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If you’ve ever wondered how to cook tofu or how to prepare tofu, you’re in the right place! Below you’ll learn about the different types of tofu, how to prepare it, how to cook it in a pan, and the best recipes to use it in.
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!
So, What IS Tofu?
Before we dive into how to prepare tofu, let’s quickly talk about what exactly it is. I know oftentimes people know what tofu is but can’t actually tell you what it’s made of.
Tofu is a protein made by curdling soy milk and forming it into a block. It’s high in protein and low in fat and practically tasteless. The key with tofu is that it takes on the flavors of the other ingredients in the recipe.
It’s a very popular ingredient in Asian cuisine and is perhaps one of the most well-known meat substitutes out there – though I encourage you to think of it as an ingredient on its own, not just as a substitute for meat!
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.”
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.
Why Cook With Tofu?
Why should you learn how to cook tofu? Here are a few of my favorite reasons.
- 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.
- 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. Even if you’re not vegetarian, cooking with tofu can just be a fun way to try something new.
Types of Tofu
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.
Extra-firm or firm tofu is going to be your friend.
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. (Though you may occasionally want silken tofu for desserts or miso soup!)
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 Prepare 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. Here’s a more detailed explanation of how to prepare tofu, though:
- Put it on a wire rack. 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
- Press it. 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.
- Leave it. 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.
- Cube it. Gently wipe off the excess liquid around the tofu itself then cube it.
- Toss with cornstarch. 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 in a Pan
Once you know the basics, figuring out how to cook tofu in a pan is not difficult at all. Master this and you’ll be well on your way to regularly incorporating tofu into your meals! (And keep reading below for some of my favorite tofu recipes!)
- Heat the oil. Once the tofu is coated in cornstarch, you’ll want to heat up 1-2 tablespoons of avocado oil in a nonstick skillet.
- Add the tofu. 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.
- Cook for 3-4 minutes per side. Let the tofu cook for 3-4 minutes on each side for crispy, firm tofu – without touching it!
Tips for Cooking Crispy Tofu
Here are a few tips for making the best crispy tofu.
- Use the right pan. 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.
- Use the right oil. 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.
- Make sure it’s in an even layer. Do not stack the tofu on top of each other. They need to be in a single layer to cook and crisp properly.
- Do NOT touch the tofu (at first). As with all things (browning meats, crisping up the bottoms of potstickers, making 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.
- Flip to the other says. After 3-4 minutes, flip the tofu and work on another side, until they are browned/crispy on all sides. 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!
Best Tofu Recipes To Try
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.
Sweet and Sour Tofu
Tofu Coconut Curry
Eggplant Tofu (Panda Express Copycat)
With just the right amount of spice, this Black Pepper Tofu is a crispy and flavorful vegetarian dinner you can whip up in no time at all.
Chilled Silken Tofu
Crispy Buffalo Tofu Fries
Crispy Popcorn Tofu
Teriyaki Tofu Meatballs
Tofu Street Tacos
Spicy Tofu Stir Fry
Tofu and Shiitake Coconut Curry Bowls
Teriyaki Tofu and Broccoli Bowls
Sesame Garlic Fried Tofu Recipe
As you can see, tofu is truly a versatile ingredient once you know how to work with it. I am always thinking of unique ways to incorporate tofu into my meals.
I hope this guide on how to cook tofu been helpful. As always, I welcome questions in the comments below and I will do my best to answer them!