How to Prepare Tofu: 3 Ways

How to prepare tofu (3 ways!)I don't think I tried tofu until I was 20 or 21 years old. Right around the time I became a (mostly) vegetarian. At first I had NO idea what to do with that wet, white block of "food". It might has well have been that freeze-dried astronaut food you can randomly find at toy stores sometimes. It just seemed…foreign to me. I did not grow up eating tofu, and until I had it in a few Thai dishes at restaurants, I didn't realize that it could actually be really delicious. 

So, this post goes out to 21-year-old Emma. To her (young me) I want to say: life's gonna be OK. Just chill out. And that guy that just broke your heart, he's gonna ask you to marry him in about six years. Just work on yourself and have some fun. Ohโ€”and also, Emma, here's how to cook tofu. You're gonna need to know this.

How to prepare tofuI almost always use firm or extra firm tofu when I plan to bake or cook it. It just holds its shape better under pressure and heat. First I drain the tofu from the liquid it's packed in and place it on a plate lined with paper towels. More paper towels go on top and then another plate and a can or jar or something with a little heft. The goal is the squeeze out excess liquid so all that liquid doesn't come oozing out once we start cooking, ruining the crispy texture we're going for. 

I usually let tofu drain like this for 8-10 minutes. 

How to bake tofuWhether I plan to bake or pan fry the tofu, my next step is to cut the block in half lengthwise and then cut into small cubes or triangles. I then gently toss the tofu in 2 teaspoons of either arrowroot powder or cornstarch. Either one works well here. 

The 2 teaspoons of powder here is for a 12-13 oz package of tofu. If you are cooking more, feel free to adjust this.

How to pan fry tofuPan frying produces my favorite texture. You'll get crispy exteriors with still soft insides. I pan fry in a tablespoon or two of oil (usually olive oil) for 3-5 minutes on medium heat. Just make sure not to let the tofu stick to the pan and also rotate so that every side, or almost every side, gets cooked.

Once done, move to a bed of paper towels to remove excess oil.

How to bake tofu The method I probably use the most often is baking tofu. Why? It's pretty hands-off, unlike pan frying, so you can get a nice stir fry or curry going to add the tofu to. It also uses no oil, so it's a bit lighter as well. But it takes quite a bit longer. And there's all the pros and cons I can think of. ๐Ÿ™‚

After tossing the tofu in the arrowroot or cornstarch, place on a baking sheet lined with a silpat mat or parchment paper. Bake at 400ยฐF for 35-40 minutes, rotating the tofu every 12-15 minutes or so. 

All of these methods are best consumed the day they are made (within the first few hours really), but this one holds up the best over time. So any baked tofu you don't eat can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator and added to salads or other dinners that week. It won't be quite as crispy as the day you baked it, but it's still pretty close.

How to marinate tofuThe third method is to marinate the tofu before baking. There are probably hundreds of different marinades you can make here, but the one I use most often is simply: juice from one orange, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 1 teaspoon sesame oil, and 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes. Whisk together. Once the tofu is drained and cut, place it in a small baking dish (like a pie pan) and pour the marinade over the top. Let that soak for at least an hour, rotating once. Or you can cover and store in the refrigerator during the day while you're at work, or overnight. Then bake in the marinade pan at 400ยฐF for 30-40 minutes. Halfway through spoon the marinade back over the tops of the tofu. 

Marinaded and baked tofu has the softest texture of these three methods but the most flavor. Yum! xo. Emma

Credits // Author and Photography: Emma Chapman. Photos edited with A Beautiful Mess actions.

  • These all look great, especially that marinade on the last one! I’m not vegetarian by any means, but try to go meatless a day or two a week. I’ve only added it into soups and salads in cubes, so I’ve never cooked it.

    Since I’m kind of a tofu newbie, what’s the best way to eat the cooked variety? Simply with stirfry veggies? I’d love to hear your other suggestions!

    -Molly
    http://www.modcircus.com/

  • I had the exact same experience with tofu! It took a great Thai experience to change my mind. This post is great ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Wow, I’m 20 and I’ve never eaten tofu. I have to try it, especially because I try to reduce amount of meat in my diet.

    Emma, I love every single one of your posts!
    xo. Dominika

    messyhouseblog.blogspot.com

  • Tofu ๐Ÿ™‚
    One of my favourite foods! These are great ideas, thank you. I especially like the coating before cooking. Will try this next time I cook with it.
    Any chance you have a good recipe for scrambled tofu?

  • Emma, thanks for giving tofu some love. I’ve been a vegetarian for over 12 years and my sister has been a vegan for even longer, so needless to say we have eaten a literal ton of tofu in our lives.

    One tip is to freeze it before you cook with it. Freeze it just in the packaging, defrost it over night in the fridge, then presses it like you did in the recipe above. It changes its texture and makes it denser taking away the “slime-factor” some people hate about tofu, which is really good for Mock-Chicken salad, mock crab cakes, tofu scrambles or pan-frying it in arrowroot or cornstarch.

  • Thank you for sharing. I have had disastrous results when “trying” to cook tofu. The only time it has bee palatable for me was when I was in Thailand, mmmmm. Never know what texture to purchase, so when I go to the supermarket, going to get the firm to extra firm and experiment. Looking forward to this deliciousness.

  • Thanks for sharing! I’ve struggled to make tofu edible at home – I love love love it in Thai and Chinese food, where it’s crispy and chewy. I was never able to get it anywhere near the right consistency at home, but I found this technique gets it the closest – http://www.wellplated.com/ultra-crispy-unfried-tofu/

    Let me know what you think!

  • May I add an innovation? I often make baked tofu “croutons” for soups and salads. It’s super easy:

    * Press your tofu as suggested and chop into the desired shape. This could be small cubes, strips, triangles (probably my fave), whatever. Any shape is okay, but you’re aiming for a fairly small piece here–around 1/2 or 3/4 inch thick.
    * Skip the arrowroot step!
    * Lightly oil a baking sheet. Lay your tofu pieces out in a single layer and, depending on how heavily you’ve oiled your sheet, either spray them lightly with oil or flip them over (thus oiling both sides).
    * Sprinkle with your flavors of choice. (And you can opt for unseasoned!) I like to do at least salt and white pepper, but sometimes go for garlic powder+chili powder, or red pepper flakes, curry, or whatever.
    * Bake ’em! I typically put them in a 350 oven for about 20 minutes, then flip them and bake them for another 15-20. However, they’re pretty adaptable so you can bake them at a hotter or cooler temperature, if you’re cooking something else; just adjust your time. And you can bake these less time for a chewier, more toothsome texture, or more time for a crispier one.
    * Eat them! (The BEST step.) You can adjust seasoning here, if you want, or just toss them in or on your dish.

    These are regular additions to meal salads for me and on top of soups. My current favorite is a thai-flavored butternut squash curry, topped with a handful of tofu croutons, a spoonful of plain greek yogurt, freshly chopped cilantro, and some pumpkin seeds.

    I hope you’ll try these! I started making them more frequently when I took a break from bread/refined flours a while back. When I did this, I realized that I often added bread to a meal because I wanted something crunchy to go on or in those dishes… So now I try to add my crunch and texture in nutritionally-rich and protein-filled ways whenever possible.

    Enjoy!

    xo,
    Katie

  • You should get a tofu press! It really makes a world of difference. It’s my favorite kitchen tool.

  • Tofu is really good! I like to put it into the electric skillet and sprinkle McKay’s (non-msg) Chicken seasoning all over it with some oil and then fry all sides. You could use it on salads and stuff but it tastes really good in soft tacos. Elevates it to a whole new level.

  • You should try MOFU if you ever come across it! Locally made in St. Louis using Missouri-grown soybeans ๐Ÿ™‚ It’s amazing stuff.

  • My favorite way to cook tofu : Same process as Emma but pan fry it on med-hight heat to brown the sides, then drizzle it all with soy sauce. Cook a minute longer, until soy sauce is absorbed, then throw on 1/3 cup nutritional yeast. Turn off the heat and toss the tofu around in the pan to coat it with the nooch (nutritional yeast). We throw it in a bowl with rice and roasted brussels sprouts and some bbq sauce for a super good bbq bowl!

  • This is incredibly useful information! I actually really enjoy tofu in stirfries or ramen dishes, but have never had great success making it at home. I’m super excited to try these methods ๐Ÿ™‚

  • This pretty helpful! I always find so hard to come up with a new way to eat tofu ๐Ÿ˜€

    Thanks girls!

    Beatriz // Classy and Trendy

  • This post made me smile, it reminded me of the first time I tried tofu at Wagamama’s a few years ago. I’d thought I would hate it but I loved it! Crispy and creamy at the same time.

    I like to fry mine in coconut oil to give it that flavour, then add to pretty much everything.

    Issie x
    concealerandkale.blogspot.co.uk

  • Emma, can you recommend a good pan for frying tofu? For frying anything, really. I have a stainless steel copper bottom pan and most things stick when I try to fry, leaving me with a huge mess to clean up later. In fact, if you havenโ€™t done one, maybe you could do a cookware post sometime? I would like to replace what I have but there are so many choices out there I get overwhelmed.

  • I used to love tofu as a child but haven’t had it in years. This posts makes me think I need to try cooking it for myself.

  • I second that – getting a tofu press changed my (tofu) life! And once you’ve pressed out all that juice, you can use the same press as a marinating box and pop it back in the fridge with your lemon/oil/chipotle powder/soy sauce (my fav marinade) for a couple of hours.

    PS- Emma, love that line about what’d happen six years later with that same guy. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • I don’t know about Tofu xd or rather I don’t know if I can pull this recipe off, everything I know about cooking comes from cooing games at http://papasgames.us/ so it’s probably going to be difficult for me. I’ll try it anyway, thanks for the recipe.