Chatelaine Kitchen

How to cook tofu: 5 simple tips to remember

Tofu is a blank slate ready to soak up flavours, providing a ton of room for creativity in the kitchen; you just need to know a few things in order to maximize its potential.
By Louisa Clements
Chilled tofu with ginger-sesame spinach Chilled tofu with ginger-sesame sauce. (Photo, Sian Richards.)

While you may think of tofu as a bland, boring replacement for meat, it’s actually a blank slate ready to soak up flavours! This vegetarian favourite can be prepared in myriad ways, providing a ton of room for creativity in the kitchen; All you need to get started are a few tips on how to prepare it, so you can maximize its potential.

Not sure which kind of tofu is best for a specific preparation? The major difference between soft, firm and extra-firm tofu is attributed to texture and water content.

Soft tofu has a slightly smooth and creamy texture that can be compared to the texture of custard. It’s a great option for blending into a salad dressing or tofu dessert.

Firm tofu is an all-purpose option that absorbs flavours and holds up well when cooked. It’s also a great option for breaking up into a tofu scramble or simmered and braised dishes.

Extra-firm tofu has the least amount of water content and holds it shape very well. It is the perfect option for slicing and dicing and cooking with high heat, and is particularly good for pan-frying, stir-frying or deep-frying.

Mastering the basics: Our best-ever tofu

How to prepare tofu

Press out liquid Tofu often comes packed in water, but this liquid needs to be pressed out for tofu to absorb additional flavour. To press out the liquid, lay slices of tofu between either paper towels or a dish towel, and place a baking sheet with heavy objects on top such as canned goods or cookbooks. Leave the tofu like this for at least 30 minutes to remove as much excess moisture as possible.

Try it: Sesame tofu cakes

Marinate, marinate, marinate Tofu has an incredible ability to soak up flavours like a sponge, this is why marinating is one of the best ways to impart bold taste. When it comes to marinating tofu, opt for acidic marinades that use ingredients like garlic, ginger, vinegar and soy sauce (avoid adding oil to a tofu marinade). Opt for either firm or extra-firm tofu that has been cut it into cubes, as this will allow for maximum flavour absorption. Keep in mind that tofu takes on flavour more quickly than meat, so a quick 15 to 30 minute marinating time is often enough.

Try it: Honey ginger tofu

Pantry 101: Tofu vs. tempeh

Coat in cornstarch Pan-frying and crisping up tofu will add texture and colour. To keep it simple, try coating cubed tofu in cornstarch as a quick way to achieve a golden-crisp exterior without deep-frying — you can even coat marinated tofu. It’s important to note that tofu is notoriously sticky, but coating in cornstarch is a great way to create a barrier between tofu and the pan to avoid excess sticking.

Try it: Sweet chili tofu

Cook with high heat Don’t be afraid of high heat, as it’s the secret to getting perfectly browned tofu. Sear tofu using the same technique as you would when you sear meat. Place tofu in a single layer in a hot pan and cook without stirring until the bottoms become golden and crispy, then shake the pan or flip the tofu to brown the remaining sides. Extra-firm tofu is best for this technique.

Try it: Spicy peanut, tofu and spinach stir-fry

Amp up the seasoning An important step in creating drool-worthy food at home comes from seasoning. A combination of the right amount of salt and aromatic spices, herbs and condiments will perk up a dish instantly. When whipping up your next tofu dish, after seasoning with salt and pepper, reach for soy sauce, sriracha, ginger and sesame oil as your go-to pairings for tofu. Another recommended addition is flaked bonito or katsuobushi — which is dried and smoked tuna. Sprinkled on top before serving, it will add depth and notes of umami (look for this ingredient in Asian specialty food shops).

Try it: Chilled tofu with ginger-sesame sauce

Did you know? Silken tofu is Japanese tofu while regular tofu is Chinese. Both varieties are available in soft, firm and extra-firm, however regular tofu will always have a firmer texture than silken.

For more tofu recipes, click through the gallery below:

Spicy Crispy Tofu Noodle Bowl

Gochujang, the thick Korean chili paste that gives the spicy crispy tofu noodle bowl its piquant kick, is made from chili peppers, sticky rice and fermented soybeans. It adds a smoky, spicy depth of flavour to marinades, stews and soups. Thinned with a bit of rice vinegar and sugar, it also makes a pungent dipping sauce. Get the spicy crispy tofu noodle bowl recipe.

overhead shot of crispy tofu and edamame on soba noodles in white bowlsPhoto, Ashley Capp. Food styling, Ashley Denton. Prop styling, Madeleine Johari.

Sesame-Ginger Tofu Soba Noodle Salad

Calling all noodle-lovers—this hearty salad is packed with crisp veggies, flavourful tofu and sautéed spinach. Get our sesame-ginger tofu soba noodle salad recipe here. 

Salad with soba noodles, tofu, carrots, cucumber in an orange bowl on an orange table.(Recipes by Irene Ngo; Produced by Stephanie Han Kim, Sun Ngo and Aimee Nishitoba; nPhotography by Erik Putz and Christie Vuong; Food styling by Ashley Denton; Prop styling by Madeleine Johari)

Tofu and Quinoa Rainbow Chard Wraps

Fresh, crunchy, creamy—these wraps are a symphony of texture. Get this tofu and quinoa rainbow chard wraps recipe here. 

Multiple rainbow swiss chard wraps, with tofu and quinoa.(Recipes by Irene Ngo; Produced by Aimee Nishitoba; Photography by Erik Putz; Food styling by Zeke Goodwin; Prop styling by Nicole Billark)

Bri Beaudoin’s Firecracker Tofu with Broccolini and Chili Garlic Oil

Some of my favourite food memories are of being at my Grandma Popo’s house. She’d pour sizzling hot oil over bowls of rice—the crackling sounds and intoxicating smell of oil, flavoured with whatever she was into that day, always worked its magic. This recipe uses the heat of the oven to steep the oil with plenty of garlic and red pepper flakes, while the tofu and broccolini bake alongside. Get Bri Beaudoin’s firecracker tofu with broccolini and chili garlic oil recipe here.

A tray of firecracker tofu with broccolini and chili garlic oilPhotography by Anguel Dimov; Published by Penguin Canada, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Reproduced by arrangement with the publisher. All rights reserved.

Sheet Pan Tofu With Sesame And Roasted Vegetables

Dinner doesn’t get much easier than this! A one-pan dish with ginger and garlic, plus chili sauce and heat, it’s an easy way to add a little plant-protein into your diet. Get our sheet pan tofu with sesame and roasted vegetables recipe.

Tofu with sesame and roasted red bell pepper, green beans and king oyster mushrooms on a plate.Photo, Erik Putz.

Grilled Satay Tofu Skewers

Coconut, curry and peanut marinated tofu gets crisped up on the grill for an amazingly simple and flavourful meatless skewer. Serve with a fresh and Thai herb salad for a complete meal. Get our grilled satay tofu skewers recipe.

Grilled Satay Tofu Skewers With Peanut Dipping Sauce.Photo, Roberto Caruso.

Korean Soft Tofu Stew

This hearty tofu stew (cooked in an Instant Pot) is sure to warm your belly. Get this Korean soft tofu stew recipe.

Instant Pot Stew: Bowl of Korean-style stew topped with egg next to grey napkin

Pork And Tofu Cakes

In this recipe we’ve blended tofu and pork together — not only is the result delicious, it’s the perfect way to ease into adding different ingredients (like tofu) to the menu. Get our pork and tofu cakes recipe.

Pork and tofu cakes on a plate with dipping sauce.Photo, Erik Putz.

Tofu Kedgeree

Topped with crisp, smoked tofu and fresh parsley, it's all bright colours and flavours in this curried rice and cauliflower dish. Get our tofu kedgeree recipe.

Tofu kedgeree with rice, cauliflower, cilantro and raisins in a bowl.Photo, Erik Putz.

Crispy Tofu Stir Fry With Peanut Sauce

Stir fry recipes are a weeknight saviour. Fast, saucy and delicious, all you need are some vegetables, a basic sauce and a protein of your choice. This recipe is customizable to your mood (it works just as well if you swap in chicken!). Get our crispy tofu stir fry with peanut sauce recipe.

Crispy tofu stir fry with peanut sauce with noodle, shiitakes and green beans on a platter.Photo, Roberto Caruso.

Vegan Baked Blueberry Cheesecake

This cheesecake uses soft tofu for a creamy and smooth filling. Get this vegan baked blueberry cheesecake recipe.

Lauren Toyota's vegan baked blueberry cheesecake

Miso Couscous Tofu Bowl

Topped with creamy avocado and crisp carrots, this miso couscous tofu bowl is addictive! Try it tonight. Get our miso-couscous tofu bowl recipe.

Miso couscous tofu avocado and carrot on a plate.Photo, Sian Richards.

Gingery Tofu And Rice Noodle Soup

A cozy bowl of soup that’s the perfect antidote for chilly April showers. Get our gingery tofu and rice noodle soup recipe.

Gingery tofu and rice noodle soup with lime and basil in a bowl.Photo, Erik Putz.

Black Bean And Tofu Burgers

These burgers will satisfy any BBQ you have this summer (vegetarian or not). Get our black bean and tofu burgers recipe.

Black bean and tofu burgers on parchment.Photo, Roberto Caruso.

Baked-Tofu Banh Mi Wraps

Banh-mi usually refers to the popular Vietnamese meat-filled sandwich. But fear not vegetarians: we’ve got tofu banh-mi wraps for you to try tonight. Get our baked-tofu banh-mi wraps recipe.

Baked-Tofu Banh Mi Wraps on a plate.Photo, Sian Richards.

Honey-Ginger Tofu And Vegetable Stir-Fry

The combination of honey and ginger makes a spicy-sweet addition to this classic tofu and vegetable stir-fry. Get our honey-ginger tofu and vetegable stir-fry recipe.

Honey-ginger tofu and vegetable noodle stir-fry in a bowl.Photo, Erik Putz.

Tofu Bites With Orange-Lime Ponzu Sauce

Kick your tofu up a notch with a homemade citrusy, sweet, sour and salty ponzu sauce. Get our tofu bites recipe.

Tofu bites with orange-lime ponzu sauce with carrot ribbons on a plate.Photo, Roberto Caruso.

Faux Pho

Laden with golden tofu and satiny noodles, this richly spiced Vietnamese comfort soup brings all the goods: veggies, protein, and mouthwatering flavour. Get our faux pho recipe.

Faux pho with wide rice noodles, tofu and shiitake in a bowl.

Tofu Okonomiyaki

These giant savoury Japanese pancakes are a winning mash-up of leftovers. Get our tofu okonomiyaki recipe.

Tofu okonomiyaki in a pan.Photo, Erik Putz.

Tibetan Momo Dumplings

Everyone loves dumplings — and every culture has its signature take. Try one of our favourite global flavours with our Tibetan dumplings recipe. Get our tibetan momo dumplings recipe.

Tibetan momo dumplings on a plate and platter.Photo, Roberto Caruso.

One-Dish Asian Noodles

Tofu and broccoli sit on a sweet-soy bed of light vermicelli or glass noodles in this easy and healthy one-dish wonder. Get our one-dish Asian noodles recipe.

One-dish Asian noodles with tofu, vermicelli and vegetables on a plate.Photo, Roberto Caruso.

Honey-Ginger Tofu

Packed with protein and including a generous helping of superfood on the side, this sautéed tofu with red quinoa and kale salad makes healthy look and taste good. Get our honey-ginger tofu recipe.

Honey-ginger tofu with quinoa and kale on a plate.Photo, Angus Fergusson.

Tofu Egg-Noodle Laksa Soup

Full of veggies, this rich coconut noodle soup also stars crisp tofu — making it a balanced weeknight meal and exotic comfort food. Get our tofu egg-noodle laksa soup recipe.

Tofu egg-noodle laksa soup in a pot.Photo, Erik Putz.

Sesame-Ginger Tofu And Vegetables

This light but filling Asian dish is packed with fresh vegetables. Maple syrup adds a bit of sweet to enhance flavour. Get our sesame-ginger tofu and vegetables recipe.

Sesame-Ginger Tofu And Vegetables In A Bowl.Photo, John Cullen.

Golden-Tofu Soup

Thanks to a package of pre-cut stir-fry vegetables, there’s virtually no prep for this robust and creamy Thai soup. Get our golden tofu soup recipe.

Golden-tofu soup in a pot.Photo, Michael Graydon.

Kale Caesar Salad With Tofu Croutons

A creamy Caesar is heavy on calories and low on nutrition. Our version dresses superfoods kale and cherries in a tangy, creamy vinaigrette (shhh, it’s tofu!) that’s outrageously good. Baked tofu croutons add a fabulous 27 g of protein to each plate. Get our kale caesar salad with tofu croutons recipe.

Kale caesar salad with tofu croutons on a platePhoto, Roberto Caruso.

Coconut-Curry Tofu Pita-Pockets

The humble sandwich goes haute. Build a better sandwich with a few fresh ingredients and some creative upgrades. Get our coconut-curry tofu pita pockets recipe.

Coconut-curry tofu pita-pocketsPhoto, Roberto Caruso.


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