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Tofu Guide: How to Cook It and Love It

I am fiercely passionate about certain things and make it my mission to encourage people to try new things that they otherwise wouldn’t try.

I was fiercely passionate about encouraging people to use pumpkin in savory dishes as opposed to always thinking that you have to use pumpkin in desserts.

I was fiercely passionate about converting brussels sprouts haters into lovers, dark meat averts to converts.

I’m fiercely passionate about Coke vs. Pepsi (Coke is better, btw) and also fountain soda vs. canned.

Now, I am fiercely passionate about converting tofu haters into lovers. Of course, if you’re allergic to soy, that’s a totally different story! I also understand it could be a texture thing for most people but that might also be because you’re buying the wrong type of tofu. Let’s dig into this…

Oh, on a personal note…did you know my parent’s nickname for me was tofu? It was kind of a demeaning and condescending nickname but it’s because I got sick a lot as a kid and they called me tofu as a metaphor to the fact tofu is really soft and anything that touches it, the tofu falls apart lol

Well, if only they knew the type of tofu I have become LOL extra-firm and strong!

Why cook with tofu?

Tofu is a great alternative to meat. It’s a great source of protein and low in fat. With more and more meatless alternatives out there, tofu has been around for ages and is considered a staple in Asian cuisine.

In Taiwan, there is a district called Shenkeng District that is known for its numerous tofu restaurants and vendors. Nearly everything there is made with tofu and it’s so good! Not surprising, Shenkeng has earned its title as “Tofu Capital.”

Another great reason to cook with tofu is that it’s a great blank slate and super versatile. Think of it like the vegetarian’s chicken. It is often seasoned or marinated to suit the dish and its flavors. Since it has a spongy and porous texture, it absorbs flavor really well and that’s why I love creating tofu dishes with a flavorful sauce. It really brings the tofu to life.

It’s also the opportunity to explore a different type of protein that you may not be familiar with.

It’s all about the right tofu and how to prep and cook it.

Seriously. That’s it.

I believe that many people claim to hate tofu because they haven’t had it cooked properly, just like brussels sprouts. Additionally, it’s also the type and kind of tofu you buy and how you prepare it and ultimately, cook it.

What kind of tofu to buy

Extra-firm or firm tofu is going to be your friend. I know the tofu section at grocery stores (and specifically Asian grocery stores) can be extremely overwhelming. Who knew there were so many varieties of TOFU?!

There isn’t a specific brand I buy but rather type.

Like I said, you’ll want to look for extra-firm or firm tofu on the label. Do not buy silken tofu or anything else. Silken tofu will literally fall apart in your hands from handling it haha

Preferably, if there is extra-firm, I go with that. It ensures that it is, well, extra firm and that it won’t fall apart.

More often than not, I buy the tofu pictured in the photo above. It’s Trader Joe’s high protein super firm tofu. I don’t buy it because of the ‘high protein’ part — that’s just a nice bonus. I buy it because that’s their only extra firm/super firm variety they have. They also have an organic firm tofu that comes in a square container.

How to prep tofu

Tofu comes packaged in water to keep it fresh and because it comes packaged in water, inevitably the tofu will soak up water.

So what do you do? To prep tofu you first have to press it!

How do you press it? Literally smushing it, haha

I like putting my tofu on a wire rack on top of a rimmed baking sheet. Since it’s extra-firm/firm tofu, you don’t have to worry about it going through the grates when you put something heavy on top of it. Now if you do this with silken or soft tofu…it’s like an egg going through an egg slicer lol

Okay so after I put my tofu on the wire rack, I put a paper towel on top of it so the bottom of the heavy item doesn’t dirty it up and it can help soak up the liquid being pressed out. This is completely optional if you don’t want to waste a paper towel. I then put a heavy item on top of it, usually a cast iron skillet.

I leave it there for 30 minutes and you’ll see that there is water on the baking sheet after. There won’t be a ton but there will be some. Gently wipe off the excess liquid around the tofu itself then cube it.

I then place it into a large bowl and sprinkle 2-3 tablespoons of cornstarch on top and gently toss the tofu in it.

I suggest not using your hands but grabbing the bowl on either side and gently tossing the tofu in the air to coat it in the cornstarch.

How to cook tofu

Once the tofu is coated in cornstarch, you’ll want to heat up 1-2 tablespoons of avocado oil in a nonstick skillet.

I highly suggest nonstick or ceramic. If you’re more experienced and want to use a stainless steel or cast iron skillet, you can certainly do that but you will need a lot more oil to ensure it doesn’t stick to it.

I also highly suggest a high temperature cooking oil. Avocado oil works great in this because it has a neutral taste and it also can handle high temperature. That is what you need to get the crispy outer crust for the tofu.

If you only have olive oil or something else, that is fine too. Just know you will have to cook the exterior of the tofu longer as the heat can be as high.

Tips for cooking tofu to getting that extra crispy exterior

You want an even layer in the skillet. Don’t stack the tofu on top of each other. When you get the tofu in the skillet, shake the skillet so the tofu falls naturally into openings. Use tongs or a spatula to gently coax the tofu into an even layer.

Now, after all that is done…DON’T TOUCH IT!

As with all things (browning meats, crisping up the bottoms of potstickersmaking fall off the bone ribs), leave it alone and let it do its thing. If you keep moving it around in the pan, it won’t have the time to brown at all.

In my other posts, I keep getting criticized for saying to not touch the tofu and then instructing you all to move the tofu to get other sides crispy

To clarify this: I mean don’t touch it initially for 3-4 minutes then you can flip and work on another side, etc. until they are all browned/crispy on all sides. Of course you have to touch it to get all sides brown!

When I say don’t touch it, it just means don’t keep scooting it around or checking on it. That won’t give it enough time to sit in the skillet to get crispy.

Also, it’s inevitably a lot of work to get all six sides crispy and I typically don’t do that. I usually only do two sides. *Gasp* I know – but that is plenty good for what you need in terms of crispy tofu!

Incorporating tofu into your meals

Tofu itself doesn’t have much flavor so it really gets flavor from the sauces you make for it and toss the tofu in.

You’re in luck because I have a bunch of recipes on my site that include the sauces for the tofu I usually make for weeknight dinners.

First and foremost, the most popular tofu recipe on the blog and where all this tofu education started: Pan-Fried Sesame Garlic Tofu.

A list of several more:

I have several more tofu recipes coming up and am always thinking of unique ways to incorporate tofu into my meals. It truly is such a versatile ingredient once you know how to work with it.

I hope this “tofu guide” has been helpful. As always, I welcome questions in the comments below and I will do my best to answer them!

Catherine

Thursday 10th of March 2022

Thank you thank you for this post! I used to hate tofu but with your recipes and tips it always end up being delicious

Edina Kaludjercic

Wednesday 9th of March 2022

Hi Julie!

You don’t know how much I appreciate this post! When I messaged you on IG asking about how to buy tofu, etc. and you said you were working on a post, I wasn’t sure what to expect. But this post here, is informative, funny and to the point. I can’t say when I’m going to be able to try tofu yet but when I do, I know I will be more confident because of this post and I know I’ll be trying out some of your tofu recipes. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Julie Chiou

Wednesday 9th of March 2022

awww thank you, Edina! i hope you try tofu soon!

Elaine Baker

Tuesday 8th of March 2022

Always a great process to cook tofu. If you don’t follow her- do so! Excellent recipes and tips!

Julie Chiou

Wednesday 9th of March 2022

thank you!!

Susan Oher

Tuesday 8th of March 2022

Thanks to you I’m a tofu convert now! Have it a couple of times a week and don’t miss the chicken or meat at all! Thanks!

Julie Chiou

Wednesday 9th of March 2022

yesss! i love that you're a convert now! haha

Caylea

Tuesday 8th of March 2022

Julie’s method is foolproof and simple! Perfect for an easy meal during a busy week and tofu is so versatile!

Julie Chiou

Wednesday 9th of March 2022

thank you, Caylea!!