Thursday, March 14, 2013

Tofu for Dummies

In an effort to decrease my meat intake, I have been eating a lot of tofu lately.  Tofu can be a tricky food to love, especially if not prepared properly. While I'm still learning the best ways to cook and serve tofu, I think I have the actual preparation of tofu down pat now.  After speaking with some of my friends, I realized that a lot of people have no idea where to even begin with tofu.  So I have decided to devote a blog entry to all things tofu; aka: Tofu for Dummies.

The first step in preparing tofu, obviously, is to buy the tofu. Most tofu can be found in the refrigerated organic or produce section of the grocery store.  Some tofu, however, is shelf-stable, and therefore can be found in the non-refrigerated section of your grocery store.  If you can't find it on your own, just ask an employee. I've had to do that many times.  Until tofu becomes more popular, it's just sometimes going to be a tough food item to find.  However, almost all main grocery chains at least carry tofu now, even if it is hidden away sometimes.

Once you find the tofu, you need to choose which type of tofu you want.  There are two main types: Silken and Regular. 
 Silken is non-refrigerated, and is soft and creamy in consistency.  I use silken tofu to make desserts, though it can be used for non-dessert items too. Silken tofu comes in firm and extra firm consistency.  Both are pretty similar.

Regular tofu is the other type of tofu, and it comes in a solid block, packed in a water-filled tub, and is refrigerated. Regular tofu comes in firm and extra firm. There is also a soft type (I think), and there is definitely a sprouted one too, but I'm unfamiliar with both, so I'm going to gloss on over it. Moving on...  I personally like to cook with the firm type of regular tofu. As for brands, I try to just choose whatever is the freshest and least expensive.

Now that you've chosen and purchased your tofu, it's time to prepare it.  With silken tofu, there is no real preparation. Throw it in your cupboard until you are ready to use it, then try to drain whatever water you can, but no biggie if you don't drain it that well. Regular tofu, however, is a different story when it comes to preparation.  If you don't get the water out properly, you will get that weird "tofu" taste, that most people don't care for. If you prepare the tofu correctly, it should actually not taste like anything except for the seasonings and marinades you put on it, which is why tofu is such a great food to cook with.  Other than improving the taste, another good reason to get the water out is so that it can soak up whatever flavors you end up throwing at it. If there is too much water still in the tofu, the tofu will repel the majority of the seasonings, oils, and marinades.

Okay, enough rambling! Let's get to what we are really here for: how to prepare regular tofu:

1. Using a knife, make a slit at the top of the tofu package, and drain as much water as you can from the tub.

2. Grab several sheets of paper towels and fold them, and place it on a plate. You want it to be at least 6 or so layers thick. Open up the package of tofu, and set the tofu on the stack of paper towels.  Set another set of folded paper towels on top of the tofu, creating a tofu sandwich.

3. Get a clean dishtowel, and wrap it around the paper towel-tofu sandwich, with equal parts of the dishtowel on top and bottom.

4. Place something heavy on top of the wrapped tofu, like a cast iron sandwich press or a cookbook.

5. Put the tofu in the fridge for at least 30 minutes (though I personally like to do a minimum of 2 hours).

6. Take the tofu out, and unwrap. It should feel pretty dry now.  Cut into cubes or strips or whatever shape you need it for whatever recipe you are following.

7.  Place the tofu in a bowl with whatever seasonings and/or marinades, and let sit for however long you need it/want it to.  Keep in mind that you should NOT let it marinate in oil. Because tofu is so full of water, the oil will prevent any other flavors of your marinade from soaking in.  Science, people.

8.  Saute your tofu in oil on the stove in a pan. I personally like to cook my tofu in coconut oil, but most types of cooking oils should work. You can coat the tofu in cornstarch if you want it to be crispier; otherwise, tofu is usually pretty soft.  Also, you aren't limited to cooking tofu just on the stove. You can also bake it and grill it too. But I haven't actually tried either technique, so I can't tell you much about it. But I'm sure Chef Google can!

9. You can store your cooked tofu in an airtight container for up to a week in the fridge.

10. Feeling lazy? You can skip most of these steps and just buy a tofu press instead. :)

Looking for a recipe to try all your newfound tofu knowledge on?  How about a Tofu & Avocado Taco Scramble?


  1. If you are in a hurry, you can put the whole block of tofu in the microwave on high for 3 min. Then drain the water left on the plate and let it cool. Or you can cut it in cubes and boil it in water for a few minutes, until they start to have tiny little bubbles and holes in them. Drain the water, let them cool and you are good to go.

    1. Oh wow! Those are some great tips! Thanks for sharing. I'm going to try the microwave thing next time!