What the heck is tofu? I know it can be a bit overwhelming, but here is your essential guide to choosing the right tofu for your recipes, and teaching you how to prepare, marinade, cook and use tofu in the kitchen. Funny how mysterious it can still sound to those not familiar with it, despite being created in Asia centuries ago. Tofu or bean curd is made by heating soy milk, and adding salts or acids to either curdle or solidify the soymilk. The curds produced are then processed according to the kind of tofu being made (firm, silken, etc.). The method is very similar to that used to make ricotta or yogurt. It’s low in calories and fat, high in protein. Depending on how it’s made, it can also be high in iron, calcium and magnesium. Overall, store-bought tofu is great, but if you’re ever in an asian grocer and you come across fresh tofu, don’t hesitate! It’s just divine.
The following three varieties you’ll find in the refrigerator section packed into those little plastic cartons.
The heartiest and grainiest of the tofus. It’s substantial in texture and works great for grilling, frying or crumbling to a faux ground-beef texture.
Firm or Regular Tofu (Chinese style)
Smoother in texture than the extra firm and works great for just about any cooking method. Holds up well to marinades and is a terrific all-purpose tofu.
Much more delicate texture than previous variety. Great for simple dishes, like a breakfast tofu scramble. You can also use it in smoothies and baked goods.
Just like the name implies, smooth and silky in texture. Available as soft or firm. Keep in mind that you need to exercise a little more delicacy when handling this variety. You’ll find this on the shelf in boxes that keep forever. I like it best for smoothies, baking and salad dressings but it can also be sautéed or baked.
Marinated Baked Tofu
You’ll find these in the refrigerated section also, usually in vacuum-sealed bags. It comes in a variety of flavors and is usually made from firm tofu. Great for adding to a stir-fry when you don’t have time to marinate.
Tofu has an expiration date, abide by it and keep refrigerated (Silken tofu only needs refrigeration after opening). Once it’s open try to use it within 2 to 3 days and keep it covered in water. If it starts to smell sour, toss it.
Most often, you’ll want to drain tofu before using. This gets rid of the water, so there’s room for flavor to move in. I usually just cut it into slabs and let it rest on some paper towels or a clean dish towel for a few minutes. Simple as that. If you’ll be frying it, be sure to blot it dry to avoid too much oil splattering. There are a few recipes I’ve come across that require some more extensive draining and suggest adding some weight to press the water out, but those instances are few and far between.
We all try to marinade the heck out the stuff. On its own the flavor is so subtle, we have to impose our will. Unfortunately, tofu is quite content with its soft and subtle flavoring. Most marinades won’t ever make it past the outermost shell. After draining your tofu, slice into slabs and allow it to sit in the marinade for hours or days (refrigerated of course).