How to Cook Tofu

Here, how to make tofu three different ways, plus an explainer of all the different varieties.

May 11, 2022

Related To:

How to Cook with Tofu 01:19

Learn how use this versatile plant-based protein in recipes.

By Clarissa Wei for Food Network Kitchen

Clarissa Wei is a freelance journalist based in Taipei.

Tofu is made with coagulated soy milk and pressed so that it takes on a solid, block-like shape. Depending on the type of coagulant used (mineral salts or acids), tofu comes in all different sizes and textures. The more tofu is pressed, the firmer it becomes. It is an incredibly versatile ingredient and can be cooked in all different ways.

Different Types of Tofu

There is a wide variety of tofu. Some are soft, others are hard. There’s even cured tofu and a wide range of fermented tofu. The selection in America is quite limited, though it’s easy to get plain white tofu with varying degrees of firmness.

Silken Tofu

This Japanese-style of tofu is undrained and unpressed, meaning it has the highest water content. Silken tofu's curds are creamy, custardy and almost gelatinous with little to no resistance — therefore, it doesn't hold its shape very well. It’s commonly pureed into soups, smoothies, desserts and sauces. It can also be dressed with a spicy, flavorful sauce and enjoyed with a spoon. Silken tofu is available in shelf-stable boxes, but the varieties found in the refrigerator section will taster higher quality.

Regular Tofu

This type of tofu, also called Chinese-style tofu or bean curd, comes in several different varieties with remarkably different textures.

Soft Tofu

Soft tofu is the Chinese version of silken tofu and can be used in all the same ways. Traditionally it’s enjoyed in a dish like mapo tofu, folded in with ground beef and a heavy-handed splash of fermented, spicy soybean paste.

Firm / Extra-Firm

Firm tofu is still somewhat soft, but it holds its shape. It can be picked up easily with chopsticks. If you’re going for an easy weekday stir-fry, this is the range of tofu to go for. It’s tough enough to handle being tossed around in the wok, but soft enough to absorb all the sauces and juices. It’s also the variety of tofu that works well for tofu scrambles.

Super Firm

Extra-firm tofu, which really holds its shape, works with many flavor profiles and cooking methods. This is the tofu that works best in sandwiches. Marinate overnight, coat it in a thick sauce, then pop it on a grill before layering it behind slices of bread. Because this type of tofu holds up so well, it is a really great meat substitute. It's also the best variety for frying in oil until crisp and golden brown.

Dried Tofu

Some dried tofu is so dry and thinly pressed that it can be cut into threads and served like pasta.

Smoked Tofu

Its meaty texture and smoky flavor make it perfect for grilling and slathering with BBQ sauce.

Puffed Tofu

Puffed tofu — or fried tofu cake — has a spongy texture and carries a sauce's flavor beautifully.

How to Press Tofu

Pressing pre-made firmer varieties of tofu is necessary when you want to deep-fry it or make it crispy. Tofu is packed in water and soaks it up like a sponge, and also you have to get rid of that water to make room for a marinade or other new flavors. There are several ways to press tofu.

First, you can press tofu with tofu molds. Simply add the curds and press with all your weight. You can also hold down the press with a thick stack of books.

If a tofu mold is not easily accessible, wrap the tofu in a side towel or layer it between sheets of paper towel and weigh down the block with a stack of books or a heavy pot or skillet. If you’re cooking slices or cubes, cut the tofu into slices, layer them between paper towels and weigh down the individual slices. The finished tofu should be spongy yet dry (you’ll need to weigh it down for 30 minutes to 2 hours).

For a step-by-step guide on pressing tofu, plus our favorite tofu presses, head over to our story How to Press Tofu.

How Long to Cook Tofu

Tofu can be eaten raw, and so cooking it is completely optional and is mostly done for texture or to bind the sauce to the tofu. You can pan-sear the sides and add it to a colorful stir-fry or deep-fry it and coat it in a savory and sweet sauce.

How To Make Tofu 3 Ways

How to Cook Tofu In a Pan

When cooking tofu in a pan, it’s best to use firm tofu.

Crispy Tofu With Vegetables

An easy step-by-step pan fried tofu recipe, complete with stir-fried veggies.

  1. Press the tofu to eliminate as much water as possible, at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours.
  2. Marinate the tofu for at least 30 minutes to infuse it with flavor.
  3. Cut the tofu into thick planks.
  4. Pat the tofu dry. Don't worry, the tofu will have sucked in the flavors of the marinade. This step ensures it gets extra crispy.
  5. Toss the tofu in cornstarch. This step is optional, but cornstarch is another way to get the exterior of tofu extra crispy. Cornstarch absorbs moisture on the surface of tofu.
  6. Heat vegetable oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high.
  7. Add the tofu to the pan, making sure not to overcrowd the pan (otherwise it'll steam).
  8. Cook the tofu until golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes per side.

How to Bake Tofu

Baking tofu is a hands-off way to make it crispy.

  1. Press the tofu to eliminate as much water as possible, at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours.
  2. Marinate the tofu for at least 30 minutes to infuse it with flavor. Alternatively, you can skip this step and season the tofu right before cooking with a dash of salt and pepper or paprika and chili flakes.
  3. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  4. Pat the tofu dry. Don't worry, the tofu will have sucked in the flavors of the marinade. This step ensures it gets extra crispy.
  5. Cut the tofu into cubes or planks.
  6. Bake the tofu until crisp on the outside, flipping or tossing once, about 30 minutes.

How to Fry Tofu (In the Deep Fryer and In the Air Fryer)

Deep-frying tofu makes it crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. It’s very important to press it first so that all the water comes out. Season the tofu, coat it in a thick layer of corn starch (which soaks up every drop of moisture), and then deep-fry it in hot oil. Ladle it out, drain the oil on a paper towel, and serve.

If you don't want to deep fry, you can also air fry your tofu.

Crispy Air-Fryer Tofu

You can make crispy tofu without a cauldron of bubbling oil. Turns out, an air fryer does a stellar job of cooking up cubes of marinated tofu into perfectly browned and crispy bites. Toss them into stir fries, noodle dishes and salads, or eat them as a protein-packed snack with a simple dipping sauce such as the one here.

  1. Press the tofu to eliminate as much water as possible, at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours.
  2. Cut the tofu into 3/4- to 1-inch cubes.
  3. Preheat the air fryer to 375 degrees F.
  4. Add the tofu to the air-fryer basket in a single layer.
  5. Cook the tofu, shaking the basket a few times for even cooking, until the tofu is deep golden brown and crispy, 15 to 20 minutes.

Tofu Recipes

FNK_TheBestCrispyTofu_H

FNK_TheBestCrispyTofu_H

Food Network Kitchen’s The Best Crispy Tofu, as seen on Food Network.

Photo by: Renee Comet

Renee Comet

This is an incredibly simple recipe for crispy tofu, seasoned with soy sauce, sriracha and a nice scallion garnish.

TOFU_TACOS_10.tif

TOFU_TACOS_10.tif

Food stylist: Jamie Kimm Prop stylist: Marina Malchin,Food stylist: Jamie Kimm Prop stylist: Marina Malchin

Photo by: Antonis Achilleos

Antonis Achilleos

An easy way to eat a handful of tofu—sandwich it in a taco and throw in a bit of coleslaw, yogurt and cheese.

Here: tofu coated with a sweet and salty dressing, sprinkled with sesame seeds and then served on a bed of fresh, crunchy greens.

Weeknight Cooking

Weeknight Cooking

Photo by: Ryan Dausch

Ryan Dausch

Try this flavor-packed bowl with fresh veggies and a honey-hot sauce topping. The tofu is the main attraction in the recipe.

FNK_AuthenticMapoTofu_H

FNK_AuthenticMapoTofu_H

Food Network Kitchen's , GLOBAL FLAVORS: AUTHENTIC SHORTCUT RECIPES, Authentic Mapo Tofu for LESSONS FROM GRANDMA/MICROWAVE VEGGIES/CHICKEN SOUP, as seen on Food Network

Photo by: Renee Comet ©© 2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Renee Comet, © 2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Meet a traditional Chinese tofu dish, flavored with ground pork, chili oil and tingling Sichuan peppercorns.

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