Tofu Hacks: What You Need to Know About Tofu

When we asked our virtual cooking class what they thought about tofu, there was a resounding agreement that it tastes bland.

Yes, this is true. Tofu is bland. The flavor is mild at best, and the texture is unusual. But, that’s the beauty of tofu – you can change the flavor to your liking. It’s the same with chicken; the taste isn’t distinct, but it pairs well with so many sauces.

If you plan to include more plant-based meals, consider using tofu as a protein source. For reference, there are 11g of protein per 100g of tofu compared to 9g of protein per 100g of chicken.

How we prepare food makes a difference in how we form our opinion about the food. So if you’re ready, or even just curious, to learn more about tofu, read on!

The Different “Types” of Tofu

tofu section in Hmart

When discussing types of tofu, we’re really referring to the level of firmness, which includes silken, regular, firmextra-firm, and super-firm. 

Water content determines the firmness of tofu. Extra-firm tofu contains less liquid, whereas silken tofu, which is much softer, holds more liquid. The difference in firmness makes tofu a versatile ingredient. It can be a primary ingredient in desserts, soups, salads, and an excellent meat or egg substitute.

For the purpose of this blog, we’ll be referring to firm tofu.

Squeeze Out the Water!

One of the most crucial steps to cooking tofu is squeezing out the liquid. Tofu holds a lot of water, and if it isn’t expelled, it can steam your dish while cooking, making it soggy.

Here’s how you can squeeze out the liquid:

Tofu Hack 1

Wrap the tofu with a kitchen towel and place it on a plate. Place a can of beans, books, or a few bags of peas on top of the tofu. Wait for about 15-30 minutes for the water to “drain” from the tofu.

tofu hacks - drain your tofu

Tofu Hack 2

If you have enough time, freeze the tofu the day before, then thaw it in the refrigerator early the next day. You can freeze it in a block (may take longer to soften) or cut it into pieces.

Freezing the tofu changes the molecular structure, which allows water to be expelled once thawed.

tofu hacks - freeze your tofu

Tofu Hack 3

Use a tofu press! A tofu press takes out the fuss of using books, cans, and all the awkward objects, but uses the same principles of applying pressure to expel water.

tofu hacks - tofu press
Tofu press by TofuXpress. Photo credit: Williams Sonoma

How much water you need to expel also depends on the type of meal you are making. If you prefer a meal with higher water content, you may not need to squeeze out as much water.

How to Prep Tofu

Tofu hacks

Finding tofu in grocery stores can feel like a wild goose chase. There’s not really a “standard” aisle for tofu yet, but you can often find it in the produce, cheese, milk, or non-dairy sections.

Store-bought tofu comes in a block and can be cut into slices or cubes – great for stir-fries, tofu-steak, or a cold appetizer.

You can even crumble it up and cook it as taco meat, a breakfast scramble, or pie filling.

If you plan to season your tofu, make sure to drain as much water as possible. The more liquid is squeezed out, the better the seasoning will stick.

The best way to flavor tofu is to marinate it for at least 30 minutes. If you have more time, marinate it for up to 2 hours.

For an Asian-inspired marinade: In a Ziploc bag, place cubed or sliced tofu with ingredients such as fresh garlic, ginger, sesame seeds, and soy sauce with a tablespoon of sesame, canola, or olive oil for at least 30 minutes.

Pro tip: Marinades are pretty sticky and can stick to a pan or grill when cooking. Using oils can help prevent sticking.

How to Cook Tofu

Toaster Oven

During warmer months, try baking the tofu in a toaster oven to keep your home cooler. Since tofu is technically already cooked, you can’t undercook it, so feel free to bake it to your desired doneness.

a shot of a toaster oven

Steaming Method

Place cubed tofu in a steamer basket and place the basket in a wok or pan. Add a small amount of water to the wok or pan. Make sure you leave a little room between the tofu and water.

As mentioned previously, tofu is technically already cooked, so you can steam it in for 3-5 minutes to warm it up, and it’s ready to enjoy!

steamed tofu

Stir-fry

If you are making a stir-fry, cube or slice your tofu. It’s helpful to cook tofu separately or add it into your wok or pan when you’re almost done cooking.

Tofu has a delicate texture, so if you’re cooking it with other ingredients (i.e., carrots, edamame, potatoes, etc.), it can break apart easily.

stir fry tofu

Tofu Crumbles

Tofu crumbles are a popular way to substitute meat in foods like tacos and chili. Tofu crumbles can also substitute for scrambled eggs – a prevalent swap used in vegan dishes.

To create crumbled tofu, cut a tofu block into smaller blocks, and use clean hands to break the tofu until it starts to look like coffee cake topping.

Unlike cubed or sliced tofu, the crumbled version can be cooked with other ingredients because it’s already broken apart.

Tip: You can always try a 50/50 blend of tofu and ground meat as a soft entry to eating tofu crumbles.

tofu crumbles

Pan-fry

To achieve a crispy tofu texture, cube, or slice your tofu. Then, douse the tofu slices with cornstarch and pan-fry them in a tablespoon of oil.

Pro tip: Cornstarch works better with dry seasonings rather than liquid seasonings, so flavoring pan-fried tofu with seasonings like salt and pepper can be more than enough.

pan fry tofu

Ready to make a tofu dish? Try any of the following recipes:

Korean Sesame-Crusted Tofu

Tahini Buddha Bowl

Crispy Baked Vegan Tofu

If you’d like to learn more about cooking, meal prep, or nutrition, join us every Tuesday night for our Culinary Medicine virtual cooking class!