Tofu is a food that can be either fabulous or dull – and how it turns out depends entirely on how you cook it. There are various types of tofu, and not all are appropriate for every kind of recipe. Then there are some simple techniques to cooking tofu that can bring out the maximum amount of deliciousness.
We’ll share all of that here with you so that you know how to cook with tofu to please everyone, veggie, vegan, or meat-eater.
Get the right type of tofu for the right recipe
There are many different kinds of tofu, so how do you know which one to choose? You’ve got silken, medium, firm, and extra-firm – and the difference is in the texture. To be exact, the higher the water content of the tofu, the softer the texture.
You will usually find tofu either packed in water or vacuum-sealed. Tofu is typically stored in the refrigeration section of the store to keep it cool.
Here are the different types of tofu and the best types of dishes to prepare for each:
- Silken tofu. Silken tofu is the tofu that is the softest. This tofu gives your finished dishes a smooth and creamy texture when blended with other ingredients. Think foods like smoothies, sauces, dips, creams, puddings, salad dressings, etc. Sponge like and fibrous, soft tofu is best for blending, mashing, and crumbling. Its texture makes it a wonderful alternative to cottage or ricotta cheese, heavy cream, and eggs.
- Medium tofu: Medium tofu is firmer than silken tofu, but it is still soft enough to fall apart easily. Its delicate texture works perfectly for soups. Most people have eaten medium tofu in miso soup, for instance.
- Firm tofu: Firm tofu is excellent for recipes that use crumbled tofu to replace ground meat or scrambled egg-type texture. Think tofu scrambles, tofu tacos, or tofu chili. Firm tofu also works well in stir-fries with vegetables, and you can pan fry slices of it too. More versatile than its soft cousin, firm tofu is the perfect meat substitute. It is wonderful when crumbled, sliced, and cubed. It can be broiled, grilled, or pan-fried. You can slice it to use in sandwiches or on the barbecue grill, cube it for soups, or stir-fry with vegetables. It has a lighter consistency than the extra firm style.
- Extra-firm tofu: Extra-firm tofu is perfect for BBQs since its texture enables you to cut cubes of tofu that won’t lose their shape or fall off of skewers. Use extra-firm tofu when you want to make stir-fries, baked or pan-fried tofu slices, or grilled tofu. Extra-firm tofu can also be crumbled to use in tofu scrambles as above. Also a perfect meat substitute that can be crumbled, sliced, cubed, broiled, grilled, or pan-fried, extra-firm tofu provides more protein than any other style of tofu.
- Silken Tofu: Silken tofu has a silky smooth, creamy texture similar to a custard. This tofu, when mashed, blended, or stirred, can be used in recipes calling for a creamy texture. Silken tofu is more susceptible to breaking apart when handled, so do not expect it to hold its shape. Because of its higher water count, silken tofu will not stir-fry well and will not absorb the flavors of the dish as well as firmer varieties. Instead, use it in recipes as a milk, cream, mayonnaise, or egg substitute. Enjoy mouth¬ watering fruit smoothies, guilt-free creamy soups, and savory dips and toppings. Firm and extra-firm silken varieties will hold their shapes better and can be used in place of regular soft or firm tofu.
- Marinated Tofu: Though it is simple to marinate tofu at home, pre-packaged marinated tofu is a convenient and tasty alternative. If necessary, saute the tofu in a little oil to improve the flavor. Marinated tofu comes in a wide range of flavors.
- Smoked Tofu: Smoked tofu can be used straight from the package, sliced in sandwiches, or diced in salads. Thinly sliced and grilled or fried, it becomes crispy, making it the perfect substitute for smoked meat or fish.
- Freeze-Dried Tofu: With a rather distinct, spongy texture, this variety of tofu is best used with marinades and sauces. Available in airtight containers, it must be reconstituted with water. Its toughness makes it a good meat substitute. It is perfect for camping and backpacking.
- Fermented Tofu: Found in jars and tins in Chinese specialty markets, this tofu is similar to Camembert cheese. Its salt content is too high to be palatable on its own, but when mixed with other ingredients, it can bring a pleasant, distinctive flavor to a dish.
Drain your tofu for maximum flavor absorption
Tofu has a lot of liquid – even the firm and extra-firm varieties. Therefore, you want to remove as much liquid as possible before cooking with it. The more liquid you remove from your tofu, the better it will soak up flavors from your sauces and spices. Think of tofu like a sponge: a wet sponge doesn’t soak up much at all!
Draining your tofu can add a bit of extra prep time (especially if you’re doing it by hand, it takes about 30 minutes). However, you can speed up this process with a tofu press such as a Tofubud, or another model; your tofu will be drained and ready in about 5 minutes.
If you’ve ever eaten tofu and found it a bit soggy, draining takes care of this. Your tofu will be flavorful, chewy, and soft where it should be.
Marinate your tofu
You probably know that tofu on its own doesn’t taste like much. If you want to really infuse your tofu with flavor, marinating is the best way to do that. One caveat: unlike with meat, tofu doesn’t benefit from oil-based marinades. Because tofu is heavy in water content, any oil will slide off the tofu, and you’ll be left with a soggy dish.
Use marinades with a base of citrus fruit (lemon or lime juice), any type of vinegar, or a soy sauce/tamari base. Let your tofu marinate for at least 30 minutes, or overnight if you can (in the fridge).
For best results, marinate firm or extra-firm tofu, which holds its shape better than the other types. Remember that silken tofu is blended with other ingredients, so you don’t need to marinate it as it’s there mainly for the texture that it brings.
Consider freezing your tofu first
This might sound surprising, but tofu takes on a deliciously chewy texture – a bit more like tempeh – if you freeze and thaw it first. Tofu that has been frozen and then thawed will also absorb marinades better, so it’s a win-win!
Cook your tofu correctly
Silken tofu is blended into recipes, and medium tofu is cubed and added to soups. For firm and extra-firm tofu, you can cook it by pan-frying, stir-frying, grilling, scrambling, or baking.