Oftentimes, people have told me that they want to like tofu, but just don’t know what to do with it. Contrary to popular belief, tofu is not scary. As a matter of fact, it’s pretty easy to cook with and can be made into just about anything including a wide variety of breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert, snack, and condiment options. This Cooking with Tofu guide should make it less intimidating.
What Exactly is Tofu Anyway?
Tofu is an Asian food made from soybeans. Production involves first soaking soybeans in water to create soy milk. The milk is then curdled using a substance such as calcium sulfate or lemon juice. From there, curds are separated from the whey and usually packaged in block form. It is sold in a variety of options, from soft to extra firm, and they differ mainly in the amount of water retained.
There are two main types of tofu—silken and regular. Silken tofu is often called Japanese-style tofu, as well as soft or silk. It has a more delicate texture and will fall apart if not handled carefully.
Silken tofu is sometimes packaged in aseptic, shelf-stable boxes that do not require refrigeration. It is great to keep on-hand, since there is no requirement to use it quickly. It is also packed in very little water and doesn’t need to be drained or pressed for many recipes, unlike regular tofu.
Both silken and regular tofu can be found in soft, medium, firm, and extra-firm consistencies. They are made with the same ingredients, but they are processed slightly differently and with different amounts of water.
Silken Tofu (Japanese-Style) for Use in Creams and Sauces
Silken is the creamiest type of tofu, and it is labeled with different consistencies—soft, medium, firm, and extra-firm—depending on how much soy protein it contains. Silken is the best option for blending into sauces, creams, mayo, and dressings.
Whether blended or pureed, silken tofu has a thick and creamy texture that is perfect for many recipes. Some of my favorites are Eggless Low-Fat Mayo, Chipotle Ranch Dressing, Tofu Sour Cream, and Chocolate Mousse.
Regular Tofu (Chinese-Style) for Use in Stir Fries, Baked Dishes, or Grilling
Regular tofu is sometimes called Chinese-style and is usually sold in plastic containers in the refrigerated section of supermarkets.
It is also labeled with different consistencies from soft to extra firm, depending on how much water has been pressed out of it. Regular Chinese soft tofu is similar to Japanese silken tofu, though not quite as smooth and creamy. These two types are usually interchangeable for most recipes.
Firm or extra firm regular tofu is best used in tofu stir-fry recipes, making baked tofu, or any dish where you will want the tofu to retain its shape.
Medium through extra firm regular tofu are progressively more dense with a lower water content. These types of tofu should be drained and pressed to remove the water content.
Two Options for Draining and Pressing:
One of the most common complaints about tofu is its bland flavor. I happen to think that is one of its best attributes, because a good marinade can infuse it with flavor from the inside-out. I consider it a blank canvas for whatever combinations I happen to dream up. Some great options would be barbecue sauce, Stir-Fry Sauce, or Sweet Ginger Sesame Sauce.
Ready for Cooking
After marinating, it’s time to cook, and there are a number of different options. It can be cooked as is or coated with breading or cornstarch. I often prefer cornstarch, which helps get the tofu’s exterior deeply golden brown and crispy when frying or baking. Here are five ways to cook tofu:
I hope this guide inspires you to make some tofu dishes soon. There are so many options for recipes and cooking methods to try. If one doesn’t work for you, try a different one. My bet is that you’ll be a tofu pro in no time!
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