How To Convert Even the Most Stubborn Tofu Haters Into Believers, According to a Vegetarian Chef

These professional tips are everything you need to make tofu one of your favorite foods.

tofu salad

Tofu gets a bad rap. For years it was synonymous with weird, flavorless, boring, vegetarian cooking. Ironically, nothing could be farther from the truth. I often hear people say that they don't like tofu, and I always want to cry out, "You probably haven't had it cooked right!" I am an avid tofu lover and I always enjoy the challenge of converting even the most stubborn tofu haters. Not only is it cheap and convenient, it's versatility surpasses that of meat, in my opinion. Tofu is great at taking on the flavor of whatever you put with it; thus, it's incredibly important to go big with building your flavors. There are so many different types that no matter what the occasion or recipe, there's a tofu to suit your needs. If you think you don't like tofu, just hear me out: Try the following tips and I guarantee you'll be a convert in no time.

What Is Tofu?

Tofu, A.K.A. soybean curd, is a block of the pressed solids from soy milk — usually coagulated, similar to the process of making cheese. All tofu falls into one of two categories: cottony tofu or silken tofu. Cottony tofu is made up of more solids and can be purchased in soft, medium, firm, and extra-firm varieties. Silken tofu is much softer and has more of the liquid remaining, closer to the texture of a custard. It's manufactured by pouring the mixture directly into the container it's sold in, which is then sealed and heated. Silken tofu usually comes in soft and firm varieties. Most recipes that call for tofu require firm or extra-firm cottony tofu; this is the type I use most. Firm and extra-firm tofu are great for frying, searing, baking, and sautéing. Soft and medium tofu are better for braising, boiling, and cooking in sauces. Silken tofu is great for desserts or in blended drinks.

The Importance of Pressing

The single most important thing to know about all cottony types of tofu is that you MUST press it. You've probably heard people say that tofu is like a sponge, it absorbs whatever is around it. This is very true but, in order to unleash it's super absorbent powers, you have to first squeeze out the sponge. There's a few ways you can press tofu. The easiest way is to drain it, wrap it in a clean tea towel, place a plate on top of it and some weights on top of that (examples: a large can of tomatoes, a cast iron skillet, the cat.) If you're someone like me who eats tofu at least twice a week, investing in a tofu press will make your life a whole lot easier. My favorite press is the Tofu Bud; it's reasonably priced, easy to clean, and presses the heck out of some tofu.

Freezing Tofu

One of my favorite ways to change up the texture of tofu is to freeze and thaw the block prior to cooking. The ice crystals that form in the pockets of the tofu expand during this process, giving it a super chewy and spongy texture that is great for major flavor absorption and yields a fantastically meaty texture for frying. Once you thaw the tofu, just make sure to squeeze it out thoroughly and press it slightly longer than usual.

Tofu Cooking Techniques

If you're relatively new to the exciting world of tofu cookery, it can be daunting to know where to start. I recommend picking up a block of extra-firm tofu and experimenting with that first. You can dive into the other types once you've gotten comfortable and found a few of your favorite tricks.


For sautéing firm and extra-firm tofu, my number one tip is to lightly toss the tofu in a few teaspoons of cornstarch. A light coating of the starch really helps the tofu develop a crispy crust on the outside while keeping the inside nice and soft.

Typically, when you're sautéing tofu on the stovetop, the end goal is a golden, crispy exterior. And another fantastic (but effortless) way to boost the texture of your tofu is to increase the surface area. Instead of cubing your tofu into even cubes, try tearing it into irregular chunks. The nooks and crannies will yield some delicious craggy bits when coated in cornstarch and fried, similar to the crispies from a flour dredge on chicken.

Try It: Crispy Teriyaki Tofu


My other secret weapon for making unforgettable tofu dishes is to crumble the tofu until it's the texture of ground meat, toss it with cornstarch and some seasoning, and saute it on high heat in a nonstick pan. This yields a chewy, crumbly mixture similar to ground meat. I love to use this method to make a super flavorful taco filling or — with some soy, ginger, and lemongrass — an unbelievable tofu larb. The sky's the limit here, season it any which way and use it wherever you would use any type of ground meat.

Try It: Tofu Tacos


So let's talk marinade. Tofu is an all-star at soaking up all of the liquid goodies you soak it in; thus, marinating is an excellent way to impart flavor. If you don't plan to crisp it up on the stovetop, marinating and then baking is an ideal path to incredibly tasty tofu. You can technically marinate tofu before sauteing as well, but saturating the tofu in liquid can make it difficult to achieve a good, crisp crust. If you plan to do a skillet fry on your tofu, I suggest imparting flavor using a sauce rather than a marinade.

What you put in a marinade depends on the flavors of the dish you want to make, but a solid formula is something salty (soy sauce, vegan fish sauce, vegan Worcestershire sauce, tamari), plus something sweet (maple syrup, agave syrup, honey, brown sugar), plus something acidic (citrus or vinegar), plus aromatics (scallion, garlic, shallots), plus oil (sesame oil, flavored olive oil, chili oil), plus any seasonings you desire. An example is soy sauce + brown sugar + rice wine vinegar + scallion and garlic + sesame oil + chili flake and five spice for perfect baked tofu to serve over rice, garnished with sesame seeds and scallion greens.

Another weeknight favorite of mine is soy sauce and vegan Worcestershire + maple + olive oil + apple cider vinegar + shallot + paprika and cumin for a BBQ baked tofu, perfect for sandwiches or served as a vegetarian protein for a barbecue night. The combinations here are endless, so don't hold back from experimenting. Because tofu doesn't have a lot of flavor on its own, it's important to go hard with the flavors here, especially when it comes to salt.

Try It: Baked Tofu


As if crispy sauteed tofu, crumbly and chewy ground tofu, and marinated baked tofu wasn't enough to convince you to head to the grocery store and grab a few blocks right now, let me just say this: tofu cutlet. I can't think of a food that isn't good when breaded and fried, but tofu really takes the cake on this front. After pressing your tofu, cut it into thick planks and dredge each in a well seasoned one-to-one mixture of flour and water and then press each cutlet into breadcrumbs. Shallow-fry the cutlets with vegetable oil in a high-sided skillet or bake on a greased baking sheet at 425 degrees F for about 30 minutes, or until tofu is crisp (flipping halfway through).

For a crispy oven-"fried" tofu katsu, add in a splash of soy sauce and some ground ginger to the batter and sesame seeds to the (panko) breadcrumbs, then served over rice with katsu sauce. For a classic Italian-style cutlet, season the batter and Italian-style breadcrumbs with garlic powder, oregano, basil, and parsley, you can even add grated Parmesan cheese to the breadcrumbs to up the savory factor. Play around with spices and seasonings here, there's a tofu cutlet out there for any occasion.

Try It: Tofu Parmigiana

Tofu sometimes has a reputation of being bland and boring, but with a few clever tips and tricks, it can be a protein you enthusiastically turn to a few nights a week to liven up your dinner repertoire. Before you know it, you'll be preaching the magic of tofu too.


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