The Essential Guide to Cooking with Tofu
Tofu is a sorely misunderstood food, with somewhat of a bad reputation. Many people see tofu as a spongy, flavourless health food eaten only by the strictest of vegans.
That couldn’t be further from the truth, many people simply jump into cooking tofu without doing their research, so they don’t know how to use it properly!
The blandness of tofu is one of its finest traits, this means it can be flavoured in hundreds (probably thousands) of different ways, to suit whatever type of dish you want to create.
According to legend, tofu originated in China about 2000 years ago when a Chinese cook accidentally curdled soy milk when he added nigari seaweed. Shocking to know that it wasn’t invented by some hipster in their one bedroom apartment, right?
Tofu has since become a popular food across the world, particularly in asian cultures where it is fried, dried, frozen, fermented or even used in soups.
Before we get into the best ways to prepare and use your tofu, it’s important to understand that there is more than one type of tofu available to buy from your local supermarket, health food shop or asian food store. There are 3 main types of tofu you're likely to come across in recipes and on store shelves:
Types of Tofu
Silken Tofu - Silken tofu is soft, creamy and blendable. It’s often used for desserts, puddings, sauces or even smoothies. (Silken tofu is great for making vegan cheesecakes!)
Medium Tofu - A nice middle ground, denser than silken tofu but still delicate. Commonly used in soups or miso.
Firm Tofu - Your best friend when you’re just starting out with tofu. A firmer tofu, great all rounder for cooking uses. Absorbs flavours. Great for stir frying, oven baking, pan frying or making tofu scramble.
Unfortunately tofu isn't as simple as just taking it out of the packet and using it, however the preparation is minimal and extremely easy, and it’s vital to achieving delicious, flavourful tofu.
You’ll notice that your tofu comes in a sealed pack full of liquid, so opening it over the sink with a pair of scissors is usually the least messy option. You’ll then want to drain all the liquid away, and press your tofu. I cannot stress enough how important this step is. Regardless of which type of tofu you are using, and what the end result is going to be, you always need to press your tofu.
You can buy a fancy tofu press online, but if you’re like me and already have a kitchen full of gadgets and a bank account screaming at you to stop buying things, you can easily press your tofu at home with no specific equipment.
Simply wrap your tofu in a clean kitchen cloth, or place it between a few clean pieces of kitchen roll, and then weigh it down with a large cookbook or something else heavy. This will push the water out, and the cloth will absorb it. There’s no set time for how long you need to press your tofu for, but 20-30 minutes is generally a good shout.
This next step is really going to apply to the use of firm tofu, if you're using silken tofu, at this point you usually just follow what the recipe says, you’ll probably be blending it up with a load of delicious flavours anyway, so you don’t need to worry about adding anything beforehand.
Whatever savoury dish you’re planning to use your tofu for, the chances are you’ll want to add some flavour, and soaking your tofu in a marinate is the best way to do this. You’ll want to marinade your tofu for as long as possible, I often do mine the day before and leave it to marinade in the fridge overnight. This gives it plenty of time to really absorb all the flavour.
You’ll also want to cut your tofu into the size and shape you want it before you marinade it. This created a bigger surface area for the flavours to stick to. There’s no set rule for this, but for salads and stir frys, I like to cut them into 2x2cm squares, and for poke bowls or wraps into fingers.
There are ENDLESS options for tofu marinades, and if you pop into google what type you're looking for… barbeque, mexican, sweet, asian, spicy… you’ll find something perfect for your creation.
Of course you can also create your own tofu marinade, by throwing together whatever you think will work. As a general guideline you need one of each of the following:
Fat - to help bring everything together and get your tofu nice and crispy when its cooking. E.g: Sesame oil, olive oil, soya yoghurt, coconut milk, peanut butter or other nut butters or oils.
Acid - Allows all the ingredients to mix properly, because the water in the tofu won’t like the oil otherwise! E.g: lemon, lime, orange, wine, balsamic vinegar, apple cider vinegar, hot sauce, liquid smoke, soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, miso paste, maple syrup, agave, sugar, molasse, date syrup.
Aromatic - for a deep flavour, and a mouth watering aroma. E.g: onion, garlic, ginger, nutritional yeast, thyme, basil, rosemary, oregano, paprika, cumin, coriander, sage, sesame, parsley, wasabi, tarragon, turmeric.
While not all these combinations will go together, don't misjudge the power of using two contrasting flavours to create something unique and delicious. Also make sure you let me know what marinades you come up with in the comments below, and tag us in your foodie makes on instagram.
Now for the pièce de résistance, you’ve worked hard to this point, you've drained, pressed and marinades your tofu. Now it's time to cook it. You probably know at this point how you want to cook it, but as a general rule, how you cook it depends on what kind of dish it’s going into.
Baking - this is perfect for salads, wraps and sandwiches.Place your tofu into a lined baking tray, and pour over any excess marinade you have left, although you don’t want it to be swimming! Bake at about 200c for 25-30 minutes or until its crispy and golden brown, turn once during cooking for a nice even bake.
Stir fry - Stir frying tofu is exactly what you would expect, you just add it to a hot pan and cook! Ensuring all sides get even pan time. It’s best to cook tofu on its own though, and then add it at the end, otherwise it has a tendency to fall apart when it gets knocked around by the other ingredients.
Scrambled - If you’ve never had tofu scramble, you need to. It’s a great breakfast option on toast, or a must have for a breakfast burrito. This ones a bit more in depth, so I’ll just point you in the direction of the recipe for it, which you can find here.
Air Fryer - Simply whack your tofu into a preheated air fryer at about 130c. Cook for 15-20 minutes, shaking at about 10 minutes so it cooks nice and evenly.
Griddle - Another ‘exactly what it says on the tin’ option. Your marinade will crisp up amazingly on a preheated griddle pan, and you’ll get the added lines of crispiness. This is perfect for topping salads.
Barbeque - Tofu makes for a great option for barbeques. I like to make tofu and vegetable skewers and marinade the whole lot. Then simply place them on the edge of your barbeque so you can easily turn them, and cook until your veggies are cooked! I recommend mushrooms, fresh vine cherry tomatoes and pepper.
Now that you’ve become a tofu master, your food choices have probably doubled. Tofu makes a great healthy way to pack a meal full of protein, with one cup providing more than 20g of protein.
Make sure you let me know what you get up to with your tofu, tag us in your recipes and share your tofu hints and tips in the comments below so we can all learn from each other!