Learn how to buy, cook, and store tofu for delicious meals.

By Carl Hanson
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Versatile and easy to cook with, tofu takes on many roles and adapts well to the flavors of sauces and marinades.

Here are tips for picking out, storing, and prepping tofu. You'll see how to cook tofu — including how to make different types with different techniques — and you'll discover top-rated recipes that will have you loving tofu in new ways.

Tofu 101

What Is Tofu? Tofu is a power-packed plant-based vegan protein that's healthful, low calorie, and super-versatile.

What is tofu made of? Tofu is a curd made from soybeans that are cooked and mashed, then processed in a fashion similar to making cheese.

What does tofu taste like? In a sense, tofu tastes like whatever you want it to. That's because tofu lets other flavors shine in the spotlight. Its subtle flavor and satisfying texture are basically a blank canvas on which sauces and marinades paint their flavors. It's this quality that makes tofu such a wonderfully versatile ingredient.

Do you have to cook tofu? In many recipes, the texture of tofu benefits from a little cooking. For example, cooking tofu in a pan will crisp it up, creating a pleasing textural contrast between the crisp crust and the soft inside. But you do not need to cook tofu; you can eat tofu raw if you like — in smoothies or puddings, for example.

What is the best way to cook tofu? As you'll see below, there are many different ways to cook tofu. Cooking tofu in the oven develops a different texture than cooking tofu in soup or a skillet. Below, you'll also see what types of tofu are best for specific kinds of cooking.

L to R: Silken Tofu, Firm Tofu, and Extra-Firm Tofu | Photo by Meredith

How to Pick Tofu

Select the right tofu for the right dish. You'll find fresh tofu in the refrigerated section, packaged in water to preserve its moisture content.

Firm tofu is the most common form. It absorbs marinades well and can be cubed and added to green salads. Seasoned and quickly pan-fried, tofu has a crispy exterior and soft creamy middle. It can also be frozen and then crumbled, giving it a texture similar to ground beef.

Extra firm tofu makes some people say "tastes like chicken." This tofu has the lowest moisture content and is often used as a meat substitute in Asian or vegetarian dishes. Try extra firm tofu grilled or fried, it also works well in pastas, sandwiches, and curries.

Silken or soft tofu is equivalent to a thin custard, or heavy cream. This smooth, delicate tofu has the highest moisture content. Soft tofu works wonderfully as a base for dips and spreads. Puréed and used as a dairy substitute, it easily mixes into smoothies and soups, bakes up in tasty desserts, and it's a terrific substitute for eggs in scrambles.

How to Cook Tofu

First things first, you almost always need to drain your tofu for a better finished dish. Here's how to remove liquid from tofu:

  • Wrap the block of tofu — or strips of tofu — in a clean cloth towel or paper towels.
  • Set a weight on top, like a heavy skillet with a soup can or two.
  • Leave the weight on for about 20 minutes, then unwrap your tofu and get to cooking.

How to Fry Tofu

Here's how to cook tofu in a pan. If you're wondering how to cook firm tofu, frying is a great choice -- for firm and extra-firm tofu alike. Fried tofu develops a wonderful contrast between crispy crust and delicate, airy interior. Frying is a terrific way to make tofu crispy. To fry tofu, press out excess moisture to avoid splattering, cut the tofu into slices or cubes. Then fry over medium-high heat in vegetable oil in a skillet, wok, or deep fryer until golden brown, about 3 or 5 minutes per side. To test if the oil is ready, dip a chopstick or wooden spoon into it; if bubbles rise up, the oil is ready for tofu. That's how to cook crispy tofu.

Fried Tofu Recipes:

How to Bake Tofu

If you prefer, you can bake tofu in the oven instead of frying it on the stovetop. To make baked tofu, press out as much moisture as you can from the tofu, then cut it into slices, and bake on a lightly oiled baking sheet at 350 degrees F. To add flavor, marinate the tofu in advance or try basting the tofu with a simple blend of soy sauce, sesame oil, and rice wine vinegar.

Baked Tofu Recipes:

How to Grill Tofu

As with other high-heat cooking methods, the key to grilling tofu is removing as much moisture as possible from firm tofu. You'll get a crisper crust with drier tofu. For grilling, cut tofu into relatively thick slices, it will crisp up beautifully on the outside and the inside will stay tender. To avoid sticking — the bane of grilling tofu — start with a hot grill and very clean, well-oiled grill grates. Save some marinade or basting sauce for brushing onto your tofu once it's done.

Grilled Tofu Recipes:

How to Store Tofu

To store leftover fresh tofu, the key is to keep the tofu moist. Store unused tofu in an airtight container, covered in fresh water. Packed like this, tofu stays fresh in the fridge for about a week. For longer storage, stow it in the freezer. Wrap the leftover block of tofu tightly in plastic wrap or a Ziploc bag and freeze for three months or more.

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