle bowls, or soup.
How To Fry Tofu
- Temperature: medium high heat
- How long: 9-11 minutes
- How to know it’s done: both sides are golden and crispy
Frying tofu is a very simple and quick way to cook tofu. It achieves a reeeally golden crunchy exterior that makes for a hearty plant-based meal.
Press extra firm tofu for about 30 minutes and cut into triangles. Heat a few tablespoons of oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Add tofu to the pan in a single layer. Do not overcrowd the pan. Allow tofu to cook, undisturbed for about 4-5 minutes or until the underside is golden brown and crispy.
Flip the tofu pieces and season the cooked side with salt. Allow the second side to cook for an additional 4 minutes or until the second side is golden brown and crispy. Remove from pan and drain on a paper towel. Season second side with salt.
This crispy tofu can be be tossed with a sauce after cooking for extra flavor. We used triangles of tofu, but cubed or sliced tofu works well with this cooking method, too. If cooking cubed tofu, flip onto all sides during the cooking process to ensure even crispiness.
If desired you can add a sauce toward the end of the cooking process and flip tofu over to coat and allow sauce to brown at the edges. If planning to add sauce during cooking process, use slightly less oil while frying to avoid splattering and an overly oily sauce.
How To Scramble Tofu
- Temperature: medium high heat
- How long: 15-17 minutes
- How to know it’s done: tofu pieces are browned and crispy
Scrambled tofu is similar to pan fried tofu, but instead of large pieces, the result is flavorful crispy bits of tofu that can be added to tacos, casseroles, bowls, and salads.
Heat about 1 tablespoon of oil in a nonstick or cast iron skillet over medium high heat. Add pressed and sliced tofu to the pan. Use a wooden spoon or spatula to break or ‘scramble’ the tofu into small pieces.
Once the tofu is scrambled, add some sauce or seasoning to the pan. Cook for about 3-4 minutes stirring or until all the tofu has been evenly coated in the seasoning or sauce and it has started to absorb into the tofu.
Then allow tofu to cook, undisturbed for about 4 minutes. This allows the tofu to become crispy. Give the tofu another quick stir to redistribute the cooking surface, and allow to cook for an additional 3-4 minutes or until the tofu has achieved the desired crispiness. The longer you let the tofu cook undisturbed, the crispier the tofu will get.
Do You Have To Cook Tofu?
Technically, tofu does not need to be cooked. It is ready to eat straight out of the package.
The most common tofu to eat raw is silken tofu. It’s often used in vegan desserts to achieve a creamy texture. For example, this mind-blowing vegan chocolate pie.
Firm tofu, while able to eat raw, is best used in various cooking applications.
How Do You Press Tofu?
Tofu contains a large amount of water when it comes out of the package. In order to bake, fry, or scramble tofu, it’s best to press out as much water as possible before cooking. The longer you press your tofu, the firmer the texture will be and the easier it will be to achieve a nice crispy texture.
If you make a lot of tofu, you may want to purchase a tofu press designed specifically for pressing out the water from tofu.
If you do not have a tofu press, you can use standard kitchen items to help with this process.
- Line a baking sheet with several layers of paper towel
- Drain your tofu block and place on top of paper towel lined baking sheet
- Place 2-3 more layers of paper towel on top of tofu block
- Place a heavy skillet or second baking sheet on top
- Weight the skillet down with a few canned goods
- Allow tofu to press for about 30 minutes
- If pressing longer, place baking sheet set up in the refrigerator while it presses
This pressing method works best on firm or extra firm tofu. It is not recommended to press silken or soft tofu.
How Do You Cut Tofu?
Tofu can be cut in a variety of shapes and sizes. Once you have pressed your tofu, most shapes start by cutting the block of tofu into 1/4 inch – 1/2 inch thick slices.
From there, you can cut the tofu into small cubes, triangles, or leave them as slices for more of a tofu steak. Cubes of tofu are very versatile and can pretty much be used in most cooking applications.
What Kind of Tofu Should I Use?
Tofu comes in a range of firmness from silken to extra firm.
- Extra firm tofu has the tightest curds and can stand up to hearty cooking methods, such as pan frying and baking.
- Firm tofu is often used in traditional Asian soups such as hot and sour soup and miso soup.
- Silken Tofu is perfect for making creamy, vegan desserts or any in any recipe that requires the tofu to be blended.
Let’s face it: Tofu has a bad reputation. Whenever you see an article naming the top 10 most hated foods in America, it’s a safe bet tofu will be on the list. If it’s an article about the single most hated food in America, it’s even odds that tofu will be the entire list. What’s sad is that reputation is unfairly gained, and is due to people not really knowing how to cook tofu. But if Brussels sprouts, another food that has dominated the “most hated” lists for decades, can now enjoy a welcome and unfamiliar spot on the top-trending food lists, why not tofu? After all, Brussels sprouts themselves didn’t change; we just learned how to roast, sauté and steam them, instead of boiling them into bitter mush. So what mistakes are you making with tofu?
1. You bought the wrong kind
Tofu is made of condensed soy milk in a process very similar to cheesemaking. We tend to think immediately of pressed white blocks, but there’s a variety of tofu textures and densities on the market, and buying the wrong kind for your recipe will doom it before you begin. There are two main types—silken and block—with each having subcategories. Stay away from silken tofus (either soft or firm) if you want the tofu to maintain its shape (as in a stir-fry). Instead, use silken as a creamy, dairy-free addition to sauces, dressings, smoothies, desserts and soups, or when you want it crumbled over salads or scrambled, like eggs.
The more well-known block tofus are sold in firm squares that resemble feta cheese. Soft, medium, firm and extra-firm tofu, as their names suggest, are progressively more solid. Extra-firm is best for frying, sautéing or grilling. Medium-firm can be used for stir-frying, but may crumble a bit; but it’s great for baking or (intentional) crumbling. When in doubt, go for the firm or extra-firm tofu when cooking savory recipes like Vegetable Pad Thai or Crispy Tofu with Black Pepper Sauce.
2. You didn’t remove the liquid
After removing the tofu from its package, rinse it and then remove the water. For soft tofu, just drain it and blot it dry; but for medium, firm and extra-firm tofu, simple draining isn’t enough—you need to press the water out. Think of it this way: Tofu is porus, like a sponge. If the sponge is already full of water, there’s no room for anything else (like flavorful broth) to get inside. Plus, that water will release during cooking, playing havoc with your recipe.
To press, sandwich the tofu between multiple layers of paper towels, then between two plates. Weigh the top plate down with something heavy, like a flour canister, a cookbook or a cast-iron skillet. Drain the liquid about every 30 minutes. You’ll be amazed by how much liquid comes out. Slicing the tofu before pressing will help it drain faster, but after works too, and may be better if you’re working with medium-firm tofu that can be more difficult to cut cleanly.
3. You cut it too large
Tofu cooks better in smaller sizes—either in cubes or in slices. A huge block of tofu is pretty much like a huge block of cheese; too large a piece, and you won’t get a pleasing flavor or texture.
4. You used oil in your marinade
Even after thorough pressing, there will still be liquid in your tofu…more specifically, water. If you use an oil-based marinade, the oil and the water will form a natural barrier, keeping the marinade from penetrating. Instead, try flavor-packed oil-free liquids, such as lemon juice, vinegars, soy sauce or stock. And make sure you leave the tofu in the marinade long enough to soak up all the flavors…30 minutes is the very shortest time, with several hours or overnight as the ideal.
If you’re still disappointed with the flavor of your tofu, try using your liquid as a glaze instead of a marinade; add it to the pan after the tofu has cooked, toss and reduce, so the liquid turns into a thick sauce that clings to the crispy exterior.
5. You breaded it
If you want a nice, crispy exterior on your tofu, you may be tempted to treat it as you would a piece of fish or chicken…dredge it in a batter or a flour-based breading. But unlike fish or chicken, which can be patted dry, tofu has a more porous surface, and will release more water before the coating crisps—the perfect recipe for gumminess. Instead, just toss the tofu in a little bit of pure cornstarch or arrowroot powder, shake to remove the excess, and then fry in oil for a light, crisp, perfectly delicious exterior. And try a nice, flavorful oil, like sesame or coconut.
6. You didn’t cook it long enough
Tofu is a lot like cheese, and it can be eaten raw—as it often is, tossed in salads and on skewers as appetizers. However, when frying, it can take up to 5 minutes per side, depending on the size of the cuts, to get a nice browned or crisp exterior. Shortchanging your cook time will ensure a soft, unexciting tofu. And don’t be afraid to turn up the heat—preheat the pan to crisp the outer layer while leaving the center tender and creamy.
7. You used the wrong pan
Tofu has a tendency to stick to the pan—hard. Of course, scraping it off the bottom of your pan will both strip it of its crispy coating and break it up into pieces, leaving a mess. Go with nonstick pans or naturally nonstick cast iron, and use a generous amount of oil.
8. You didn’t store it well
If you pulled off a great tofu recipe the first time, but then the meal you made with the tofu left in your fridge was lacking, it may be because you stored it incorrectly. To keep tofu after it’s been opened, cover it with water and keep it in the refrigerator. Switch out the water every couple of days; the unused tofu remains fresh for up to a week. If you’re planning on freezing your tofu, leave it in its original packaging; it will last, frozen for 5-6 months.
With all this in mind, give tofu a try—or another try, if you’ve had less than satisfactory results in the past. There are lots of people out there who discovered they absolutely love tofu…once they learned to cook it right!
Practice Your Tofu Skills on These Recipes 1 / 16
Asparagus Tofu Stir-Fry
With its flavorful ginger sauce and fresh vegetables, this tasty dish is a favorite. I get rave reviews every time I serve it, and it doesn’t bother my husband’s food allergies. —Phyllis Smith, Chimacum, Washington Get Recipe
Better than Egg Salad
Tofu takes the taste and texture of egg salad in this quick-fixing sandwich. —Lisa Renshaw, Kansas City, Missouri Get Recipe
Butternut Harvest Pies
This egg- and dairy-free pie is a great alternative to standard pumpkin pie! We make the pies with squash from our garden. Feel free to add even more of your favorite spices…you’ll be glad the recipe makes two! —Juliana Thetford, Ellwood City, Pennsylvania Get Recipe
Vegetable Pad Thai
Classic flavors of Thailand abound in this fragrant and flavorful dish featuring peanuts, tofu and noodles. New to tofu? It gives the entree its satisfying protein, for a delicious way to introduce it to your diet. —Sara Landry, Brookline, Massachusetts Get Recipe
Makeover Meatless Lasagna
If you’ve never tried tofu before, this is the best recipe to give it a try. It blends in with all the other ingredients, adding protein without the fat and calories of ground beef. —Mary Lou Moeller, Wooster, Ohio Get Recipe
Crispy Tofu with Black Pepper Sauce
Sometimes tofu can be boring and tasteless, but not in this recipe! The crispy vegetarian bean curd is so loaded with flavor, you’ll never shy away from tofu again. —Nick Iverson, Denver, Colorado Get Recipe
Southwest Vegetarian Lentil Soup
Even self-avowed carnivores won’t miss the meat in this zippy dish. It’s chock-full of healthy ingredients that will keep you feeling satisfied. —Laurie Stout-Letz, Bountiful, Utah Get Recipe
Tofu Chow Mein
This easy recipe is great for “tofu beginners.” For best results, cut the tofu block in half and wrap well in a terrycloth kitchen towel. Let it sit in the fridge for at least an hour so the towel absorbs excess water. Serve this with Chinese soup and egg rolls for a complete meal. — Autumn SinClaire, Gold Beach, Oregon Get Recipe
Veggie Thai Curry Soup
My go-to Thai restaurant inspired this curry soup. Shiitake mushrooms are my favorite, but any fresh mushroom will work. Fresh basil and lime add a burst of bright flavors. —Tre Balchowsky, Sausalito, California Get Recipe
Cauliflower & Tofu Curry
Cauliflower, garbanzo beans and tofu are subtle on their own, but together they make an awesome base for curry. We have this recipe weekly because one of us is always craving it. —Patrick McGilvray, Cincinnati, Ohio Get Recipe
Asian Tofu Noodle Soup
Ginger, garlic and sherry jazz up this soup loaded with veggies and noodles. We like to accent ours with peanuts and green onions. —Diana Rios, Lytle, Texas Get Recipe
Saucy Vegetable Tofu
This is my daughter Tonya’s favorite meal. Sometimes we make it with rigatoni and call it “Riga-Tonya.” It’s a great dinner and a nice way to prepare yummy vegetables for the kids. —Sandra Eckert, Pottstown, Pennsylvania Get Recipe
Creamy Berry Smoothies
Who can tell that this delicious smoothie is made with tofu? No one (especially your kids)! The blend of berries and pomegranate juice makes this welcoming drink a refreshing delight. —Sonya Labbe, West Hollywood, California Get Recipe
Hot and Sour Soup
We tried several recipes for hot & sour soup, but none resembled the restaurant version we loved. So, I made my own, and I must say it’s on a par with what you’ll get when dining out. Use regular or hot chili sauce, according to taste. —Vera Leitow, Mancelona, Michigan Get Recipe
Tofu Chocolate Pie
No one will guess the secret ingredient in this amazingly rich and creamy pie. In fact, you don’t even have to tell them it’s tofu until after they’ve finished the very last crumb. —Juliana Thetford, Ellwood City, Pennsylvania Get Recipe
Moist Banana Nut Bread
I made up this recipe when I was vegetarian and didn’t eat eggs. It’s packed with fiber, omega-3s and soy protein, but tastes delicious! Silken tofu is a wonderful egg substitute. —Brittany Carrington, Tehachapi, California Get Recipe
You’ve seen tofu. You’ve eaten tofu. And there’s a good chance you’ve purchased tofu at the grocery store — it’s available just about everywhere now.
But, like most people, you probably have no idea what to do with it. Good news: Tofu is one of the easiest and healthiest foods to cook! The extremely mild taste goes with anything, and it’s packed with quality protein — making it a staple in many vegan and vegetarian diets.
You’ll find a few different densities of tofu in stores, and they’re all a bit different. Soft or silken tofu is custardy and therefore works well in soups, according to Susan Westmoreland, culinary director at the Good Housekeeping Institute. “Both medium and firm work well stir-fried, battered and crisped, baked and glazed,” she says. “Firm does all of that plus grilling.”
In order to turn this white brick of pure potential into dinner, it helps to know a few tricks and tips. Here are some basics to get you started, and some awesome recipes with tofu to try out.
First, you need to “press” tofu. Here’s how:
Tofu is packed in water, and it’s a lot like a sponge — if you don’t press out the old water you can’t work in any new flavors. This is really easy; it just takes some advanced planning.
- Open a package of extra-firm, water-packed tofu (not the silken kind) and drain.
- Cut the tofu width-wise into slices — four or six should do it.
- Lay paper towels on a sheet pan and spread tofu slices in a single layer on top.
- Put more paper towels over the tofu, then another sheet pan over them.
- Place heavy objects on the sheet pan (try cookbooks or cans of tomatoes).
- Leave it alone for at least 30 minutes, but preferably a couple hours. You can leave it like this all day or night if you put it in the fridge. If you’re in a hurry, apply some manual pressure to cut the time to 15 min., but it won’t be quite as awesome.
- Uncover; leave as “tofu steaks” or cut into cubes, marinate, and cook accordingly.
What You’ll Need to Cook Tofu
House Foods Organic Extra Firm Tofu $2.29 amazon.com For Pressing Nordic Ware Aluminum Half Sheet Pans amazon.com $21.99 For Flipping OXO Good Grips Silicone Flexible Turner amazon.com $9.99 For Frying Hiware Solid Stainless Steel Spider Strainer amazon.com $8.99
It tastes best when marinated, just not with oil.
If you don’t marinate it, it won’t taste like anything. Tofu has a lot of water in it — even after you press it — and oil and water don’t mix. Using oil in your marinade will actually create an oil slick on the tofu, meaning the flavors will never absorb. So skip the oil in your marinades and opt for extra vinegar, soy sauce, citrus juice, or stock.
Use cornstarch to make tofu crispy.
If you’re going to pan-fry or stir-fry your tofu, simply coat it in cornstarch after marinating. A medium or light coat is best. Just put your marinated tofu in a big plastic zipper bag, add a half cup of cornstarch, close, and shake well. I like to dump it all into a colander over the sink to shake off the excess. This will give your tofu a fantastic, crispy coating — and it also really, really helps the tofu not stick to the pan.
You can also broil and grill it.
Tofu is great on the grill, in a grill pan, and under the broiler! Just marinate it, spray your cooking surface with a little canola oil, and cook until you get nice grill marks or crispy edges, about seven minutes per side (or less on a scorching-hot grill). Tofu doesn’t actually need to be cooked at all, so you don’t need worry about internal temps. This is a super-healthy (un-fried) way to prepare tofu!
Here’s what you can make with tofu:
Tofu is the ultimate multitasker — it’s not just for stir-fries anymore. Try one of our recipes below from the Good Housekeeping Test Kitchen, or experiment with these ideas:
- Use an Italian marinade and bread crumbs to easily replace chicken parmesan.
- Use a steak marinade, grill with onions and barbecue sauce, and serve on a toasted bun at your next BBQ.
- Cube it, coat with cornstarch, pan fry, and serve with honey mustard and sweet potato fries for super-easy “chicken” nuggets.
Our Favorite Tofu Recipes
Crispy Tofu Bowl
GET THE RECIPE
Soba Salad with Grilled Tofu
GET THE RECIPE
Tofu Pad Thai
GET THE RECIPE
Sweet & Sticky Tofu with Baby Bok Choy
GET THE RECIPE
Treat it right, and tofu will provide an unending stream of breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert, snack, and condiment options. Treat it wrong, and you’ve got one soggy, flavorless bit of soy protein on your hands. Unlock the secrets to dynamite crispy, golden-brown perfection, and you’ll never underestimate tofu again. Know, use, and love all of these tofu tips. Be the best you can be.
What makes this ranch dip so creamy? Silken tofu.
Not All Tofu Is Created Equal
This the understatement of the year. From creamy, pourable silken tofu to the brick-like extra-firm variety, there are a lot of options available. While some types can be substituted (firm and extra-firm are largely interchangeable), you’ll never have a successful stir-fry with silken tofu. Here’s a rundown of the most commonly-available types, and how to use them.
Soft Block Tofu: Versatile enough to be used in both puréed applications and savory dishes, this variety of tofu is equally at home in a puréed dessert (like pudding) as it is lightly battered and deep-fried.
Medium Block Tofu: Firmer than soft block, but delicate enough to crumble with excess handling, medium tofu can be baked to ensure it doesn’t fall apart.
Firm/Extra-Firm Block Tofu: If you have a stir-fry in your future, you should get to know firm and extra-firm tofu varieties. They keep their shape under pressure.
Soft Silken Tofu: This creamy tofu has a pudding-like consistency, and is ideal for blending into salad dressings, desserts, and even puréed soups. It provides dairy-free way to add creaminess to most recipes.
Firm Silken Tofu: Made from denser soy, this has a creamy consistency but holds its shape better than soft silken tofu. It’s ideal in Mapo Tofu and chunkier soups—and great when scrambled up like eggs. We like to add pork for a satisfying anytime-meal.
Yuba: These soy “noodles” come from the skins of freshly-made tofu, and are a fantastic substitute for rice noodles in a stir-fry.
Draining Is Good—Pressing Is Better
Block tofu is packed in water to help preserve and keep it fresh. That means as much excess liquid should be removed as possible before cooking the tofu. Whether you’re baking, roasting, or frying (especially frying!) it, the results will be better-tasting and crispier-crunchier if you drain it first. To avoid soggy tofu-syndrome, sandwich it between multiple layers of paper towel-lined plates and weigh it from the top. Your tofu sandwich should be constructed as such: plate, paper towels, tofu, paper towels, second plate, heavy can or cast-iron pan. It won’t hurt to go through two rounds of pressing and draining, if you’ve got the time.
Create and Use the Perfect Marinade
One of the most common complaints about tofu is its bland flavor. We happen to think that’s what makes it so awesome. To infuse it with flavor from the inside-out, embrace acidic, bold marinades. The tofu will take on flavor faster than meat-based protein, meaning that a quick 10-minute spin in a garlicky-gingery marinade can pack a punch.
With all the possible ways to cook tofu, this versatile ingredient is a staple in many vegetarian and vegan diets.
Why Vegetarians Eat Tofu
Along with tofu’s versatility, it provides substantial nutritional benefits. Tofu is not only a great source for high-quality vegetarian protein, but it also provides a supply of B-vitamins. This makes it the perfect substitute for meat.
In many ways, tofu is better for you than meat:
- Source of calcium to the vegetarian diet
- Easy to digest
- Lowers cholesterol
- Great source of isoflavones
While tofu can be purchased at any health food store, it can also be found at your local grocer in the produce section. It is available in water-filled packs or cartons and can be stored in your refrigerator until you use it. Once you open it, if you don’t use the entire package, be sure drain the water each day and add fresh water to make the tofu stay fresh longer. If you take these steps, your open tofu should last for about a week in the refrigerator.
If you find a great deal on tofu and what to buy a supply, you can store it in your freezer for as long as three months. However, freezing the tofu changes the texture making it a little chewier because it becomes more porous. This can be a good thing as it allows the tofu to soak up marinades, liquids and flavors even more quickly, and gives the tofu a more meat-like texture.
Popular Ways to Cook Tofu
While some people initially think tofu’s bland flavor is a drawback, in actuality it’s this very feature that makes it so versatile. Tofu absorbs the flavors from other ingredients and can be prepared in a number of ways.
One way to add flavor to tofu before cooking it is to marinate it. If your recipe doesn’t tell you which firmness to use in a tofu marinade, choose a firm or extra firm tofu. If the recipe calls for marinating less than an hour, this can be done at room temperature in a covered bowl. However, if the recipe requires the tofu to marinate for longer, it should be done in the refrigerator to prevent spoiling.
Because of the absorbent quality of tofu, especially if it has been frozen and thawed, thin marinades soak in quickly. Often all you need to do is dip the tofu in the marinade on each side for it to be absorbed. Thicker marinades require more time.
Tofu makes a great addition to soups like Asian Hot and Sour Soup. How long you boil tofu should depend on the desired texture you’re looking for in your recipe. For example, if you want a more meat-like texture, let the tofu boil a little longer so the outside edges become tougher. An average boiling time is about 20 minutes, though letting it boil for longer won’t hurt it.
Freeze extra firm tofu for 48 hours or more for the right texture for grilling. The longer you have it in the freezer the tougher it becomes. Slice and grill using marinades, barbecue and other sauces for flavor. This makes a great meal with grilled vegetables and rice or whole-grain bread.
Tofu is used in baking to replace dairy ingredients like:
- Sour cream
- Soy milk
- Cow’s milk
Puréed tofu can be prepared in your blender or food processor and is used to make dressings, dips, sauces, desserts and soups. Other ways to cook tofu that’s been pureed or blended include using it as:
- Substitute for eggs or milk in making bread
- Egg replacement in cookie dough
- Substitute for yogurt in smoothies
- Alternative for milk when making pudding
- Cream alternative when making puréed soups
- Used instead of cream in sauces
- Replaces sour cream (or oil) in homemade salad dressings
- Replaces mayonnaise or sour cream in dips
- Milk substitute in mashed potatoes
Tofu Transforms Your Old Recipes
Tofu can transform many of your favorite recipes making them low-fat, lower in calories, better for you nutritionally, and meat-free. As you learn to work with tofu, you’ll soon see that you don’t have to sacrifice many of your traditional favorites. You just need to tweak them. Before you know it, you’ll have a list of new “old” favorites.
Let’s talk tofu. If you’ve been scared to try tofu, this Crispy Tofu recipe will be your gateway. If you’ve tried tofu and thought it tasted like a floppy, flavorless blob, this Crispy Tofu will redeem your experience. If you LOVE the deep fried tofu you’ve eaten at restaurants and want an easier, healthier version you can make at home (no frying required), this Crispy Tofu is about to become your most bookmarked recipe.
Before I reveal the two tricks you need to know to make restaurant-quality tofu at home—we’re talking crispy, meaty (yes meaty) cubes of tasty perfection that are ideal for adding to any stir fry, salad, or even pasta—I want you to know that I understand why tofu has its skeptics.
Uncooked (or poorly cooked) tofu has the texture and flavor of a limp, overused kitchen sponge. Ewwwwww.
Properly cooked tofu, however, is positively PACKED with flavor. Its texture is lightly crispy and satisfying. Tofu is a cheap, lean source of protein, and it’s worth trying. Here’s how to make crispy tofu that actually tastes great!
Tofu has two major challenges: FLAVOR and TEXTURE. Let’s start with texture.
Right out of the package, tofu is mushy, and if you toss it directly into a stir fry, it will stay that way. Most restaurants get around the mushy-factor by deep-frying it, which (while delicious), negates tofu’s clean health benefits. It would also make my kitchen smell like a KFC for three days.
Other crisy tofu cooking methods call for pressing the tofu between layers of kitchen towels, draining, then repeating. It’s somewhat effective, but as you know if you’ve tried it, it’s messy and time consuming. I have dishes to wash, nails to paint, and a grandmother to call. This crispy tofu method is instant, no pressing required!
Here’s my hack to make the best-ever crispy tofu: Freeze the tofu, then boil it.
I owe Mark Bittman for this life changing crispy-tofu hack. Freezing the tofu causes the water pockets within it expand, which helps it to cook more evenly and makes space for the tofu to absorb extra flavor. Simmering the tofu firms and plumps it.
To finish the tofu, lightly sauté it in a small amount of oil. Very little oil is needed for the sauté, since the tofu pieces are already nice and firm.
When the tofu is in the pan, add any flavors you’d like in your final dish. If I’m making a stir fry, I like to add garlic, ginger, and soy sauce; if I’m adding the tofu to a dish that is already saucy (like this Chicken Stir Fry with Thai Peanut Sauce or this Tofu Stir Fry), I’ll simply toss the tofu with a bit of the sauce while the tofu is still warm.
Critical tofu tip: make sure that you add something to season the tofu. Alone, the tofu doesn’t have much flavor, but this is a good thing. Because tofu is essentially a thirsty little sponge, it will eagerly drink up anything you place in the pan with it, making it a tasty vehicle for all of your favorite spices and sauces.
If you’ve been burned by bad tofu or have been hesitant to try it, I am begging you to give this crispy tofu a chance. It’s healthy, satisfying, and converted even my meat-loving husband into a believer.
5 great recipes to use this Crispy Tofu:
- Chicken Stir Fry with Thai Peanut Sauce (swap chicken for tofu)
- Honey Lime Tofu Stir Fry
- Healthy Fried Rice (add the tofu for extra protein)
- Hot and Sour Peanut Noodle Stir Fry (swap tofu for chicken)
- Three Pea Ginger Tofu Stir Fry
Or any of these!
4.2 from 5 votes Leave a Review ” Yield: 1 block crispy tofu (serves about 4) Prep Time: 2 mins Cook Time: 20 mins How to cook crispy tofu that comes out perfectly every time. EASY method that’s perfect for any stir fry. No baking, pressing, or frying required!
- 1 block extra firm tofu — (15 ounces), do not use firm or silken
- 1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil — or grapeseed oil
- Place tofu in the freezer for at least 3 hours or up to 3 months. No need to unwrap—just pop the package right into the freezer.
- When ready to cook, remove the tofu from freezer and unwrap. Discard any frost or ice that’s formed on the outside, but do not tear the tofu. If the ice seems to be really stuck, leave as is.
- Bring a pot of water large enough to completely submerge the tofu to a boil (a medium/large saucepan works best). Gently slip the frozen tofu block into the water. Return the water to a boil, then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Continue simmering the tofu for 15 minutes, flipping once half way through. Carefully and immediately remove the tofu and set it aside on a paper towel-lined plate. Once cool enough to handle, cut into 1/2 to 3/4 inch-cubes.
- In a large wok or skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat until very hot but not smoking. Add tofu pieces in a single layer. Let cook for 5 minutes on one side, then with a heat-proof spatula, flip the tofu pieces so that all sides brown, cooking for a few minutes on each remaining side. Once tofu is lightly browned and crispy (about 10-12 minutes total), remove from the pan. Use in your favorite stir fry, dip in peanut sauce, or add to soups or stews.
- This recipe is more of a METHOD of cooking the tofu. Don’t forget to flavor it! If using the tofu in stir fry, you can cook the tofu with garlic, ginger, and soy sauce for a basic stir fry (add the garlic at the very end so it doesn’t burn) or toss it with a stir fry sauce afterwards while it is still warm. For salads, onions are great (give them a bit of a head start to soften in the pan with oil), as is garlic (again, add it towards the end to prevent burning). You can also toss the cooked tofu with a bit of salad dressing to coat and flavor it.
- I don’t recommend using olive oil to cook the tofu, as it tends to burn at a higher temperature. Canola or grapeseed oil work best.
Course: Main Course Cuisine: American, Chinese Keyword: Crispy Tofu, Easy Tofu Recipe All text and images © Erin Clarke / Well Plated.
Amount per serving (1 (of 4)) — Calories: 133, Fat: 10g, Sodium: 19mg, Carbohydrates: 2g, Fiber: 1g, Protein: 10g
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Before you all start spluttering that tofu is a “beige blubber” with the “texture and disposition of a particularly upbeat sponge” (tip of the hat to Nigel Slater and the New York Times respectively), please bear with me. I, too, once believed tofu to be an utterly pointless waste of protein – after all, one of its biggest selling points is its almost complete absence of flavour, while the consistency, which can vary from chewy loofah to slimy mush, could be politely described as challenging to many western palates.
But then, several years ago, I adopted a vegan diet for Lent, forcing me out of my comfort zone and into the welcoming arms of a pock-marked old woman and her fearsomely spicy bean curd. And, finally, I got it – the bland creaminess of the gently wobbling cubes of tofu was the perfect contrast to the salty, fiery sauce. In fact, it works in much the same way as paneer: a neutral protein source for the non-meat eater.
That said, though the soft, almost custardy texture of that tofu continued to draw me even after I’d gone back to bacon, I found it harder to warm to the tough, soggy fried stuff often found in stir fries – which is why, when a waitress recommended some crispy tofu with lemongrass and chilli in a suburban Saigon restaurant, I was sceptical. When she later asked if we wanted dessert, we ordered a second round of tofu instead. That’s how good it was.
Yet my attempts to recreate this glorious dish at home, with its crisp crust and silky interior always ended in disaster and, more often than not, a tofu scramble rather than the stir fry base I was hoping for. Turns out tofu’s not just a difficult thing to love; it’s a difficult thing to cook – but I beg even sceptics give this recipe a try just once. You might well be surprised.
Luke Nguyen’s tofu. Photograph: Felicity Cloake for the Guardian
To add to its accessibility problems, tofu comes in a number of varieties, which, confusingly are sold under an even larger variety of names. As I understand it, the two principal kinds are silken and firm. Silken, which has been neither drained nor pressed, has the highest water content and the softest texture, reminiscent to this omnivore of a baked egg custard. Firm tofu, meanwhile, has been pressed to extract the moisture – how hard is indicated on the packet. Those labelled as “firm” or “extra-firm” are generally the best when it comes to developing a golden crust.
Though I love the smoothness of silken tofu, after trying Luke Nguyen’s recipe for crisp silken tofu crusted in lemongrass in The Food of Vietnam, I have to concede that the delicate texture is a nightmare for the amateur cook – however careful you are when turning it, it persists in falling apart in the pan. Extra-firm tofu seems a far safer option, and the consistency is probably a better bet for stir fries in any case.
Alice Hart’s tofu, Photograph: Felicity Cloake the Guardian
Nguyen simply drains the tofu before use, but most recipes recommend at least one further step in order to keep it together, and help it to crisp in the pan: as J Kenji López-Alt of the website Serious Eats explains, “The key to both crispness and browning is the removal of moisture, so the drier you get your tofu to begin with, the more efficiently these reactions will take place, and the better the contrast between crisp exterior and moist, tender interior will be.”
He and Alice Hart, writing in her forthcoming book, The New Vegetarian (out in March), recommend wrapping in kitchen roll and pressing it down with something heavy for a few minutes. Andrea Nugyen, author of Asian Tofu, douses it with boiling salted water, while Van Tran and Ahn Vu, in Vietnamese Market Cookbook, boil it with salt and vinegar (to “revive the tofu and clean it of any sourness”) before patting it dry. Vegan food writer Rhea Parsons recommends freezing the tofu before pressing “to make it even more firm and with a chewier texture” and Dana Shultz, of the blog Minimalist Baker, suggests baking it for 25 minutes before sautéing (“a little trick I picked up at a vegetarian cafe in San Antonio”).
Pressing seems to work just fine – especially if you follow López-Alt’s sensible suggestion of slicing it first, to increase the surface area. Freezing does make it firmer and easier to cut (though I don’t find this a problem with the extra-firm stuff), but the real surprise is the boiling. This may seem counterintuitive when trying to remove as much moisture as possible, but it does indeed give a crisper crust after frying – possibly by the process of osmosis, although the more scientifically minded among you may be able to say for sure.
Rhea Parsons’s tofu. Photograph: Felicity Cloake for the Guardian
What boiling also does is lightly season the tofu, which may or may not be desirable depending on what you’re planning to do with it. I happen to think it’s a bonus, and certainly more effective than marinating the stuff, as Dana suggests – I take my eye off the pan for a minute to answer the door, and return to a kitchen full of smoke to find her (delicious) peanut butter and soy sauce dressing has formed an acrid crust on the outside. Adding dry spices is equally problematic – I struggle to crisp Hart’s tofu without burning the five spice and chilli rub, and the same goes for Luke Nguyen’s chilli and garlic. Best, I think, to leave any flavouring until after cooking, though if you really really want to do so, Tran and Vu’s trick of cutting slits in the cubes and pushing slivers of lemongrass and chilli into them proves the most satisfactory method.
Minimalist Baker’s tofu. Photograph: Felicity Cloake for the Guardian
Again, the benefits of coating depend on your plans for the tofu; López-Alt’s cornflour-and-vodka batter delivers a thin, crisp crust, while Parsons’ battered and cornflake-coated nuggets are completely, ridiculously crunchy and delicious, and pretty unbeatable if you’re planning to eat the tofu on its own. But it’s also possible, as Tran and Vu prove, to achieve crispness without any additional ingredients – just hot oil, which seems to me to be the best option for stir-fries.
Kenji Lopez-Alt and Andrea Nguyen’s tofu. Photograph: Felicity Cloake for the Guardian
Baking produces a dry, but not overly crisp result, and both pan- and shallow-frying require a lot of faffing about with a thin spatula, whereas deep-frying produces consistently crisp, gorgeous results. I take comfort from the fact that, according to Harold McGee, deep-frying often adds less fat to food than pan frying it, because the high temperatures force the moisture to the surface to form a barrier the oil cannot penetrate.
It is, however, vital to blot the tofu as soon as it comes out of the pan, because as the temperature of the food cools, the rate of oil absorption increases. Then all there is to do is season (or add to a stir fry at the last minute, so it doesn’t go soggy) and scoff as fast as you can – after all, you wouldn’t want anyone to see you eating tofu.
The perfect crispy fried tofu
The perfect crispy fried tofu. Photograph: Felicity Cloake for the Guardian
500g firm or extra-firm tofu (preferably freshly made, or the sort sold in refrigerated packs full of water rather than room-temperature cartons)
Salt, to cook
Neutral oil, to deep fry
1 stalk lemongrass, inside only, finely chopped (optional)
1 birds eye chilli, finely chopped (optional)
Bring a medium pan of water to the boil, and salt generously until it tastes like the sea. Meanwhile, cut the tofu into chunks about 3cm square. Add to the water, take off the heat and leave to sit for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, line a baking tray with kitchen paper or a clean tea towel.
Scoop the tofu out on to the baking tray and top with more paper or another towel. Add another baking tray or chopping board, and weight down with a couple of tins. Leave to sit for 15 minutes.
Fill a deep pan a third full of oil, and heat to about 180C, or until bubbles form around a wooden chopstick.
While the oil is heating, blot the tofu as dry as possible with fresh towels. Drop into the oil, stir once and cook until crisp and golden, then scoop out and drain on kitchen towel. Season and sprinkle with the lemongrass and chilli if using, or add to a stir-fry at the last minute.
Tofu: love it or hate it? And if the latter, would you consider giving it another go? What other dishes would you recommend to this recent convert, and is it worth making your own?