If you've been wondering How to Cook Tofu, this handy guide covers all the basics. From choosing the right tofu to how to press, marinate, and cook it, I've got you covered! As if that weren't enough, I've also included a simple Marinated Tofu recipe that can be fried, baked, or air-fried. If you've been searching for ways to incorporate more plant-based protein into your diet, you've arrived at the right place!
Why You Need This Post
If you have questions about tofu, I'm here to answer them. I'll teach you everything you need to know! This post will be perfect for you if:
- You're stuck navigating the different options at the grocery store. I have tips for choosing the best kind of tofu for your specific needs!
- You aren't sure what all the fuss over pressing and prepping tofu is about. Don't worry, it's super easy to do!
- You don't know how to use tofu in your cooking. If you weren't already aware, tofu is an excellent ingredient for making breakfast, lunch, dinner, AND dessert!
Did I miss anything? Just ask me in the comments below and I'll be sure to get you the answers you need!
Why You'll Love This Recipe
(Cue your best infomercial voice) And that's not all! At the bottom of this post, I've also included a recipe for my Tasty Marinated Tofu that is:
- Perfect for meal prepping. This is a great make-ahead tofu option and it keeps beautifully in the fridge. Make a batch this weekend and set yourself up for healthy success in the coming week!
- Easy to make. With just 5 ingredients and about 15 minutes of prep, you'll have super flavorful tofu ready to add to all your favorite meals.
- Budget-friendly. Tofu is one of the least expensive protein options available these days, and the marinade is made with basic pantry ingredients. Going plant-based isn't just good for your health and the planet, it's great for your pocketbook, too!
And if you're looking for lots more tofu recipes, check out these 15 Simple Tofu Recipes that are just awesome.
Let's get this party started, shall we??
What is Tofu?
Tofu is a type of bean curd that is made using a process similar to cheesemaking. Soy milk is curdled and then pressed into blocks of varying firmness that end up being tofu. Ranging in texture from silken (which is soft like custard) to firm and extra firm varieties, there's a little something out there for just about any application.
If you have never had tofu before, it is a very mildly flavored and somewhat spongy food. In my experience, it takes on whatever flavors you give it, either through marinating, blending or adding to a sauce.
How to Use It
So you bought a block of this white stuff that is packed in water... NOW WHAT? If this feeling is familiar, I promise you're not alone. Before my journey into the vegan lifestyle, I wasn't very familiar with tofu either!
However, now that I have years of experience under my belt, I can unequivocally say that tofu is one of the most versatile ingredients I have ever worked with.
You know how people always joke that "there's an app for that?" Well, my joke (which is way funnier, by the way) is "there's a tofu recipe for that!" But seriously, though:
- Craving breakfast? Try a smoothie blended with tofu for some extra protein, or a Simple Tofu Scramble that'll put eggs to shame.
- Want a kid-friendly snack? Try my Popcorn Tofu for something yummier and healthier than chicken nuggets!
- Going to a barbecue? Try my Grilled Tofu Steaks.
- Missing your favorite takeout? Try my Thai Basil Noodles or my Thai Inspired Green Curry Tofu.
- Want something sweet? Try this creamy, dreamy Chocolate Tofu Pudding.
No matter what kind of food mood you're in, I can almost guarantee there's a tofu recipe to satisfy you!
Is Tofu Healthy?
The bottom line: YES! Tofu has quite a few health benefits, but I recommend that you opt for an organic and non-GMO version to ensure optimal nutrition.
As a short summary on the health benefits of this 2,000 year old superfood, I can tell you that tofu is:
- high in plant-based protein
- low in calories
- high in calcium, iron, and other nutrients
Since I'm a total nutrition nerd (that's actually what all those letters after my name signify), check out my full post on tofu nutrition where I give you the full skinny on just how awesome tofu really is.
How to Cook Tofu
Now that you're on board with this amazing ingredient, it's time to get down to business. Here's all the information you could ever need to learn how to cook tofu the right way:
Step 1: Choosing the Right Tofu
If you go to a regular grocery store, chances are you're going to have several choices of tofu to sift through. If you hit an international market, that pool of options is going to get MUCH bigger.
Here is a very cursory breakdown of the three primary types of tofu available at most grocery stores:
- Extra-firm: the firmest of all varieties, this is perfect for heartier dishes and is my go-to substitute for Indian recipes that call for paneer. It can do anything firm tofu can do, but with a bit more chew.
- Firm: can withstand being battered or crusted, baked, fried, stir-fried.
- Silken: best for puréeing into smoothies and desserts, or for eating raw.
Once you have these basics down, it'll be easier for you to experiment in the kitchen and come up with your own favorite tofu recipes. Until you're comfortable making that call solo, just grab the type of tofu listed on the recipe card.
How to Press Tofu (and Why You Should)
Pressing tofu is something that you're probably going to be doing a lot of if you're embracing a fully vegan (or even vegetarian) lifestyle. Why, you ask? It's actually quite simple.
Generally speaking, tofu is packed in liquid. "Liquid" and "crispy" are about as friendly as oil and water, so in order to get tofu to do cool things like replace chicken nuggets or get beautiful sear marks from the grill, we have to remove some of the excess moisture.
Pressing is also something you'll want to do prior to marinating. Think of it like this: tofu straight from the package is like a sopping wet sponge. Marinade is the spill you want to clean up. If the tofu is already saturated with the packing water, there's no space for the flavor to go!
NOTE: If you're eating your tofu raw or as part of a purée, don't worry about pressing it!
Option 1: Using a Tofu Press
The simplest way to press tofu is - SURPRISE! - using a tool that is specifically built for just that purpose. While you don't technically need a tofu press, they do make life just a little simpler and tidier.
I personally like THIS ONE.
Option 2: Using a Baking Sheet
While I absolutely love my tofu press and give it plenty of work to do every week, I also know not everyone is in a position to add another piece of kitchen equipment to the collection. If you're not ready to invest in a tofu press, you can still get the job done.
Simply grab a cookie sheet, some paper towels and a few heavy cans. Place your tofu on a cutting board or plate that you've lined with several layers of paper towels. Lay a few more paper towels on top of the tofu.
Rest the cookie sheet on top of the tofu, then weight it down using the cans. Let the tofu sit under the weight of the homemade press for about 15 minutes before continuing with the recipe. Easy peasy!
How to Cut It to Size
Depending on the recipe, your block of tofu might end up taking on other shapes. As a general rule, I recommend following recipe directions for how to cut/tear/divide your tofu into appropriately sized bits. Here are some things to consider:
- If you want to create a believable meat substitute, tearing the tofu will generally yield the best results. All those craggy edges are a great substitute for pulled meat.
- If you're planning on grilling tofu, keep the grate of your grill in mind. The pieces will need to be large enough to not fall through! Same goes for any kebabs you might be planning.
- You should also consider the thickness of your tofu when cooking. Thicker pieces mean the marinade won't reach as far towards the middle. Thinner pieces make it easier to fry until crispy.
- Finally, if you're making a breakfast scramble or a pasta sauce, you may end up wanting to use a spatula or a box grater to get the appropriate consistency.
To cut the tofu, you'll want a sharp knife and cutting board. The tofu will be even easier to slice than butter, but the sharp knife will ensure nice clean cuts.
It's fun to cut your pressed tofu into different shapes like cubes, triangles, or strips. There's no right or wrong way to choose which time of shape you'd like your tofu.
I personally like to switch things up to keep life interesting. For instance, I used small rectangles for my Green Bean Tofu Stir Fry, squares for my Teriyaki Tofu, triangles for my Chili Garlic Tofu, and larger rectangles for my Grilled Tofu Steaks (though the tofu steaks should be larger so they don't fall into the grill).
This simple recipe for marinated tofu is one I turn to again and again. It is so tasty and goes great with so many different meals! Here's what you'll need to gather:
- Extra Firm or Firm Tofu - If I'm making dinner, I usually turn to extra firm or firm tofu. Be sure to press it first so it can soak up all the yummy flavors in the marinade!
- Avocado Oil or Olive Oil (optional) - You'll only need oil if you are pan-frying your marinated tofu.
- Cornstarch - This is the easiest way to produce a delightfully crispy exterior. If corn is off the menu, try using potato starch, all-purpose flour, or a gluten-free AP flour mix.
- Tamari - This is the gluten-free version of soy sauce, which can easily be replaced with regular or low-sodium soy sauce if gluten isn't an issue. If soy is off the table, try using coconut aminos (GF) or Bragg's Liquid Aminos (not GF).
- Sesame Oil (optional) - While optional, sesame oil adds a ton of savory flavor to this Asian-inspired marinade.
- Onion Powder & Garlic Powder - Keeping these allium powders in the spice cabinet means big flavor is never far from reach — no sticky, smelly fingers or tears involved!
How To Make Marinated Tofu
One of my favorite ways to prepare tofu is this super simple, meal prep-friendly marinated tofu recipe. Keep some in the fridge for a quick protein boost for any meal!
Step 1. Press the Tofu
To properly marinate your tofu, you will first need to make sure there's room for the marinade to soak in. As such, you'll need to press the tofu first. I suggest pressing it for at least 15 minutes.
Step 2: Cut Tofu
Flip the tofu on its side and cut it through the center to make the tofu into 2 thin(ner) pieces. Then cut your tofu to the size you'd like (cubes, rectangles, or triangles), or tear it if that's what the recipe calls for.
Step 3: Marinate the Tofu
Mix the marinade ingredients together and marinate for at least 15 minutes (the longer it marinates, the more the flavors will infuse into the tofu).
Optional Step: Coat Tofu
While this next step is optional, I highly recommend it if you want your cooked tofu to get nice and crispy. Coat tofu with some cornstarch. To make this process simple, I put the cornstarch in a large plastic bag, add tofu, and shake to coat. Now you're ready to cook!
Step 4: Cook the Tofu
Option 1: Stovetop/Pan Frying Method
Add a bit of oil to a pan or skillet over medium high heat.
TIP: I use a seasoned cast-iron skillet so things do not stick, but a non-stick pan will also work here.
Once the oil is shimmering, add the tofu to the pan. If using small cubes, cook on each side for about 1-2 minutes until golden. If using triangles or rectangles, cook on the 2 sides for 4-5 minutes on each side until golden.
Option 2: Oven/Baking Method
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper for super easy clean-up. Arrange your tofu pieces in a single layer. Bake for 25 minutes until edges are golden.
TIP: Want to cut back on dishes? Roast some veggies alongside your tofu! Broccoli or cauliflower florets or halved brussels sprouts can be tossed with a touch of olive oil, salt, and pepper and will roast beautifully alongside the tofu.
Option 3: Air Frying/Convection Method
Place tofu in the air fryer basket and air fry at 400F for 10-15 minutes, tossing the tofu halfway through air frying.
There's no one right way to marinate your tofu! Feel free to switch things up however you please. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Reach for your favorite salad dressing. Any vinegar-based salad dressing like Italian, Greek, or Balsamic Vinaigrette can act as a simple marinade.
- Bring on the heat. If you're a fan of spicy flavors, try adding red pepper flakes, sriracha, or sambal oelek to your marinade.
- KISS (or, keep it simple, sunshine!). It's amazing what salt, pepper, and a little garlic powder can do.
- Spice it up. Your spice cabinet is filled with all kinds of big flavor boosters. Instead of going with Asian flavors, swap in Mediterranean feels with oregano, garlic, and lemon juice. Want something more French? Try herbes de provence.
- Try a dry rub. If you're craving typical BBQ vibes, press your tofu into your favorite dry rub and let it sit overnight.
Once your marinated tofu is cooked, it's ready to eat or store in the fridge. For a pop of flavor and plant-based protein, add it to:
- veggie stir-fries
- pasta salads
- grain bowls
- pasta or noodles
This recipe will last for up to a week in the fridge, making it perfect for meal prep.
Cooking with tofu will eventually become second nature, but there is a bit of a learning curve. Here are a few troubleshooting tips:
- How do you make hard tofu? If you want your tofu to be denser, you need to remove more of the water content. Be sure to choose a firm variety of tofu, then press it using the steps listed above. For an even firmer result, try draining and freezing the tofu first. This will remove even more of the liquid, resulting in a denser, chewier tofu.
- Prevent soggy tofu. It is imperative to press your tofu. Tofu has a lot of moisture when it comes out of the package, so be sure to press it for at least 15 minutes to help remove some of that excess liquid.
- Choose the right kind. It's also important that you choose the right type of tofu for any given recipe. Please see the "choosing the right tofu" section above.
- Stay away from the microwave. When it comes to reheating your crispy tofu, avoid the microwave. Microwaves excite the liquid molecules in food, which draws moisture to the surface. If you were hoping for crispy tofu to stay crispy, I recommend reheating it in your oven, toaster oven, pan, or air fryer for best results.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes! While soft or silken tofu is not recommended for stir-frying because it can fall apart, baking it can result in a lovely, warm custard texture.
I don't recommend cooking the tofu without draining it. While you're welcome to eat the tofu without draining, the flavor will be quite bland. All tofu (with the exception of silken tofu) should also be pressed or at least drained on paper towels prior to preparing it. The exception would be something like a tofu scramble.
Crispy tofu is one of those delicious kitchen unicorns that goes with just about anything. Feel free to eat it with sauces such as ketchup, bbq sauce, or mustard as a dippable snack. Add it to pasta, stir-fries, or curries. Cook up some quinoa or barley and use it for grain bowls. The options are nearly endless!
More Tofu Recipe Inspiration
There's more than one way to make tofu extra tasty. Check out any of these delicious recipes that prove it!
If you make this recipe and LOVE IT, please give it 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐!
- tofu press
- air fryer (optional)
- Baking Sheet (optional)
- Cast Iron Pan (optional)
- 14 oz extra firm tofu or firm tofu, pressed
- avocado oil or olive oil (optional - only use if pan frying)
- 2 tablespoon cornstarch optional
- 2 tablespoon tamari see notes
- 2 tablespoon water
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil optional
- ¼ teaspoon onion powder
- ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
- Once the tofu is pressed, flip the tofu on its side and cut it through the center to make the tofu into 2 thin(ner) peices. Then cut your tofu to the size you’d like (cubes, rectangles, or triangles).
- (optional step) If coating tofu, add cornstarch to a large plastic bag. Add tofu and shake to coat.
Pan Frying Directions
- Add a bit of oil to a pan or skillet over medium high heat (see notes). Once the oil is shimmering, add the tofu to the pan. If using cube tofu, cook on each side for about 1-2 minutes until golden. If using triangle- or rectangle-shaped tofu, cook on the 2 sides for 4-5 minutes each side until golden.
Air Frying Directions
- Place tofu in the air fryer basket and air fry at 400F for 10-15 minutes, tossing the tofu halfway through air frying.
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper for super easy clean-up. Arrange your tofu pieces in a single layer. Bake for 25 minutes until edges are golden.
PLEASE NOTE: Nutritional information data is computer generated and only an estimate so it should be used only as a guide.
Mary Ellen Valverde MS, CNS, LDN is a Licensed Nutritionist and Certified Nutrition Specialist who empowers vegans to feel clear and confident about what is uniquely nourishing to them. Mary Ellen's recipes and nutrition information have been featured on Yahoo News, Parade, VegNews, LIVESTRONG, Dr. Axe, Greatist, LIVEKINDLY, Brit+Co, Well+Good, and more.
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