Tofu is one of those ingredients that can turn out pretty bad when prepared in the wrong way. Common complaints are that it’s flavourless and has an unpalatable texture (though I’ll explain later how this can be avoided!). That doesn’t mean you should be afraid to cook it. Tofu is actually extremely easy to do right with very tasty results! You just need to know a few basic things.
Getting to know tofu
First, a little bit of background. Tofu starts off as soy milk, which is essentially ground soybeans mixed with water. The soy milk is separated into curds (solids) and whey (liquids) using coagulating agents, similar to how cheese is made. The curds are then pressed into a block shape, the liquid is drained away and there you have it – tofu!
Tofu is available in a few different forms such as soft, medium and firm. My favourite kind is extra-firm because it has a much denser, “meaty” (for lack of a better word!) texture and is very versatile. It can be sliced into strips, cubes or planks and then stir-fried, baked or tossed into soups, curries and noodle dishes. Extra-firm tofu also makes a great filling for sandwiches, wraps, tacos and more.
Tofu cooking tips
One of the most common mistakes made when preparing tofu is not squeezing out the excess liquid. Skipping this step will result in soggy, bland tofu 100% of the time! Tofu is packaged in water—some will drain out of the package once you open it—but the block is still saturated. If the water isn’t pressed out, the flavouring agents like marinades, sauces and broths won’t be able to get in.
You can buy contraptions like tofu presses to make the job easier, but all you really need are a few paper towels and some elbow grease (or something heavy). I like to cut the block in half lengthwise, place them between sheets of paper towel in a single layer and press down firmly with my hands a few times. This does the trick, though you can also place a baking sheet on top of the tofu and then top with something heavy and let the moisture drain for 15 minutes.
Next, you can either marinate the tofu to add flavour before cooking, or add it to a flavourful liquid like a soup broth or curry. A tofu marinade can be as simple as store-bought barbecue sauce to something a bit more complex like a mixture of soy sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar, sriracha and sliced green onions. Whatever you use, the process is the same: drain the water as described above, toss the tofu and marinade together in a shallow container and let it sit for at least 10 minutes to let the flavours absorb. You can even marinate it overnight.
Marinated tofu can then be cooked by stir-frying in oil, baking on a sheet pan or grilling. It’s already technically cooked, so you don’t need to worry about cooking it all the way through or hitting a specific internal temperature like you would with poultry and meat. Cooked marinated tofu is what you’ll want to add to sandwiches and wraps as mentioned earlier. My grilled chipotle tofu tacos is a good example.
If you’re adding tofu to a soup or curry dish, you can skip the marinating step since the liquid will soak into the tofu while it’s cooking to add flavour. Simply drain the tofu as per usual, cut into cubes or strips and toss into the dish while it’s cooking. Think Indian and Thai curries or miso soup.