Tofu-most people have a strong opinion about it. You either love it or hate it, I have found. And many people who love it are still trying to perfect cooking it. If you are new to tofu cookery, you may be extra confused on how to make it taste as good as you hear it is. You may have never had it or you may have had it a few times and know it has to be better than it is coming out for you. If you are a “Tofu Virgin”, here are some tips for cooking tofu for tofu newbies.
How to Cook Tofu for Newbies
Tofu is fairly easy to cook and extremely versatile. It picks up any flavor you want it to, soaks up marinades easily and is packed with protein so it can add to just about any dish you want to put it in. First, here are some basics for getting the most out of your tofu.
What Is Tofu?
Tofu is essentially like a sort of cheese. It’s not dairy in any way, but is made from a plant called the soy bean. Have you ever had soy milk? This is like the cheese made from it. It is made in a similar fashion-without curds and whey of course- as dairy cheese. It is separated and pressed into the tofu logs. It is a great source of protein.
How to Drain Tofu
It is imperative that you drain your tofu before cooking. Think of tofu like a sponge. It soaks up water that it is stored in the package with so you will need to “squeeze” the sponge to get it out to make room for flavors, seasonings and marinades. Draining tofu is fairly easy. Serious Eats suggests using salted boiling water to help the tofu release as much extra liquid as possible and while I have good luck with just patting it down and giving it a gentle squeeze with a paper towel, I think this might be even better so I will give it a try next time. Tofu can also be drained by placing between a couple of clean towels and placing a weight on top such as a thinner chapter book. You can also get a Tofu Press to make things easy as well.
How to Saute Tofu so it’s Crispy
I used to toss my tofu into the pan or wok and wonder why it was still spongy when it looked crispy. To me, tofu is best when it is crispy and I tried tossing it in flour just like I do with chicken, but found that just a tablespoon or two of plain old cornstarch works best because it acts as a barrier from the oil, not something to just soak up the oil. You really don’t need much. Just enough to lightly coat. If you use too much, you will end up with a gummy mess. Cook tofu on medium high for the best crispy factor.
How to Marinate Tofu
Make sure your tofu is drained and then marinate it the same way you would any other meat. One thing you don’t want to add to the marinade is any oils, though. It will leave your tofu tasting too oily when it’s cooked because it is a sponge like substance. I also stay away from too much vinegar because it tends to almost pickle the tofu and I am not into that. I like to use teriyaki and curry-based marinades best. Tofu also tastes great when it is spicy.
One word of warning, tofu won’t be as string flavored as meat is when you marinate it. It simply doesn’t have the same ability to be infused with flavor as meat does. If you want to make it taste stronger, I suggest pan frying it with the sauce you used to marinate it in just before serving. Make sure to season it more than you would meat as well. It will be bland if you don’t.
Types of Tofu and what to Use them for
Silken tofu- This is almost like tofu buttermilk. It is perfect for sauces, soups and even smoothies. You can get silky soft or a little firmer silken tofu if you have a good variety where you shop. You have to be gentle with it as it is very fragile. It is mostly curds and it has not been pressed the way the other kinds of tofu has.
Medium, Firm and Extra Firm Tofu- This is what I most often cook with. I suggest this as a starting point for most newbies. It is a good texture and offers a little forgiveness.
Smoked Tofu- I use smoked tofu the same way you would use smoked meat. I don’t usually cook with it but rather use it cold in salads and sandwiches.