The Fine Art of Making Tofu Taste Amazing
There can be very few four letter words with the potential to split the public right down the middle than this. Tofu is the kind of thing that seems to trigger an almost emotional response in the vast majority of people who come across it.
On one side of the fence, you have those who absolutely swear by tofu and eat it practically every day. On the other, you have those who see it as the single most diabolical creation ever to hit the world of plant-based eating.
But it’s by no means meat eaters alone who are averse to the idea of eating tofu. There are millions of committed vegans and vegetarians who say they cannot stand the stuff, just as plenty of carnivorous types absolutely love it.
As for where the negative reputation of tofu comes from, there are really two main reasons why so many people have such an apparent distaste for it:
- They’ve never tried the various different types of tofu
- They’ve never tried it when it has been cooked the right way
Truth is, tofu is one of the most exceptionally versatile and practical pieces of kit you’ll ever add to your kitchen. It also has the potential to be delicious on a level most simply aren’t aware of, just as long as you know what you are doing with it.
Getting to Grips with the Different Types of Tofu
This is perhaps the first and most important step on the journey towards developing a newfound appreciation for tofu. In all instances, tofu is made in the same basic way from the same basic ingredients. It is a curious compound created by boiling, curdling and compressing soy beans into blocks.
This results in your most basic form of tofu, which along with a whole bunch of key vitamins and minerals is also packed with protein.
As for the various different types of tofu you can pick up in stores, there are three primary variations on the classic that can be used in different ways. All of which have the potential to make a long list of meals satisfying and delicious – again, just as long as you know how tofu can and should be cooked.
Here’s a brief overview of the three main types of tofu you will come across:
As the name suggests, this is the softest and silkiest version of tofu, which has a texture similar to that of thick custard. It contains plenty of water and is easy to break up or cut into cubes – it’s also the form of tofu you’ll usually come across in things like miso soup. Its texture isn’t necessarily to everyone’s tastes, but it is nonetheless a fantastic ingredient for blending into salad dressings, dips, pasta sauces, smoothies and so on. Or simply tossed into your favourite oriental soups, as is.
Likewise relatively self-explanatory, firm tofu is significantly firmer than its counterpart above. It still has enough softness to be used in its raw form in a variety of ways, but is nonetheless the perfect type of tofu for marinading, frying and crisping up. This is the kind of stuff you can throw into just about any recipe that would usually call for something like fried chicken – it also bakes like a dream in the oven. Its porous texture also means it soaks up marinades and sauces beautifully to give it plenty of flavour.
Extra firm tofu
The third and final version is the extra firm form of tofu, which basically takes the properties of firm tofu to the next level. If looking for something that offers a seriously good impersonation of chicken when stir fried to a perfect crisp, this is it. Chewy, dense and absolutely fantastic in more recipes that you could possibly believe.
Cooking Tofu the Right Way
Figuring out the right way to cook tofu basically means discovering which cooking method works for you. There’s no shortage of options on the table, nor is there any reason you can’t experiment with as many different weird and wonderful techniques as you like.
Nevertheless, the following are by far the simplest and most effective ways of making something seriously impressive and enjoyable out of tofu. The kinds of dishes even your sceptical meat-obsessed friends and family members will gladly gobble down:
- Try pressing tofu
While this isn’t technically a cooking method in its own right, it’s a highly effective and practical preparation technique. Pressing tofu is all about compressing it, in order to reduce the cooking time and also improve its texture. Silken tofu isn’t an appropriate candidate for pressing due to its smooth texture – firm tofu is just about your best bet.
What you need to do is chop up your tofu block into cubes and distribute them evenly over a large chopping board. Lay a few pieces of kitchen roll on top of them, then place another chopping board on top followed by something heavy – like a bunch of cans. Give this makeshift press about 30 minutes to do its job and proceed with your recipe.
After preparation, it has a chewier and denser texture than firm tofu. If you are going to make crispy tofu, this is the variety that we would recommend using to create a texture that almost resembles chicken.
- Marinade for longer
As is the case with most kinds of meat, the best way to get the flavour of the marinade into your tofu is to give it plenty of time. Whether using a dry rub or a liquid marinade of some kind, it’s always best to give the mixture at least 6 hours or so after combining – leaving it overnight will give you even better results.
Marinading has a tendency to work better with firm and extra firm tofu, due to its reduced water content.
- Crisp it up with cornflour
There are tons of different options on the table for making tofu crispy. This is by far the simplest and most effective, so it will no doubt become your go-to. All you need to do is throw some cubes of firm (or extra firm) tofu into a ziplock bag, add a couple of tablespoons of cornflour (potato flour also works) and give it a good shake to coat.
You can then simply shallow fry your cubes of tofu until perfectly crispy and cooked, which usually takes about 12 minutes. Deep frying is also an option, but is not strictly necessary. It makes it slightly longer to fry tofu cubes that have been soaking in a wet marinade overnight, so take your time and don’t rush.
- Fry with sesame oil
Plenty of professional chefs will tell you that you should never fry with sesame oil under any circumstances. This is actually bad advice – frying with sesame oil is just fine and can lead to the most delicious results imaginable, just as long as you keep the temperature relatively low.
When frying tofu for just about any dish, simply throwing a tablespoon of sesame oil in with your regular oil (and turning down the temperature) can work wonders. With a generous amount of crushed garlic and then finished with some soy sauce, you basically have an authentic Asian dish with almost nothing else needed.
- Try blending tofu
Throwing tofu into a blender as an ingredient for soups, smoothies, sauces and so on isn’t about giving them a controversial flavour kick. It’s actually quite the contrary, as tofu doesn’t have a taste that’s strong enough to stand out when combined with just about anything else you’re likely to throw in.
This means that you can pop a decent quantity of tofu into your recipes to give them a smooth and creamy texture, without it having any real effect on the taste. Perfect for making things like vegan mac & cheese, or a dreamy-creamy garlic dip to lavish on just about anything you can think of.
- Crumbled tofu
Last but not least, the firmer forms of tofu pull off a surprisingly good job doing an impression of minced meat. The idea in this case is you crumble the tofu into small pieces, fry them off as the base for something like spaghetti bolognese and then add everything else in the normal way.
When tofu has pulled in all the flavours from the mix and built that slightly crispy exterior texture, you could easily fool meat eaters into thinking it’s a classic meat-based dish. At which point, you have yourself absolutely fantastic meat substitutes for an endless range of dishes – pepped up even further with a couple of dashes of liquid smoke!