Tofu is one of those ingredients that is super versatile and can be cooked in many ways. But if you don’t know how to cook it well, you can end up with a dry crumby bland meal. This ultimate guide to cooking tofu will share all the ways you can cook tofu and includes the best types of tofu to use for cooking different dishes!
What is tofu?
Simply, tofu is soy milk from mature white beans that are boiled, curdled, and pressed (in a method similar to dairy cheese). There are a wide variety of health benefits including high protein and all nine amino acids. It can also be used in a lot of different recipes and is a very affordable plant-protein source!
What are the main types of tofu?
The five main types of tofu are silken, soft, medium, firm, and extra firm. These range from lowest to highest in protein content. Different types of tofu work for different dishes. These differences depend on how much water is already pressed out of tofu when purchased. As you move up this firmness scale, fat and protein go up.
How to press/drain tofu
Firstly, I do not recommend draining silken, soft, or medium tofu, as they are supposed to be more watery!
Draining firm and extra firm tofu helps it absorb flavors from a marinade, so this works well with firm and extra firm varieties. You can use a tofu press, which is a kitchen gadget that will help drain some of the liquid from your tofu.
If you do not have a tofu press, you can simply wrap your whole block of tofu in a towel, place in a shallow dish and position a heavy pot on top, so that water is gradually pressed out. For most varieties, 20 minutes is the ideal amount of time to press.
Marinating tofu for flavor
Marinating tofu is one of the best ways to make a really flavorful tofu dish.
Similar to other proteins, tofu will take on whatever flavor you soak it in, so fun marinades are key to producing a flavorful end product. Additionally, freezing some kinds of tofu before marinating can help it absorb marinades better.
Medium to extra-firm tofu are the best types of tofu to uses in a marinade. Once marinated, you can then bake, grill or fry the tofu.
How do I prepare tofu?
Silken: Blend it
Silken tofu is best when blended into sauces, smoothies, creamy desserts, salad dressings, or dips. It can also be used as an egg substitute, to help bind while baking.
- Recipe idea: This Caprese quiche from Emilie Eats is a creative take and a high-protein breakfast option!
- Pro tip: Be sure to never press silken tofu; it is supposed to have a high water content.
Soft: Add it to brothy soup
Soft tofu is slightly less smooth than silken but still a great addition to recipes where you may include silken, like creamy puddings and dressings. It also is delicious when eaten raw in Asian-inspired meals like ramen, since it pairs beautifully with broths.
- Recipe idea: Try it in this super-simple vegan ramen!
- Pro tip: Soft tofu will absorb whatever flavors it’s sitting in, so having a delicious broth or sauce is key to enjoying this type.
Medium: Crumble it to add texture
Medium tofu is rather delicate but still delicate but good for blending into soups like miso, baking or enjoying in a stir-fry. Depending on the brand you buy, it may resemble firm tofu. It also is a great egg substitute in many dishes and can is the best variety to make scrambled tofu.
- Recipe idea: Medium tofu adds wonderful texture to this easy vegan fried rice!
- Pro tip: Kala namak salt is a useful addition when trying to give plant-based meals an “eggy” flavor. Give it a try!
Firm: Bake it, stir-fry it, grill it
A popular selection, firm tofu can be baked, used in stir-fries, grilled, scrambled or even subbed for ricotta cheese in recipes like lasagna. It’s a very versatile type of tofu which is why it is so widely popular!
- Recipe idea: This Thai Green Curry Tofu is one of my favorite recipes for any time of year!
- Pro tip: Cooking tofu in a pan before adding to the curry helps it maintain texture.
Extra Firm: BBQ it, Sauté it
Extra-firm is one of the most common types of tofu because it is so versatile. Sauteing is the easiest method for preparation, but it can also be crumbled, stir-fried, roasted, baked, or barbequed. It is very high in protein due to low water content, which makes it a great addition to a wide variety of dishes.
- Recipe idea: Spicy Satay Power Bowls are so easy for meal prep and full of healthy flavors + textures!
- Pro tip: When preparing this kind of tofu, coating with cornstarch can help with crispiness (like in these spring roll bowls)
Tofu cooking tips
- When baking tofu, try tossing it in 1-2 tbsp cornstarch to coat it and bake at a high temperature of 425 degrees F for 20-30 minutes. This will give the tofu a super crispy exterior!
- When frying tofu (either pan-frying or deep-frying) opt for extra-firm tofu and press out as much liquid as possible from the tofu to get super crispy tofu.
- When marinading tofu skip the oil. Oil won’t absorb well into the tofu and will prevent the tofu from absorbing all the other delicious flavours. So unless you’re adding a pinch of sesame oil for flavour, skip out on adding olive oil or cooking oil as you would a marinade for meats.
- When stir-frying tofu, cook on a high-heat and use enough oil in the pan. Since tofu has so little fat in it, to begin with, don’t be afraid to add a couple of tbsp of oil to your pan, and let the tofu cook enough on each side to brown. This will give you super crispy super flavourful tofu.
- Go for organic when you can. Soy is a highly sprayed crop, so buying organic tofu is worth it if you’re able to.
- Can I eat raw tofu? Yes! Tofu can be eaten both cooked and raw. Usually softer variations of tofu taste good enjoyed raw (or warmed up in a broth or sauce), and firm variations of tofu taste best cooked.
- Is it okay to eat tofu every day? For most people yes. If you have a sensitivity to soy then you may not want to eat tofu every day. This will vary from person to person.
- What does tofu taste like? Well, pretty much nothing! It’s very bland in flavor on its own. But the good news is it’ll absorb the flavor of whatever you cook it with!
- Is tofu healthy? Yes! Tofu is high in protein, low in fat and a great healthy vegetarian option that is often used in place of meats.
- Can I freeze tofu? Tofu freezes well, so if you have some tofu left in your package that you’d like to freeze for later, just wrap it well and place it in the freezer until your next use.