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How to Cook Tofu

Jennifer Hanes MS, RDN, LD

I used to only eat tofu in restaurants.

I had tried multiple different ways to cook it and never liked how it came out. Most instructions say you have to marinate it to get any flavor.  Sometimes, they tell you to press the tofu. But other than putting it in a pan, I couldn’t really find any helpful instructions.

So, I gave up eating tofu in Asian restaurants and pretty much nowhere else.

But then Roman grabbed a piece of age dashi tofu at our favorite Asian restaurant and loved it! So I knew I needed to try to cook tofu again.

What doesn’t work?

When learning how to cook tofu, there are a lot of things that don’t work. Here is a quick compilation of methods that I tried in the past (the ones I remember anyway).

Don’t marinate the tofu

I know. Tofu Sacrilege!

It seems like EVERYONE says you have to marinate tofu, or it won’t have any FLAVOR.

The problem is, no matter what I do, I cannot get a good texture from marinated tofu.

There are other ways to flavor tofu. But, for me anyway, there’s no rescuing soggy, marinated tofu.

I once saw a recipe that recommended pressing the tofu, marinating it, then pressing it again. This is crazy talk. I don’t have that kind of time.

Tofu with seasoning in white bowl
Seasoned tofu – no marinade

Don’t use tofu as a meat substitute

It’s not meat. It can’t be meat. If you’re expecting tofu to replicate a chicken nugget, you will be disappointed.

Instead, think of tofu as its own entity. Understand what it is and what it is not. It is yummy without replicating chicken, or eggs, or whatever else someone may come up with!

Do not grab the first tofu package you see

If you’re planning to cook tofu, extra-firm is the way to go. It’s almost all I buy.  

I say almost because you’ll occasionally come across high-protein tofu, which has the BEST texture when cooked. And more protein!

I’ve seen it at both Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, neither of which I regularly shop at. They’re too far away. 

Soft tofu and silken tofu won’t hold up to cooking other than maybe a gentle simmer in a brothy soup.

Instead, you can take advantage of their creamy textures in items like smoothies, vegan cheesecake, puddings, and so on. I bet you could even blend it up to make a creamy soup without the cream.

Don’t use a stainless steel or cast iron pan

You really do need a non-stick surface.

Otherwise, the tofu will stick, ripping away any chance of a nice, seared, firm texture.

seasoned tofu cooking in a non-stick pan
Photo by Anh Nguyen on Unsplash

How to cook tofu

So, I feel my method is pretty simple.

  1. Press the tofu
  2. Season the tofu
  3. Cook the tofu

The tricky part is in the details that go into each step. The method below details how I press my tofu at home and specific steps to get the most out of my tofu.

The Best Way to Cook Tofu

There is a lot of confusion surrounding the best way to prepare tofu at home. Here, I share my favorite method.
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Course: Main Course
Cuisine: vegan, Vegetarian
Diet: Vegan, Vegetarian
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Pressing time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 55 minutes
Servings: 4 servings
Author: Jenn
Cost: $4

Equipment

  • 2 cutting boards
  • Weight
  • Paper Towels
  • 2 clean kitchen towels
  • non-stick pan

Ingredients

  • 1 block tofu extra firm, or high protein

Instructions

  • Open package of tofu and drain water.
  • Wrap the block of tofu in paper towels.
  • Then wrap the tofu in 2 kitchen towels
  • Place tofu on cutting board, preferably one with a groove to collect liquid.
  • Place the second board on top of the block of tofu and add weight. I usually use a large skillet and some cans or jars of food.
  • Allow tofu to press for 20-30 minutes. The longer you press the tofu, the firmer the texture becomes.
  • Watch for leaning! Correct the top cutting board to level as needed.
  • Remove the weight, top cutting board, and towels. They should be soaked!
  • Cut tofu into your desired shape. You can make cubes, strips, steaks, or triangles!
  • Season the outside of the tofu.
  • Spray non-stick pan with oil.
  • Add the seasoned tofu, and leave it alone for ~4-5 minutes.
    seasoned tofu cooking in a non-stick pan
  • Flip when tofu is seared, repeating until all sides are cooked.
    seasoned tofu cooking in a non-stick pan

Notes

You can also use a tofu press. This method is probably easier and gives more even results, without the need for monitoring.

Nutrition

Calories: 54kcal | Carbohydrates: 2g | Protein: 7g | Fat: 2g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 1g | Sodium: 62mg | Potassium: 152mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 1g | Calcium: 31mg | Iron: 1mg

*Nutrition Facts are an estimate only. Differences are expected when making substitutions for any ingredient or when different brands are used.

*We may earn commissions from qualifying purchases made through links on our site. These commissions help support our work in providing valuable content to our readers. Thank you for your support!

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Using a Tofu Press

After the first iteration of this blog post, I went ahead and bought a tofu press. There are some advantages and disadvantages to the press. 

Disadvantage – the cost of buying the press.  Really, this is minor; it didn’t really cost much.

Disadvantage – storing the tofu press. In our tiny apartment kitchen, this is really why I’ve held off on buying one for so long.

Advantage – Even pressing.  No more leaning cutting boards, or even worse, no more startlingly loud crashes as the pan goes overboard!  the tofu is pressed evenly from the top, so no weird shapes that come from not watching my makeshift press.

Advantage – You can press the tofu for longer. The longer tofu is pressed, the more water is removed, making a denser texture. However, tofu should really only be pressed for about 30 minutes max before it should really be in the fridge.  Obviously, the cutting board setup won’t fly in the refrigerator. But this tofu press isn’t really much bigger than the block of tofu itself and fits quite nicely in there.

More tips

Make sure the pan and the oil are hot.  You’ll never get a good sear on anything with a room-temperature or barely warmed pan. 

Any oil will work, even olive oil, despite rando’s on the internet whining about the smoke point. However, sesame oil is fantastic when making an Asian-inspired dish and gives a browner color to the tofu.

 Once the tofu is in the pan, leave it alone for at least 3-4 minutes. Test one piece; if it’s not golden brown, put it back and leave it alone for 1-2 minutes more. 

Flip all the pieces and do the same for each side. The constant tossing, like a saute, is not your friend here. Just give the tofu a chance to do its thing.

Man in kitchen, cooking
Photo by Aaron Thomas on Unsplash

Other Cooking Methods

Frying – season the tofu, then coat in a thin layer of cornstarch. Cook in 1/4″ of olive (or sesame) oil in a wok until browned on one side, flip and cook until done.

Bake – This method may hold up best to a marinade.  Cook at high heat (at least 400) for at least 30 minutes until browned.

Seasoning Ideas

To season your tofu, gently toss with 1-2 Tbsp of olive oil and the seasoning mix of your choice.

Urban Accents – everything you want in a little pack, and they come in a variety of flavors! (*As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases)

Basic – salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder

Taco – Basic + cumin, chili powder, oregano. Smoked paprika would be good, too.

Italian – Basic + Italian seasoning, +/- grated parmesan cheese

Jerk – Basic + allspice, cinnamon, and cayenne pepper

Asian-inspired – Basic + soy sauce + white miso paste + chili paste. Whisk together before seasoning your tofu. Use sesame oil instead of olive oil

If adding a sauce or glaze, do so AFTER the tofu is cooked.

tofu, roasted broccoli and potatoes on white plate

Why we should eat tofu

Tofu is a lean source of protein.  

One serving (3 oz) of extra firm tofu provides 8 g of protein, 2 g fiber, 3.5 g of unsaturated fat, with only 70 calories. 

If you can find the high-protein tofu, go for it! 3 oz of high tofu (sometimes labeled “super firm”) has 15 g protein, 0 g fiber, and 7 g of unsaturated fat for 140 calories.

The protein trade-off is worth it!

Remember that this is per serving. We typically eat a whole block split between us, 3 ways instead of 4-5 servings in the package. 

Ther are also several health benefits to eating soy, regardless of the protein content!

So what’s tempeh?

Tempeh is another soy product. Whereas tofu is made from curdled soy milk (similar to how some cheeses are made), tempeh is fermented whole soybeans. 

Tempeh is higher in protein than tofu and has a nutty flavor before cooking. It is also tougher. I typically use tempeh in sandwiches or mixed into casseroles (like my Tempeh Shepherd’s Pie) and tofu when it won’t get beat up, like on top of a stirfry or with a side of rice.

vizsla raising his hand
Photo by Camylla Battani on Unsplash

Any questions?

Let me know in the comments!

Jenn in a grey and white half sleeved shirt in front of a beige wall and a abstract city painting

Jennifer Hanes MS, RDN, LD is a registered dietitian, mom, wife, and vegetarian in North Texas. She has dedicated Dietitian Jenn to be a source of information, ideas, and inspiration for people like her, vegetarians that live with people with different dietary beliefs and/or needs in a multivore household.

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