How to Cook Tofu

Tofu is the most popular and familiar vegetarian and vegan protein, but most people don't know how to prepare and cook it. If you're one of them, this page will walk you through all the basics; the different types of tofu, and how to choose the right one; how to prepare it so that you get the best results; and, of course, different ways to cook it.

Different Types of Tofu

There are different types of tofu, and each one has a distinct texture. Which one you choose will depend on how you plan to cook it.

  • Extra-Firm and Firm

    Firm tofu holds its shape really well. It’s the best one to use if you want to create crisp cubes or slices. You can also crumble it and use it in place of feta cheese, for example, or use it in stews in place of meat.
  • Soft

    Vegans use soft tofu as a replacement for cheese and dairy. It can be used to create tofu scrambles, faux egg salad, or imitation ricotta cheese, for example.
  • Silken

    Another type that’s particularly popular with vegans is silken. It’s super smooth and soft, making it perfect for puréeing. You can use puréed tofu as a base for soups, dressings, dips, sauces, puddings and pie fillings.

How to Prepare It

Tofu Slices With Herbs Tofu With Herbs

Tofu comes packed in water. The most important step before cooking it is to remove as much water from it as possible. Here's what to do:

  1. Remove the tofu from the packaging.
  2. Slice the block into thinner pieces (see photo), and place each individual slice on a layer of paper towels.
  3. Top each slice with more paper towels, and place a heavy object, like a cast-iron skillet, on top.
  4. Let it sit for at least one hour. Replace the paper towels with fresh ones as they become soaked and are unable to absorb more water.
  5. Marinate it. Once the tofu is dry it’s ready to marinate. This is an optional step as you can always add flavor while stir-frying, baking, etc.
  6. Use cornstarch or arrowroot to make it crispy. Tofu is best when it’s crispy on the outside and soft and creamy on the inside. The best way to accomplish this is to get the tofu as dry as possible and toss it in cornstarch or arrowroot.
  7. Add your favorite spices.

Now that you know about the preparation, it's time to learn how to cook tofu for the absolute best results.

How to Cook Tofu

How you decide to cook tofu will really depend on the recipe – if you choose to use one – or your personal taste.

Fry or stir-fry

This is probably the most common cooking method, and for good reason. When done right, the tofu comes out golden and crisp on the outside and creamy on the inside. (Try this easy Tofu and Mushroom Stir-Fry from bon appétite.)

Be sure to purchase a firm or extra-firm tofu. As I mentioned earlier, it’s very important to get out as much water as possible so that the tofu is dry.

You must also get the pan or wok hot before adding the tofu, and be sure to use an oil that can withstand high temperatures without smoking, such as coconut oil.

To learn more about this technique, read the excellent article from Serious Eats, How to Cook Crispy Tofu Worth Eating.

Bake

If you prefer to bake your proteins, a firm tofu holds up well in the oven.

Start by preheating your oven to between 350 and 400 degrees fahrenheit (depending on the recipe). Prepare a marinade (if you're using one). Place the pieces of tofu on a baking sheet and brush one side with the marinade of your choice. Bake for 30 minutes, then turn and brush with the remaining marinade. Continue baking until crisp, approximately 30 minutes.

Another option is to marinate the tofu in the refrigerator for 30 minutes before baking.

Of course, marinading the tofu is optional. If you plan to stir-fry the tofu after baking it, don't marinate it.

There are no hard and fast rules here. Experiment and see what you like best.

Just a quick note of caution: tofu should only be eaten infrequently and sparingly, as there are some health issues with unfermented soy.

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