Tofu gets a bad rap as a flavorless hippie food. Far too many people botch the preparation and end up with spongy, bland blobs, but that doesn't mean tofu's to blame. These 5 rules for the best tofu you'll ever eat will prove that point.
Look, tofu isn't like other proteins. The delicate soy-based ingredient must be handled with care. You can't just chop it up, sprinkle on some salt and pepper, and toss it in the oven, expecting it to taste good. There's an art to cooking tofu, and once you learn it, you'll see how this versatile ingredient can take on a tender texture and pack a punch of flavor.
Related Reading: 12 Easy Ways to Eat a More Plant-Based Diet
Want to learn how to make tofu that actually tastes good? We asked vegetarian chefs to reveal their secrets to making insanely delicious tofu. Here are their tips and tricks.
1. Buy the Right Type of Tofu
The biggest mistake people make with tofu happens not in their kitchen, but at the grocery store. They buy the wrong type of tofu for their dish. Tofu comes in a few varieties based on their density, ranging from silken to regular, firm, extra firm, and super firm.
"Each type has its own purpose, and it's not one size fits all," said Suzannah Gerber, vegan executive chef at Haven Foods and author of "The Plant-Based Gourmet: Vegan Cuisine for the Home Chef."
Silken tofu, commonly used in miso soup, easily blends into things like custards and creams, she explained. Regular tofu works well for a crumbly scramble, while the firmer varieties can be fried, sauteed, or baked into chewy meat-like protein. Make sure you get the right kind of tofu for the dish you plan to make.
2. Get the Water Out
Tofu typically comes packed in a container of water that keeps it fresh. While you can simply drain and use silken tofu as is, you'll need to get the water out of the firmer varieties if you want them to taste good.
"Pressing tofu is key in getting the best texture and firming it up for cooking," said Amy Webster, a vegan chef who works with the Humane Society of the United States to train food service professionals at schools on cooking plant-based cuisine.
To press tofu, you can wrap it in a clean dish towel or paper towels and put it between two heavy objects (I use bulky cutting boards) for at least 30 minutes. You can also get fancy with a device specifically designed for pressing tofu (like this one from Amazon).
After it's pressed, cut your block of tofu into medium-size cubes (I usually slice it in half length-wise, then cut each side into 16 equal-size pieces) to get it ready for cooking.
3. Make an Awesome Marinade
Marinating tofu can give it flavor from the inside out. But what should you marinate it in? The answer depends on which veg chef you ask, and comes down to whatever flavors you prefer.
"I like tofu best with Asian flavor profiles: ginger, garlic, shoyu, citrus, and sesame oil all work great," said Ann Ziata, a plant-focused chef-instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education.
Related Reading: 12 Delicious Vegan Sauces to Put on Everything
"My go-to tofu marinade is soy, rice vinegar, maple syrup, and grated garlic," said Colada Shop's chef Mario Monte, who is a vegan.
Experiment with hot sauces, citrus juices, salad dressings, herbs, and spices to get the flavor you're looking for, and let the tofu sit in the marinade for at least two hours (or longer, if possible!). Then, pop the tofu on a lightly greased baking sheet and put it in the oven at 400 degrees for 35-40 minutes, flipping halfway. Your efforts will pay off in highly flavorful cubes that can be added to salads, stir-fries, ramen, or simply eaten on their own.
4. Rub It With Spices—and Cornstarch
While a marinade can help tofu develop flavor from within, tossing it in spices and other substances can enhance the texture and taste of tofu externally. Cornstarch helps it crisp up.
"For spicy tofu bites, remove tofu cubes from a hot sauce marinade and toss them in cornstarch seasoned with salt, garlic powder, and paprika, to make them extra crispy," suggested Stephany Burgos, a vegan and executive chef at The Wilson. "Heat the pan, add about a half inch of oil and shallow fry the tofu. Once crispy, remove the tofu from the pan and toss it in some of the leftover marinade." You could also skip the marinade entirely, and instead use a dry spice rub and pan-sear the tofu for a crispy treat, said Guy Vaknin, executive chef at Beyond Sushi.
5. Play Up the Creaminess
Soft tofu can transform into creamy goodness when blended with other ingredients.
"Tofu can be puréed in a high speed blender with garlic, vinegar, mustard, spices, herbs, chipotle adobo, miso paste, or whatever appeals to you to make a delicious creamy salad dressing, spread, or dip with virtually no fat," said Hope Bailey, executive chef at plant-based catering company Pink Salt Cuisine.
Silken tofu can also be turned into a dairy-free substitute for ricotta by putting it into a food processor with garlic, olive oil, sea salt, and rosemary, said chef-instructor Olivia Roszkowski, who specializes in plant-forward cuisine at the Institute of Culinary Education. Toss it atop pasta, pizza, or toast, and enjoy!
Check out our tofu recipes for even more inspiration, and put your newfound expertise to work.
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