If you're new to cooking vegan proteins like tofu, you might make mediocre meals as you learn the best preparation methods. We're here to shortcut that with a cheat sheet that holds everything you need to know to cook great tasting tofu!
The first time anyone tries tofu can make or break their opinion on this light, vegan protein. Soggy, bland, or underdone - improperly prepared tofu is unfortunately all too common. This is especially true outside of the Asian and vegan communities, who have more experience working with this underrated protein.
But when tofu is done right, it's succulent, flavorful, and incredibly versatile. Create creamy vegan desserts with silken tofu. Firmer varieties of tofu taste great fried crispy in a piping hot bowl of crispy Korean bibimbap.
But you shouldn't just take a block of tofu out of the package, slap it in a frying pan, and eat it up. There are specific ways to prepare tofu that vary with the tofu type you're working with: silken, firm, and extra-firm.
We've created this simple guide to teach you more about the basics. Learn how to prep tofu, how to press tofu, and how to flavor tofu. Our tips for cooking tofu will help you produce top-notch results!
Follow our helpful guide and learn how to make tofu that tastes good to complement any meal!
What is tofu?
You're likely familiar with the packaged white block, suspended in a liquid that sits in the refrigerated section of most grocery stores.
But what, exactly, is tofu? This white block of mystery meat substitute is a combination of soybean curds and water. Manufacturers take soymilk, add a coagulating agent that turns the milk into solid curds, and then press the curds into slabs.
What does tofu taste like?
Tofu has the dreamy texture of a fluffy cloud and a taste that is almost undetectable. However, it can be a bit of a hard sell for people who struggle with different food textures - that's where the right preparation comes in.
As far as the mild taste, tofu picks up the flavor of whatever you cook with it. We almost always recommend marinating firm tofu before cooking and making a rich, savory sauce to amp up the taste.
Eating tofu is a fantastic way for vegetarians and vegans to hit their recommended daily protein intake without meat and other animal products.
This high-protein food ranks better than meat in the saturated fats department!
To make tofu, manufacturers add a coagulating agent. This ingredient also ups the mineral content of tofu, which is high in calcium and magnesium. Many kinds of tofu are fortified with extra vitamins and minerals that are especially important for vegans, like vitamin B12.
These are the three basic types of tofu that you'll run into in vegan cooking.
What is silken tofu?
Silken tofu is much different than firm and extra-firm. Silken tofu is incredibly soft and creamy, with an almost custard-like consistency. It falls apart easily and doesn't always require refrigeration like the other tofu types. You should not use silken in the frying pan or the grill.
Silken is the best choice to replace milk and cream in recipes - you'll often find it in soups, salad dressings, and desserts.
What is firm tofu?
Firm tofu is the most common, middle-of-the-road tofu. It's much firmer than silken, yet softer than extra-firm.
It's the best tofu to use for marinating, as it's soft, spongy texture can absorb the most flavor. You can virtually cook this tofu any way you choose, including pan-frying, baking, and grilling.
What is extra firm tofu?
Extra-firm tofu, as the name suggests, has the firmest texture of the three. This tofu can be cooked in the same ways as firm tofu, resulting in a more dense and chewy texture.
This tofu can be marinated but won't absorb as much flavor as firm tofu because of its density.
How to press tofu: steps for preparing tofu
We think the ultimate key to making tofu taste good is in the press. Unfortunately, it seems like this step can get overlooked and skipped, resulting in a soggy dinner.
Silken tofu is barely pressed and has high water content. It's so soft and will crumble apart when pressed, so keep this type exclusively in dishes that need a creamy element.
Firm tofu is the one you'll be working with most often. It is further pressed, though much of the water remains. You need to press the block before cooking. We love to use this press - it's simple to use, and cleanup is easy.
- To press your tofu, place the block in a tofu press. Place the lid on the press and turn the knob until it clicks. Leave the tofu to drain for 15 min.
- If you don't own a press, you can wrap your tofu in a dry towel and press it between two heavy plates. This method takes much longer; leave the tofu pressing for 2-3 hr minimum.
Once the water is pressed out of the tofu, it will be primed and ready to absorb the marinade fully. Think of it like a sponge - a dry sponge will sop up liquid, while a wet one has no more space to absorb the extra liquid.
Extra-firm tofu still contains water, so it will often need pressing, but for a shorter time.
How to marinate tofu: building your tofu flavoring
Once your tofu is pressed, it's marinating time! A marinade is the best way to start adding flavor to the tofu block.
Pick your marinade, pour it into a shallow dish, and leave for a minimum of 30 minutes to soak. For the best results, leave for 4 or more hours. We love to slip our tofu into a marinade in the morning so that it's full-flavored and ready to go when dinner time rolls around.
Because tofu's natural flavor is so light, it pairs well with almost anything you choose. We love Asian-inspired marinade with soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, fresh garlic and ginger, and spicy chili paste. Decide how to season tofu based on what dish you are creating.
How to cook tofu: fried, baked, & grilled
These are the three primary ways you can use to cook the best tasting tofu.
My personal favorite is pan-frying tofu into crispy, golden cubes. It's simple and, even more importantly, quick!
- Cut your marinated tofu into 1-in cubes.
- Heat some cooking oil (we like sesame) in a pan over medium heat, and add in the tofu.
- Pan-fry the cubes, occasionally stirring until all sides are golden brown. Each side will take 2-3 min.
If you like your tofu extra crispy, dredge it through some cornstarch before frying. It adds a crispy, light outer coating to the tofu without too much oil or heaviness.
If you're looking to avoid cooking with oil, try baking your tofu. It will still be crisp on the outside, with even more water baked out for a denser, chewier center.
- Preheat your oven to 400°F. Cut your tofu into 1-in cubes and place them on a lined baking sheet.
- Bake for 30 min total, flipping halfway through.
Grilling tofu is the perfect way to offer a vegan option at your next barbecue. Grilled tofu is smokey, crunchy, and super tasty.
- Cut your tofu block into six thick slabs.
- Heat your grill to medium heat. Oil the grates and spread the tofu over the grill.
- Cover the grill and cook for 10-15 min, flipping once.
Final notes on our tofu cooking tips
Alright, we've covered all of the basics on how to make tofu tasty!
Here's a quick recap:
- Choose the right tofu for the job. For creamy recipes, use silken. Use firm and extra firm for any cooked dishes.
- Give your tofu a short press for 15 min to remove the extra water.
- Marinate your tofu block for at least 30 min and up to 24 hr - this is the best way to add and enhance your flavors.
- Bake, grill, or fry to your heart's desire!
Remember these basic guidelines, and you'll be cooking your tofu to perfection - every time!