7 Mistakes You’re Making Every Time You Cook Tofu

Hate tofu? It may just be that you’re not preparing it properly.

January 19, 2017
tofu
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If you’ve ever announced “I hate tofu!” with vehemence and vowed to never eat it ever again for the rest of your life, we totally hear you. We’ve all had bad tofu—but blame the cook, not the tofu! This plant-based protein can be delicious if prepared properly, but, to be fair, it’s not exactly obvious what the heck you’re supposed to do with it, especially if you’re a tofu novice. (Sign up for our FREE newsletter to get clever kitchen tricks, gardening secrets, and more delivered straight to your inbox!)

So, in the spirit of giving tofu a second chance, we got some advice from the professional chefs at the Rodale Test Kitchen: Juli Roberts, Jennifer Kushnier, and Amy Fritch. Here, they help us troubleshoot some common tofu blunders, and give us the DL on how to cook tofu that you’ll actually want to eat. 

tofu on cutting board
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You’re Treating It Like A Vegetable, Not A Protein

Yes, tofu is made from plants, but you have to treat it like a protein (which it is) if you want it to taste good. You can technically eat it straight out of the package, but if you did decide to toss some raw cubed tofu on a salad, you’d definitely vow to never eat it again. That’s why the number one tip our chefs have for cooking tofu is to treat it like chicken. You wouldn’t pop a chicken breast in the oven without any seasoning or sauce because you’d end up with something totally dry and bland. The same goes for tofu. You have to work with it before it tastes good. (Bonus: Tofu is one of the 14 vegetarian foods with more iron than meat.)  

eating tofu
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You’re Not Choosing The Right Kind

If you’ve ever purchased tofu, you’ve probably been met with a confounding variety of options—silken, soft, medium-firm, firm, and extra-firm. For most recipes, you’ll want to stick to the firm family. The one you choose depends on what you’re cooking and your personal texture preference. For frying, sautéing, and grilling, extra-firm is your best bet because it has the lowest water content, so it won’t fall apart in your pan, and it will crisp up nicely. Firm or medium-firm can also be stir-fried, but these may fall apart depending on the brand; they’re also good options for crumbling and scrambling. Silken and soft tofu are reserved for pureeing and blending into creamy soups, dressings, puddings, desserts, and even smoothies.

Related: 7 Smoothie Ingredients You've Never Considered But Definitely Should

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marinating tofu
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You’re Skimping On The Marinade

Refer back to point number one re: treating tofu like a protein. Marinating is absolutely essential if you want your tofu to taste like something other than packing peanuts. Simply tossing raw tofu in a stir-fry and hoping it will soak up some flavor from the soy sauce isn’t going to cut it. According to our chefs, the general rule of marinating anything is the longer the better. The bare minimum you can get away with is 30 minutes, but you’ll probably want to let it linger for several hours for a tastier result. If you’re pressed for time, cut the tofu into smaller pieces—more surface area equals more flavor. (Give this garlic ginger soy marinade a try.)

sliced tofu
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You Didn’t Press It

Tofu is like a sponge. It comes packed in water to keep it hydrated. Before marinating, you’ve got to squeeze out the liquid so it has space soak up the sauce. If you don’t press it, your marinating efforts will be largely futile. To press your tofu, start by cutting it into slices or cubes. Sandwich them between dish towels, and place a plate or baking tray on top, followed by something heavy, like a stack of cookbooks or your biggest cast-iron skillet. Press it for about half an hour (or a bit longer if you like it extra-crispy) before marinating.

Tip: If you don’t want to cook a full package of tofu, put the leftover portion in a container with water to keep it from drying out.

fried tofu
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You Didn’t Coat It

If you’re frying tofu, coating it with a thin layer of organic cornstarch will make sure it doesn’t stick to the pan, and it’s a sure-fire way to achieve crispiness.

 
 
tofu and veggies on rice
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You’re Not Following A Recipe

We’re all for experimenting in the kitchen, but we don’t advise going freestyle with tofu if you’re not already comfortable cooking it. For tofu newbies, our chefs say to follow a trusted recipe. That way there’s no question about what kind of marinade to use, how long to marinate, or how thin to slice it. Get a friend to recommend a favorite recipe, or find one with good reviews online. You can always start with our go-to stir-fry tofu and broccoli

green smoothie
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You’re Not Realizing Its Full Potential

Most of us typically think of tofu fried or grilled in savory little cubes, but that’s really just the beginning. Silken tofu is great for pureeing into soups, smoothies, and even desserts for an extra protein boost. Crumbled tofu can make a vegan egg salad, and you can even consider making tofu steaks on the grill (these 20 tofu recipes will get you started). Think outside the block!