How to Cook Tofu 6 Different Ways
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Does your tofu always turn out soggy? Does it sometimes fall apart as it cooks? Learn how to cook tofu that turns out stellar, every time.
If you’ve ever had a crispy piece of pan-fried tofu or a smooth and creamy tofu puree, you know how amazing it can be. Unfortunately, too many of us have had tofu that turned into a forkful of soggy mush. That type of experience might turn you off from tofu for life, but it doesn’t have to be that way! This plant-based protein has the ability to soak up other flavors, and (when cooked correctly) can result in caramelization that rivals any piece of meat. As a bonus, it’s easy to learn how to cook tofu if you know a few basics. Once you get started, you’ll realize that tofu can be cooked in so many different ways, and always turn out delicious.
Types of Tofu
If your tofu recipes aren’t turning out exactly as you’d imagined, it’s possible you chose the wrong type of tofu—just one of the mistakes people make when cooking tofu. Tofu is extremely versatile: It can be enjoyed raw, pan-fried, baked, stir-fried, grilled, deep-fried, broiled, simmered in soup and more. But each type of tofu has an ideal cooking method. The different types of tofu reflect how much water is pressed out, affecting the texture and the tofu’s ability to soak up other flavors. So it’s important to know which one you need before you add tofu to your plant-based grocery list!
Silken or Soft Tofu
If you want tofu to maintain its blocky shape, stay away from silken tofu. But, if you’re planning to use tofu in recipes that result in creamy consistency (like blended smoothies, dips or tofu-based salad dressings), silken is the way to go. This type of tofu is unpressed, so it contains a ton of water. That also allows it to soak up other flavors exceptionally well, like a sponge, so it will take on the taste of the ingredients it’s cooked with.
Firm or Extra Firm Tofu
As the name indicates, firm and extra firm tofu have a firm texture with a spongy consistency. Most of the water has been pressed out, making it possible to cut solid shapes out of the block. Firm tofu is a little softer in consistency, and it will fall apart a little bit as it cooks, making it perfect for scrambles or stir-fry dishes. Extra firm tofu contains even less water, so it’s ideal for creating crispy edges when pan-frying, grilling and baking.
Tips for Cooking Tofu
Remove excess water
The best way to avoid soggy tofu is to remove as much excess water as possible. This is also one of the keys to cooking tofu without it falling apart! Tofu has been pressed to remove water before it’s packaged, but it’s also packed in water to keep it fresh. It’s important to drain this water and, at the very least, pat the block dry before proceeding. For best results, follow our all-important first step (more on that below) and press out additional water before proceeding.
Cut into small slices or cubes
The way you cut tofu will affect how it cooks. Larger chunks take longer to cook, so we recommend cutting tofu into 1/4- to 1/2-inch slices or cubes for most cooking methods. This allows the exterior to crisp up while the interior warms all the way through.
Add flavor with a marinade
Tofu takes really well to marinades because it soaks up other flavors like a sponge. That said, we spend a lot of time pressing water out of tofu before cooking it, so we don’t want to replace that water with extra liquid. When we’re aiming for the crispiest tofu (especially when pan-frying or baking), we often skip the liquid marinade and use a spice rub instead.
If crispy edges aren’t important, go ahead and whip up a flavorful marinade. Just be sure to skip the oil! Oil and water don’t mix, and a coating of oil will lock moisture inside the tofu, which can give it an overly custard-like texture. When you’ve prepared your oil-free marinade, place the pressed, cut pieces of tofu in the liquid for about 15 minutes.
After removing tofu from the marinade, pat it as dry as possible with a clean towel and let it sit at room temperature for 15 minutes to further dry out before cooking. You can also dust marinated tofu with cornstarch to help it crisp up on the outside.
Don’t move the tofu around
Finally, when you’re cooking tofu, try not to move it around too much. Even extra-firm, pressed tofu is pretty delicate, so you definitely don’t want to vigorously stir a pan containing tofu. Instead, gently shake the pan and use a spatula to flip the pieces over when it’s time.
You can eat raw tofu, too
Of course, you don’t have to cook tofu. It’s safe to eat raw tofu! The most popular forms of raw tofu are soft and silken tofu, which are usually blended or whisked into salad dressings. It’s still a good idea to press raw tofu before consuming it because the excess water can make it messy and dilute the other flavors.
How to Press Tofu
Before you do anything else, it’s important to drain and press the tofu. Pressing tofu removes as much excess moisture as possible, yielding a better final texture. It also allows the tofu to soak up more marinade, making it that much more flavorful.
Some people swear by freezing tofu first. It’s true that this does help remove some of the excess water, and it also gives the tofu a chewier texture.
If you’re running short on time, you can skip the pressing step with firm and extra-firm tofu. Simply pat the tofu dry and coat it with enough cornstarch so it’s coated but not dusty. This hack works in a pinch, but it won’t create an extra crispy exterior, and the tofu’s texture won’t be as firm.
Method 1: Weighted pressing at room temperature
Cut the tofu into slices or cubes. Line a rimmed baking sheet with a clean kitchen towel and arrange the tofu pieces in a single layer. Cover the tofu with another clean towel and place a second baking sheet on top. Weigh the top sheet down with a heavy skillet or a stack of books. Let stand for 30 minutes before marinating or cooking.
Method 2: Extended pressing in the refrigerator
Cut the tofu into two pieces. Line a plate with a clean kitchen towel and arrange the pieces in a single layer. Cover the pieces with another clean towel and place a second plate on top. Weigh the plate down with a few cans from the pantry, and place the plates in the refrigerator overnight.
Method 3: Use a tofu press
You can remove the extra water from a whole block of tofu with a tofu press. Put the press in the fridge for at least 20 minutes, but as long as overnight. Then remove the pressed tofu and drain the excess liquid into the sink.
6 Ways to Prepare Tofu
How to cook tofu on the stove
Pan-frying tofu in a hot skillet is one of our favorite ways to enjoy this plant-based protein. We like cutting the tofu into 1/4- or 1/2-inch slices that resemble “steaks.” They’ll become delightfully crisp on the outside and soft and custardy on the inside. Serve pan-fried tofu like you would a seared steak (over grains, salad or vegetables), or use it to make any number of filling sandwiches.
It’s important to start with an oil with a high smoke point, like avocado oil or canola oil. You’ll also want to be sure the tofu is as dry as possible; otherwise, it can splatter hot oil all over the cooktop. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the tofu slices in a single layer, leaving plenty of space between the pieces. (If the pan is overcrowded, the tofu will steam and never become crispy.) If you need to fry in multiple batches, you can hold the cooked tofu in a 200°F oven while you fry the remaining pieces.
After about 5 minutes, or when the tofu achieves a golden brown color, use a spatula to carefully flip the tofu and continue cooking it on the second side for another 5 minutes.
You can practice this method by making Curried Tofu with Rice.
How to cook tofu in the oven
For a more hands-off approach to creating crispy tofu, we recommend baking in the oven. Our preferred cut here is 1/2- to 3/4-inch cubes. The thinner the cube, the crisper the tofu, and the quicker they’ll cook. They’re fantastic as a snack, and they make a wonderful addition to salads and wraps.
Preheat the oven to 400° and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Pat the tofu as dry as possible and toss with your favorite spices. Feel free to add a little cornstarch to the mix to promote crispy edges. Spread the tofu onto the prepared baking sheet in an even layer and bake for 10 to 15 minutes. Gently flip the tofu pieces to promote even cooking and cook for an additional 10 to 15 minutes, until golden brown and crispy.
How to stir-fry tofu
Tofu makes an excellent addition to vegetarian stir-fry dishes. It’s a complete protein, containing all the essential amino acids our bodies need, and it melts into the other flavors of the stir-fry. We like using firm tofu here because of its crumbly texture, but extra-firm works well, too. If you want a scrambled texture, use soft or medium-firm tofu. It’s best to cut the tofu into small cubes (about 1/4-inch pieces) to help them cook more quickly.
In a large skillet, heat an oil with a high smoke point over medium-high heat. Add the tofu and cook for 7 to 9 minutes, shaking the pan to keep it from sticking, until the tofu is golden brown and crisp. Remove the tofu and add the remaining stir-fry ingredients. When the stir-fry is complete, add the tofu back to the pan to warm it through.
Test this method with our Asparagus Tofu Stir-Fry recipe.
How to air-fry tofu
Your air fryer is a fantastic way to cook tofu quickly. It works the same way as the oven, but the convection air circulates more heat around the tofu to make it extra dry and crispy. Cutting the tofu into cubes is generally the best fit for most air fryers, but you can use large slices and cook in batches if you prefer.
To make air-fryer tofu, preheat the air fryer to 400. Slice and season the tofu as desired. Place the tofu on the air fryer rack and cook for 6 to 8 minutes, shaking the basket occasionally to promote even cooking, until the tofu is lightly browned and crisp.
How to cook tofu in soup
In general, we like using firm or extra-firm tofu for soup. It holds its texture better without falling apart. That said, if you’re making a pureed soup, don’t be afraid to use soft or medium-firm tofu. To prevent the tofu from crumbling as it cooks, we recommend cutting it into 1/2-inch cubes and adding them at the end of the cooking time. Be sure not to boil the soup containing tofu, as it will cause the pieces to fall apart.
Follow your soup’s recipe instructions through the point where you simmer the broth. When the flavors have come together to the point where you’re happy with them, add the tofu and simmer for about 5 minutes, until the tofu is warmed through.
Give it a try with this Asian Tofu Noodle soup.
How to grill tofu
Grilled tofu is an absolute treat! The char from the grill combined with the smoke from the charcoal turns tofu into a meaty main, and it’s a fantastic addition to BLT-style sandwiches. That said, it can be a little tricky to pull off, as tofu loves to stick to grill grates. Be sure to start with a hot grill and clean, oiled grill grates for best results. We also recommend using well-pressed, extra-firm tofu that’s cut into larger slices—1/2- or 1-inch slices work best.
Prepare a gas or charcoal grill for medium-high heat. Place the tofu pieces on the grill and close the cover. Cook for 5 to 8 minutes until the tofu has grill marks. Flip and cook, covered, for an additional 3 to 5 minutes until both sides are browned. Feel free to brush the tofu with your favorite barbecue sauce or marinade while it cooks, too.