Tofu 101

What the heck is tofu? 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.

Basic Types:

Water Packed

The following three varieties you’ll find in the refrigerator section packed into those little plastic cartons.

  • Extra Firm

    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.

  • Soft 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.

Silken Tofus

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.

General Housekeeping

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.

Drainage

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.

Marinades

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).

6 Comments

  1. An easy way to make tofu super flavorful is dry-frying it in a pan after you have toweled it off

    Simply drain the water from the package, chop the tofu into triangles and throw them into a hot empty pan.
    The tofu will make a lovely shrieking noise, this is the water evaporating from it. Press down on the triangles with a spatula to squeeze out excess moisture, once they are slightly golden (or just much drier looking) they are ready to absorb any kind of marinade or sauce you choose!

    The whole process, from the package to the flavorful marinated tofu, takes about 10 minutes :) happy tofu-ing!

  2. Thanks for the info….I am a new vegan, and just learning about tofu….you’re right…it’s kinda scary at first!

  3. Sigrid Frosst

    Thinking very seriously as to going vegan for a healthy life change.I must admit it is somewhat scary.

  4. Well Vegan

    @Sigrid – I totally get your reluctance, but don’t be afraid to wade into the water slowly. Maybe start with eating vegan 3-5 days/week and see how it suits you. I also know some folks that have had success with the 99% method — eat vegan nearly all the time, but keep a few of your most beloved foods (ice cream, cheese, whatever) until you’re ready or maybe forever. You don’t have to be a perfect vegan right out of the gate! I think any reduction in the amount of animal products we consume is worthy of merit.

  5. I find that pressing and then marinating allows the tofu to absorb flavor and cook better. Using a tofu press ( like the EZ Tofu Press) allows you to get the water out of the block better and faster. It also provides better flavor absorption and texture. Pressing should be done on non silken varieties only. Firm, extra firm, and super firm press and cook best! enjoy!!

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