Aware of tofu but not quite sure what to do with it? Once you understand some simple steps you can create perfect dishes
Tofu is a wonderful, versatile ingredient, so it’s sad to see the poor reputation it often has. Badly made tofu is all too common. No wonder really, when there are a few easy, but not widely known, techniques that will turn your tofu from a soggy, tasteless, mess, to a flavourful and robust ingredient.
By knowing what different types are available-and what works best for what dish- as well as how to ‘butcher’ and marinate each specific type you can make the most of this ingredient. One of the best things about tofu is its sponge-like ability to absorb flavours-this means the world really is your oyster when it comes to different flavours (we’ve included a list of marinades near the bottom).
After you’ve marinated your tofu, there are a number of ways you can cook it, either roasting, frying, or deep frying.
Types of Tofu
Properly draining your tofu is one of the most important things: once you’ve cracked this it will be much easier to recreate the kind of flavours and textures you want with your curd. But it depends what tofu you’re using-and what you’re doing with it-as to whether you should press it. Using silken or soft in a blended recipe-no. Using firm tofu and planning to marinate it-yes.
We use a special tofu press from Tofuture. When a block is properly drained, it will look substantially smaller and flatter. This means the tofu will hold a better shape when you cook it-it won’t get as sloppy as it does when it’s not correctly drained, and it will also ‘drink’ up the marinade more effectively.
No tofu press? Wrap the block in a clean tea towel and place between two chopping boards. Balance cook books, tins, or anything heavy you can think of on top to drain the liquid out properly.
It’s important to understand how to handle tofu. You will find many recipes use cubes- an easy shape to master and work with as they are small and robust. Other common shapes are slabs, triangles, and strips. All these shapes will be easier to create after your tofu has been drained, as wetter tofu is weaker tofu.
Some people like to cut and drain their tofu, then cook plain, before covering in sauce at the end of their recipe. This is one option. Others like to marinade the curd so the flavour really permeates each chunk.
Create your marinade using one of the recipes overleaf. There are a few points you should bear in mind when prepping your tofu to cook. Firstly, assuming you’re using firm tofu, follow our advice on properly draining the liquid out. Cut your tofu into the right size and shape before marinating.
You want to make sure the marinade covers all of your tofu as so it will be uniformly coated with the liquid rather than uneven and mottled.
Next, you need to make sure you leave your tofu for long enough to really soak up the flavours in your dressing. Often, your specific recipe will give you exact timings but as a rule of thumb, the longer you leave your curd, the stronger the flavour will be. You do not want to leave it indefinitely however, as it may end up mushy and over salty. Overnight is probably the maximum timeframe.
It can be difficult to recreate the delicious crispy on the outside, soft on the inside texture you find in the best-cooked tofu. The first step in achieving this is proper draining-which you have already done. The next step is the cooking.
As with most cooking, if your pan is too hot, you can end up burning the outside of your tofu without cooking the inside. You want to apply a consistent heat throughout to make sure the inside is spongey with a golden, crispy exterior.
A good policy is to work slowly with the tofu and the heat. Heat enough oil to coat the bottom of your pan, and place the tofu in the oil keeping the heat at a medium level. As the pieces brown gently, use a spatula to carefully turn them over. If the pieces start to get uneven dark brown spots, turn the heat down. The goal is a uniform golden colour. It’s worth really taking your time with this until you are more confident with timings and temperatures. The more slowly the pieces brown, the more control you have to get them to the right colour and consistency.
If you are going to use your fried tofu in a stir-fry, once it is browned, remove from the heat. Cook your stir-fry as normal, then re-add the curd at the end.
To roast the tofu, simply heat your oil in an oven proof dish in the oven. Make sure every piece is coated with oil before returning the tray to the over until golden brown. Specific recipes will have the right temperatures, but around 200 degrees C is a good option.
Top tip: Coating the pieces of tofu very lightly in cornflour after marinating, but before frying, helps create a crispy coating.
Mix equal amounts of sesame oil, soy sauce, agave syrup and vegetable oil. Add a pink of chilli flakes and salt, and a squeeze of lime. Leave pieces soaking for at least an hour.
Use a mix of dried herbs including, but not limited to, oregano, dill, rosemary and coriander. Mix a tsp of the herbs with a tbsp. of olive oil, 4 tbsp. of lemon juice, and a minced clove of garlic. Soak slabs for an hour, adding more lemon juice once cooked.
Mix equal amounts of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, liquid aminos, and lemon juice. Add a good splash of white wine, two cloves of crushed garlic and a pinch of dried herbs-oregano or basil work well. Marinate for at least an hour.
Mix equal amounts of soy sauce and sesame oil. Add half a quantity of orange juice and leave tofu pieces to marinate for at least an hour before frying.
Garlic and ginger:
Add equal parts balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, and sesame oil. Add a good few pinches of brown sugar, and equal amounts of minced garlic and ginger. Soak tofu for up to eight hours.