How to Cook Tofu

Despite dietary choices, the professed health benefits of soy products are making them more commonplace. Soy products range from edamame to soymilk to tofu. Specifically tofu can be difficult for most people to cook with because they are averse to the texture and flavor of it raw, and are not quite sure how to prepare it cooked.

Tofu is a block of bean curd from soy beans. The liquid of soybeans, or soymilk, is curdled with an acid (such as citrus, vinegar) or calcium sulphate and nigari. It essentially then is compared to a cheese because it is a similar process as is cheese from milk. Tofu provides calcium, protein, and iron. It can be used as a meat substitute, or a texture substitute for cheeses, eggs, or cream depending on the level of firmness purchased and how it is prepared.

The packaging for tofu keeps the curd in liquid to maintain its freshness. This is beneficial for lasting power, yet makes it more difficult to cook with. However, this is a simple issue to deal with. When making firm tofu to be used as a meat substitute in dishes like stirfry, fajitas, or the like, remove the tofu from the packaging and lightly rinse off. There are two options for removing excess water and making the tofu more dense. One is to apply pressure to the tofu, or to “press” the tofu, and the other is to freeze it. As for pressing the tofu, you simply put the tofu on a plate or cutting board, and load things on top to add weight (most recently, I put a frying pan, right-side-up, on top of the tofu, and added measuring glasses into the pan for weight and balance. Do this for a couple hours, and all or most of the water should have escaped from the tofu, so it will be much firmer and ready for cooking. To freeze the tofu, lightly squeeze out excess water over the sink, and then place in the freezer for about an hour or two (with or without added weight for pressing), and then it should be ready to go.
Neither of these methods are absolutely necessary, but for anyone very picky about the texture of tofu, these yield the best results.

Once your tofu is ready to be sliced and diced, cut it into medium-sized slices, about 3/4 to 1 in. squares with a half-inch of thickness. This is an estimate, obviously other dimensions work well too, however the thicker it is, the longer it takes and harder it is to cook evenly, and if too thin, it will easily burn and will not have a substantive thickness.

In a nonstick pan (nonstick pans are typically not the best to use for cooking, but it ensures that layers of the tofu won’t burn to the pan), pour in some oil or evenly spray with a good amount of cooking spray. Heat absolutely no hotter than medium, and once the oil is heated, add the tofu, being sure to place a side with the most surface area to the pan. Add a little kosher salt to speed cooking time if desired. Once the side touching the pan is a little crisp and golden brown, flip the tofu over onto the other side and cook until the same. Adding desired seasonings during this time is ideal, because tofu absorbes flavors quickly and easily, and this way, it will cook longer in the seasonings you decide to use.

After this step, add to whatever else you are cooking, and it should taste great.

If grilling, baking, or wanting a distinct flavor to the tofu, marinading goes a long way. Store-bought marinades work great, or you can make your own too. (My favorite is Soy-Vay teryaki with a touch of olive oil and a squirt of lime juice whisked in.)
Cut the tofu into similarly-sized pieces, as noted previously, place in a bowl or a zip-top plastic bag and add the marinade. Make sure that all or most of each piece of tofu is covered. Leave out or place in the fridge for anywhere from 2-8 hours. After that, it is ready to be skewered on a grill, baked in an oven, or fried in a pan (and with my suggestion, no excess oil is really needed then). Marinading adds a lot of flavor, while avoiding having to use excess oil and fats. Just be cautious when cooking marinaded tofu, because it can burn more easily.
Some other suggestions for marinades: barbeque sauce, lemon-pepper, or a Mexican enchilada sauce.

Tofu is extremely versatile for cooking and flavoring. Because it is also so healthy, it is a great food to cook with, and knowing how to cook with tofu properly makes it more enjoyable to eat. Tofu is also great raw (in my opinion) in salads, but sometimes, that can just be an acquired taste. Experiment with all kinds of tofu: firm, soft, and silken, both cooked and raw alike, and it might up your cooking creativity.

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