Chatelaine Kitchen

How to cook tofu: 5 simple tips to remember

Tofu is a blank slate ready to soak up flavours, providing a ton of room for creativity in the kitchen; you just need to know a few things in order to maximize its potential.

Chilled tofu with ginger-sesame spinach

Chilled tofu with ginger-sesame sauce. (Photo, Sian Richards.)

While you may think of tofu as a bland, boring replacement for meat, it’s actually a blank slate ready to soak up flavours! This vegetarian favourite can be prepared in myriad ways, providing a ton of room for creativity in the kitchen; All you need to get started are a few tips on how to prepare it, so you can maximize its potential.

Not sure which kind of tofu is best for a specific preparation? The major difference between soft, firm and extra-firm tofu is attributed to texture and water content.

Soft tofu has a slightly smooth and creamy texture that can be compared to the texture of custard. It’s a great option for blending into a salad dressing or tofu dessert.

Firm tofu is an all-purpose option that absorbs flavours and holds up well when cooked. It’s also a great option for breaking up into a tofu scramble or simmered and braised dishes.

Extra-firm tofu has the least amount of water content and holds it shape very well. It is the perfect option for slicing and dicing and cooking with high heat, and is particularly good for pan-frying, stir-frying or deep-frying.

Mastering the basics: Our best-ever tofu

How to prepare tofu

Press out liquid
Tofu often comes packed in water, but this liquid needs to be pressed out for tofu to absorb additional flavour. To press out the liquid, lay slices of tofu between either paper towels or a dish towel, and place a baking sheet with heavy objects on top such as canned goods or cookbooks. Leave the tofu like this for at least 30 minutes to remove as much excess moisture as possible.

Try it: Sesame tofu cakes


Marinate, marinate, marinate
Tofu has an incredible ability to soak up flavours like a sponge, this is why marinating is one of the best ways to impart bold taste. When it comes to marinating tofu, opt for acidic marinades that use ingredients like garlic, ginger, vinegar and soy sauce (avoid adding oil to a tofu marinade). Opt for either firm or extra-firm tofu that has been cut it into cubes, as this will allow for maximum flavour absorption. Keep in mind that tofu takes on flavour more quickly than meat, so a quick 15 to 30 minute marinating time is often enough.

Try it: Honey ginger tofu

Pantry 101: Tofu vs. tempeh

Coat in cornstarch
Pan-frying and crisping up tofu will add texture and colour. To keep it simple, try coating cubed tofu in cornstarch as a quick way to achieve a golden-crisp exterior without deep-frying — you can even coat marinated tofu. It’s important to note that tofu is notoriously sticky, but coating in cornstarch is a great way to create a barrier between tofu and the pan to avoid excess sticking.

Try it: Sweet chili tofu


Cook with high heat
Don’t be afraid of high heat, as it’s the secret to getting perfectly browned tofu. Sear tofu using the same technique as you would when you sear meat. Place tofu in a single layer in a hot pan and cook without stirring until the bottoms become golden and crispy, then shake the pan or flip the tofu to brown the remaining sides. Extra-firm tofu is best for this technique.

Try it: Spicy peanut, tofu and spinach stir-fry


Amp up the seasoning
An important step in creating drool-worthy food at home comes from seasoning. A combination of the right amount of salt and aromatic spices, herbs and condiments will perk up a dish instantly. When whipping up your next tofu dish, after seasoning with salt and pepper, reach for soy sauce, sriracha, ginger and sesame oil as your go-to pairings for tofu. Another recommended addition is flaked bonito or katsuobushi — which is dried and smoked tuna. Sprinkled on top before serving, it will add depth and notes of umami (look for this ingredient in Asian specialty food shops).

Try it: Chilled tofu with ginger-sesame sauce

Did you know? Silken tofu is Japanese tofu while regular tofu is Chinese. Both varieties are available in soft, firm and extra-firm, however regular tofu will always have a firmer texture than silken.


For more tofu recipes, click through the gallery below:

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