How To Cook Tofu: A Guide to Vegan Asian Cuisine
If you’ve been vegan for any amount of time, you’ve probably had your fair share of tofu. This classic Asian ingredient is full of protein and has some great nutrients that help to complete a nutritious meal.
But this delicious food isn’t just for vegans. Tofu’s flavors are subtle, with just a hint of sweetness and slight nuttiness, but what makes tofu versatile and delicious is how it absorbs the flavor of whatever you’re cooking it with.
Tofu is an excellent ingredient to include in any diet, so today, let’s discuss all things tofu – from how to prepare it, cook it, and get the most out of this unique vegetable protein.
How Is Tofu Made?
Tofu is a soy-based product. It is made by curdling soy protein with calcium or magnesium salt. This process creates the gelatinous tofu product that we all know. It’s soft, has high water content, and is an incredibly versatile ingredient.
Slightly different coagulating agents are used to make tofu either firm or soft.
After the tofu has been curdled, the process varies a bit as well. Firm tofu is pressed in a hydraulic press or centrifuge to form a block that is then packaged. And soft tofu isn’t pressed but just put into the packaging.
After it has been packaged, the tofu is pasteurized to kill any foodborne pathogens. This heating process helps to make the tofu safe to eat.
Although the specific origins of tofu haven’t been discovered yet, we know that it originated in China around the year 965 CE. Tofu became a big staple of Chinese and Japanese cuisine, and eventually, through globalization, worked its way into diets around the world.
In 1966, tofu producers started packaging their products a little differently, and that packaging method is still used to this day. The block of tofu is placed in a plastic tub filled with water, and the open top of the tub is sealed with a plastic film. The water helps the tofu to keep longer and retain its shape.
What Are the Different Types of Tofu?
There are several different types of tofu, and each of them has their own applications in the kitchen. Tofu is not only flexible in flavor and taste, but it’s also in how you use it.
Soft tofu or silken tofu is, as the name implies, the most delicate form of tofu. This variety of tofu doesn’t hold its shape as much as some of the firmer types, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t useful or just as tasty.
Plenty of dishes call for mashed or crumbled tofu, making soft tofu ideal. For example, use crumbling tofu for replacing ground beef recipes. So if you want some vegan tacos, soft tofu would be a great option.
Soft tofu also works for blending. Its higher moisture content helps it make a nice silky liquid when combined. Many dishes also call for scrambled tofu, so soft tofu is the best choice for those recipes, too.
Soft tofu is the preferred pick for a lot of Japanese dishes. Miso soup, for example, has crumbles of soft tofu floating in it.
Firm tofu, or medium-firm tofu, is a good in-between option. It’s suitable for crumbling and can also be diced and sliced as needed. It’s a nice middle-of-the-road option to have on hand and probably the most versatile tofu type.
This middle-of-the-road type is probably the most common type found in the United States, and it has about 75% to 80% water content.
Extra Firm Tofu
Extra-firm tofu is probably the thing you picture when you think of tofu: a milky-colored substance cut into perfect cubes. Extra-firm tofu is the firmest of all and is great for cutting into cubes or slices to serve as the main protein of the meal.
Because of its firmness, tofu can cook well and get a nice crispy texture on the outside while staying soft and springy on the inside. Extra-firm tofu is especially popular in Chinese cuisines, where chewy, dense tofu is often preferred.
Can Undercooked Tofu Cause Food Poisoning?
There are a lot of steps that are taken during tofu production that make it safe to eat. First, the soybeans are cleaned well before processing to ensure no surface pathogens make their way into the finished product.
Tofu is also pasteurized after packaging in order to kill pathogens that don’t like the heat and make it last longer in your fridge. Also, the liquid tofu is submerged in contains preservatives that help to keep microbial gasses from forming and contaminating the product.
So food poisoning from undercooked tofu is highly unlikely, even when it is undercooked. After all, tofu can be eaten raw.
Can Tofu Be Eaten Raw?
Tofu can absolutely be eaten raw. The way it's made makes it safe to eat. You can think of tofu essentially as a cheese made from soy milk. And just as cheese is safe to eat “uncooked,” so is tofu.
But tofu doesn’t quite have an abundance of flavor on its own, so you might have a better experience if you season it. Baked tofu, scrambled tofu, and pan-fried tofu are just a few of your options as it absorbs flavors very well.
Here are some of our favorite raw tofu recipes:
- Silken tofu with soy sauce
- Firm tofu with Lao gan ma, soy sauce, and sambal oelek
- Silken tofu with thai basil, spicy bean paste, soy sauce, and sesame oil
- Soft tofu with sesame oil, soy sauce, and furikake
- Soft tofu with white sesame seeds, gochugaru, and sesame oil
How long tofu cooks for is a matter of preference or application. Some people
like their tofu to be extra crispy and almost crunchy, while other people prefer that their tofu be soft and easy to chew.
Learning how to cook it to your preference is a matter of practice. Know what you like and how to get it there.
How Do I Press Tofu?
Pressing tofu is an essential step in its prep process for firm tofu. Soft tofu is too fragile to be pressed, so you should use it as-is for crumbling or blending.
To press your firm tofu, wrap your block of tofu in a paper towel and place it on a plate with a lip to catch all of the juices. Then, place a flat plate on the top of the block to evenly distribute the weight. Add some weight to the top plate to press all the juice out of the tofu. It should be enough weight to get the liquid out without collapsing the tofu.
Why Is Pressing Tofu Important?
Without this crucial step, your tofu just won’t get to that firm texture that is required for slices and cubes. If you leave too many juices in, your pieces will fall apart during cooking.
Removing the liquid also leaves room for marinating. Without all that moisture inside of it, tofu is better able to absorb any marinade you put it in.
Should I Marinate Tofu Before Cooking It?
Tofu is one of the best foods to marinate. Because of its spongy nature, tofu is amazing at absorbing any marinade you put it in, such as soy sauce and ginger or olive oil. It can take on any flavor profile you like!
That’s one of the great things about tofu – it’s like a blank canvas for cooking!
What Are Some Different Methods of Cooking Tofu?
We’ve already mentioned some of the methods out there for cooking tofu to perfection. But let’s go through all of them in detail. This versatile food can be prepared in so many ways, making it a great meat substitute for vegans and vegetarians.
One of the more common methods is to pan-fry the tofu. This is a great way to get it nice and golden. It’s one of the quicker and easier methods. And it’s super easy to add a few spices to make it flavorful.
Pan fry some tofu in a skillet and serve it with a bowl of rice and some steamed veggies for a hearty, healthy meal. Because of the lower temperatures, this method is also ideal for simmering your tofu in some sauce while cooking.
So if you like your tofu saucy, pan-frying is the way to go!
You can also serve your tofu scrambled. Put some soft tofu in a blender and purée it. Then set your stove to medium-low heat and give it a nice scramble, just like you would with eggs.
This is a great breakfast substitute. Throw in a little bit of turmeric, and you can even get that yellow color and a little earthiness.
Stir-frying will utilize a bit more oil and higher heat than pan-frying. If you eat cubed tofu and want it crispy, it’s best to stir fry in a wok so you don’t have to use as much oil, and it's easy to keep everything moving for an even cook.
If you’re making a stir fry with a bunch of other vegetables, tofu makes a tasty addition to these meals!
Baking tofu is a great way to get it nice and crispy without having to fry it. Frying food tends to be a lot less healthy than baking it, so this is an excellent method to learn for the health-conscious folks who enjoy crispy tofu.
Simply cube up your tofu, oil it up, and coat it with seasonings and cornstarch. Put the tofu on a baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes, tossing the tofu halfway through, and you’re done.
If you want the tofu to get a little crispier, you can also broil your tofu. It’s a similar method of baking it as far as prep goes. But while you’re broiling, you’re going to want to turn it every 5 minutes or so to make sure it browns evenly on all sides.
Broiling might be a little more labor-intensive than baking, but it can give the tofu a little extra crisp.
The all-powerful air fryer. It seems these things can cook just about anything, and tofu is no exception. Simply toss your tofu cubes in some cornstarch and seasonings and throw them in the air fryer at 375 degrees for about 10 minutes, or until golden brown.
This method can get you some extra crispy tofu that is still healthy and delicious. The air fryer does it again!
If you’re looking to get a little smokiness into your tofu, you can throw it on the grill. After letting the tofu sit in a nice marinade for at least two hours, toss it on the grill just like you would a chicken breast or steak.
How Can I Make My Tofu Crispier?
Crispy tofu is probably one of the more popular and preferred methods of eating it, but it can be difficult to get the crispiness that you want on the first try. Here are a few tips that can help.
Press for Longer
The first thing to do is press it for a bit longer. If there’s too much moisture left in the tofu when you cook it, that moisture is going to soften up the outside as the juices are released during the cooking process. This makes it tough to get the crispiness you want.
If you’re having trouble achieving the desired crisp, try letting your tofu press for another ten minutes to make sure it's nice and dry before cooking.
Opt For Stir Frying or Air Frying
Pan-frying your tofu just isn’t the most efficient way of making your tofu super crispy. If you’re really trying to get a nice crunch, choose stir-frying or air frying. Sometimes all it takes is a slight change in tactics to enjoy your tofu the way you want.
Cornstarch is very sturdy as it maintains its structure well, so it works great at giving tofu a crispy exterior. Simply toss your tofu in a little bit of a binder, and then coat with cornstarch.
For a binder, any liquid will do, but it’s best to make it have a little bit of flavor. So no matter what your cooking method, you can improve the crispiness of your tofu with just a bit of cornstarch.
Tofu is a quintessential ingredient that is enjoyed all over Asia and across the globe – and you don’t have to be a vegan or vegetarian to enjoy it!
Tofu is a flexible ingredient that can meet any of your culinary needs. This nutritious protein can help complete your meals in a fun and delicious way.
If you’re looking for a place to get tofu of all types, check out Umamicart!
We’ve got tofu of all kinds, so you can get every variety you need, delivered right to your door!