Oh tofu, you beautiful block of squish. Don’t you know how special you are?
Made from the mighty soya bean, tofu has been a staple food in many cultures for thousands of years. Whether or not you have experience with this foodstuff, most people have an opinion on it to some degree. Ever been party to a joke about how tofu is bland and tasteless, and believed it without question? You may have gone to a salad bar and tried the tofu offered (trying to get more Noom green foods in, perhaps), only to realize it was unseasoned, and uncooked. This was no doubt all the exposure you needed to validate the truth behind that aforementioned joke, leading you to live a life harboring strong animosity toward tofu.
Disclaimer: This was me. I, like so many, disliked tofu for a long time because of unexciting experiences. Most people fall into two camps when it comes to tofu. 1) They hate it, unquestioningly and without remorse, or 2) They want to give it a chance, but don’t really know how. I’m going to break it down, so that anyone can make tofu taste (dare I say) terrific.
Step 1: Buy the type that suits your needs
Tofu in the supermarket can be found in a couple of places. There is boxed, shelf-stable tofu, but you don’t want this one for your everyday cooking. It has its place in the kitchen of a tofu expert, but today is Tofu 101. Seek out the refrigerated tofu that comes housed in plastic containers with a bit of liquid. There are several different firmness levels of tofu, ranging from extra-firm to silken. If you are looking for a meatier, denser texture, reach for extra firm tofu as your go-to. This one works best in most recipes, and is recommended if you are a tofu novice. However, if you find a recipe for any type of tofu crumble, the firm option will be better as it is less likely dry out while cooking.
Step 2: Remove the excess water
When you take a block of tofu out of the package, it is soggy, spongy, and soaked with liquid. It doesn’t look nice, but raw chicken doesn’t look very nice right out of the package either! What you do with it next is what counts. In the case of tofu, removing that added moisture is going to be key. Many sources will tell you to use a bunch of heavy household objects to press the water out of your tofu for hours prior to cooking. Codswallop! This is why we’re buying smart (Step 1). Extra firm tofu has little moisture to begin with, and while you are welcome to press it if you’d like, it is not necessary. Take some paper towels, or a clean dish towel, and pat dry your block. You can even give it a light squeeze if you’d like, for good measure.
Step 3: Prep your tofu
Depending on what the end goal is, you’ll more than likely need to turn that large bean brick into something smaller. Cutting the tofu into small cubes or rectangles is great for stir-fry dishes, an option to top salads/bowls, or to use as a dippable finger food. Opt for large, flat rectangles to have a patty for a sandwich, on top of your pasta, or with your mashed potatoes. Crumble the block to make an eggless scramble, or hearty taco filling (recipes below!).
Step 4: Skip the marinade
Say what? Yes, skip it. In our experience, soaking your tofu in liquid prior to cooking is a waste of time. Those flavors barely penetrate unless you wait a long, long while. Heat makes the tofu more permeable to soak up the tastes you want, so using sauces during or after cooking will make your tofu a much more capable flavor vessel.
Step 4: Cook it!
This is the exciting part! There are so many ways to cook tofu depending on what you like. You can bake it, saute it, fry it (pan-fry, deep-fry, or even air-fry), scramble it, grill it… the options are extensive. This is the time for seasonings, sauces, and flavors. Try tossing your about-to-be-baked tofu in an olive oil and Italian herb blend. How about a savory peanut glaze coating before hitting the grill, or all of your favorite huevos rancheros spices cast into a skillet style scramble? Make it what you will.
Tofu gets a bad rap, and it’s easy to understand why. If you don’t understand the intricacies of this porous pillow well enough to treat it right, the results will likely be lackluster. One thing to note: as you experiment, try not to limit its purpose to solely acting as a meat substitute. Tofu is a way to turn the modest soybean into something that is delicious, versatile, and cravable. Make it what you will!
If you’re inspired, test these tried-and-true tofu recipes next time you’re feeling ambitious in the kitchen:
- “Tofu That Tastes Good” Stir Fry
- Blackened Tofu and Cheesy Grits
- Tofu Taco Crumbles
- Grilled Buffalo Tofu Po Boy
- Rancheros Tofu Scramble
Be well, and embrace the block!
Author: Dana Lingard