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There is definitely a learning curve when it comes to cooking tofu. If you landed on this article, you either have no idea how to make tofu or are unsatisfied with the way your tofu tends to turn out. Since tofu can safely be eaten raw, how you decide to prepare and cook it will ultimately depend on your preferences for taste and texture. It will also depend on how much time you’re willing to invest in preparing your tofu. Luckily, there is a quick method to preparing delicious tofu as well as a more elaborate method. Both results will provide you with delicious tofu every time!

How is tofu made?

Tofu, also known as bean curd, is made from soybeans that are ground in water and then heated. After the heating process, the soybean mixture is coagulated using minerals such as calcium and magnesium salt. The resulting curd is then pressed into a block and sold as tofu. From soft silken tofu to extra-firm tofu, you can purchase many different types of tofu from most grocery stores nowadays. Ideally, the type of tofu you buy should depend on how you plan on preparing it. For desserts, such as a vegan chocolate pudding, silken tofu would be the most suitable. But if you’re making a stir-fry and looking for a crispier end-result, a tofu on the firm end would be ideal.

Benefits of cooking with tofu

  • If prepared properly, it can absorb any flavor added to it
  • It can be eaten cooked or even raw
  • It can vary in form, texture and flavor, making it highly versatile
  • It can be used in savory or sweet dishes
  • Has a rich nutritional profile (high in calcium, manganese, protein, omega-3 fats, zinc and more)
  • It’s low in fat and calories

The best ways to prepare and cook tofu

Unless you’re a baby, you probably won’t enjoy eating tofu on its own without any seasoning. It’s very mild in flavor and has a slightly spongy texture that could be off-putting the first time you try it. For the adult palette to genuinely enjoy it, it must be properly cooked and seasoned. Don’t get me wrong though, there are lots of great raw tofu recipes out there, but that’s not the point of this article.

METHOD 1: Remove excess water from your tofu

The main factor in cooking excellent tofu is removing its excess water. Not only does tofu contain water, it’s also stored in water. All of that water makes it nearly impossible for the tofu to absorb any added flavor. It’s like adding water to a glass that’s already full. The key here is to remove all of the excess water from the tofu so that it can absorb whatever flavor you’ll be adding.

Here are some common methods to remove excess water from your tofu:

Note: Do not try any of these techniques on soft or silken tofu. You’ll end up with baby food.

The Cheesecloth Method (3-5 minutes)

This method is pretty easy but will break apart the tofu. It’s a perfect method for making a raw tofu dish, such as a vegan ricotta or an egg salad. It’s also suitable for making a tofu scramble or a tofu-based ground round. We do not recommend this method if you plan on slicing or cubing the tofu.

For this method, simply insert your block of tofu into a clean cheesecloth or nut milk bag and squeeze out any excess liquid with your hands.

The Paper Towel Method (3-5 minutes)

This is the most basic method and least effective method. Simply dab your tofu with a paper towel (or dish towel) to remove any excess liquid on the outside of the tofu. If you’ll be cutting up your tofu, we recommend doing that first in order to remove liquid on the interior of the tofu as well.

The Tofu Press Method – 30 minutes

If you want to achieve the perfect tofu and can’t be bothered to remove its liquid manually, a tofu press is an easy solution. Simply insert your tofu into the press, clamp it and wait at least 30 minutes for your tofu to be ready. Here are our favorite tofu presses on the market.

The Heavy Object Method – 30 minutes

If you have the time and motivation, this method is pretty great. With this method, you’ll pretty much be making your own makeshift tofu press. In order to do so you’ll need a heavy object and something to absorb or catch the liquid*.

  • Step 1: Wrap your brick of tofu in a clean dish towel or multiple paper towels and place it on a wooden cutting board or a plate
  • Step 2: Place a heavy object on top, such as your heaviest cast iron skillet.
  • Step 3: Continue to add as much weight as you can without damaging the tofu

I’ve pressed my tofu, now what?

Now that your tofu “sponge” is dry, it’s time to add it to your recipe or rehydrate it with your marinade of choice. For best results, marinate your tofu for at least 2 hours to overnight.

Too lazy to remove excess water or marinade your tofu?

After a decade of cooking tofu, I’ve discovered some techniques that eliminate the need to press tofu or marinade it. The end result is slightly different, but the amount of people I’ve impressed with this tofu is what counts here.

Here is a method to cook delicious tofu i under 10 minutes without removing excess water or marinating it.

METHOD 2: Pan fry your tofu until crispy before adding any sauce

NOTE: When I use the term frying we do not mean deep frying. We simply mean sauteeing the tofu in a bit of oil.

I seriously love this technique since you don’t have to worry about pressing the tofu beforehand or even marinating it. By frying your tofu chunks uncovered for at least 5 minutes, a lot of the water will evaporate on its own. There is no rule of thumb as to how long you should fry your tofu, but I like to fry it until all of its edges are golden. This means you’ll have to rotate your pieces a couple of times. Once all of its edges are nicely golden, it’s time to add your sauce or seasoning of choice until your tofu is nicely coated. Continue to fry your tofu for a couple more minutes, rotating the pieces as you go. Do not fry for too much longer as the sauce or spices will burn. Once your edges are nicely caramelized, your tofu is ready.

If you add your sauce or seasoning spices before frying the tofu, you’ll most likely burn the sauce or spices and the tofu’s texture would not be on point.

Here are two simple seasoning I like to add to my tofu:

  • Very simple tofu sauce: Soy sauce or tamari + garlic powder + black pepper
  • Smoky tofu sauce: Soy sauce or tamari + maple syrup + a touch of liquid smoke

Want to take this method a step further?

Take Method 2 to the next level by coating your tofu cubes with cornstarch before frying them. Once your tofu chunks are fried until perfectly crispy, add the sauce or seasoning of your choice and continue to fry for a few more minutes until your tofu’s edges are nicely caramelized.

The only difference here is the cornstarch.

Tips for cooking great tofu

  • If you have the time, marinate your tofu for a couple of hours before cooking it
  • If marinating, always remove excess water beforehand
  • For crispy flavorful tofu, fry your tofu and season it before adding it into a recipe (assuming you’re not marinating it)
  • Never add oil to your marinade. The oil with prevent the marinade from penetrating the tofu
  • Easily grill your tofu by placing it in the oven on broil for a few minutes, flipping halfway
  • Coat your tofu with cornstarch before frying or baking it for a crispier end result
  • Always make sure that you’re using the right type of tofu for whatever you’re making (silken, medium, extra firm etc.). For example, do not use silken tofu in a stir-fry as it will completely fall apart.