There is an epidemic in the vegetarian community. No, it isn’t heart disease or diabetes (we’ve basically conquered those). It is something I like to call Tofuitis. The art of cooking tofu has been tragically lost in most kitchens around the world. This is a shame. The reason people turn their noses up at tofu is always the result of bad preparation. When tofu is cooked correctly, the wonderful slices develop a golden crust and moist, custardy interior that is unlike anything else.
Learning how to cook tofu is not very hard, either. I’ve broken the process down into something I call The 5 S’s of Perfect Tofu – Slice, Soak, Squeeze, Sauté, and Season. So grab your block of tofu and a knife — let’s get started.
You Will Need…
- 1 block tofu
- 1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- Sea salt
- Sharp knife & cutting board
- Tray with warm salt water
- Stainless or cast-iron skillet
#1 – Slice
Cutting tofu into the correct slices is important. Too thick and they won’t cook all the way through, too thin and you destroy the custardy interior. Ideally, your slices should be somewhere between 1/2 inch and 1/4 inch – shoot for around 3/8 inch.
#2 – Soak
There are numerous reports around the internet that suggest soaking the tofu in salt water for 15 minutes will result in a better crust and texture. I’ve tried this and… it works. Once you’ve cut the slices, set them in a bath of warm salty water and allow to soak for 10-15 minutes.
#3 – Squeeze
Perhaps the most important step of all is squeezing the water out of the tofu. Many people recommend sandwiching the slices between heavy plates or bowls, but I find that simply pressing between paper towels works best. Take your slices and lay them on a paper towel. Then, add another paper towel (doubled over) on top and press down firmly, like you’re trying to flatten the tofu. Repeat this process 2-3 times until the paper towel is no longer drawing out much water.
#4 – Sauté
Tofu must be sautéed correctly in order to achieve the right texture. You’ll want to use a stainless or cast-iron skillet if possible, non-stick doesn’t work as well at high temperatures. Add about a tablespoon of oil (any neutral oil with a high smoke point, like olive or vegetable) and crank up the heat. Get the pan seriously hot and toss in the tofu slices. If you did a good job of squeezing earlier, there shouldn’t be too much splattering as the water hits the hot oil.
Allow the tofu to cook undisturbed for about 4-5 minutes until the bottoms develop a nice browned color, then flip and repeat on the other side. When both sides are lightly browned, the tofu is ready to be taken off the heat.
#5 – Season
The tofu tastes delicious right out of the pan, but a little seasoning can go a long way. At the very least, top with a dash of sea salt before serving. Or if you’re feeling a bit more daring, here are a few seasoning recipes…
BONUS: 3 Tofu Seasoning Recipes
When seasoning tofu, it is a myth that you need to marinate it ahead of time. In fact, tofu is thick and custardy, and won’t absorb much of the marinade anyways. You’re much better off following the instructions above, then tossing the tofu with your favorite sauce for 1-2 minutes before serving. This allows your sauce to absorb into the crust we created, giving you the most flavor while retaining the perfect texture.
Agave Garlic Sauce
This is my absolute favorite way to seasons tofu. It’s simply 2 tablespoons of agave nectar and 2 finely-diced cloves of garlic. Grab the skillet you used to sauté the tofu and let it cool. Then add these ingredients and warm over low heat. Add the tofu and toss until coated. Serve immediately.
Orange Ginger Sauce
This great sauce gives your tofu a wonderful “orange chicken” taste, but much healthier. Take two tablespoons orange marmaleade, one tablespoon orange juice, one tablespoon soy sauce, and some fresh grated ginger root (to taste). Again, add them all to the skillet and let them warm over low heat. Then add the tofu and toss until coated.
Spicy Peanut Sauce
Warm the following ingredients in a skillet over low heat: 2 tablespoons peanut butter, 1-2 tablespoons rice vinegar, 1 green onion (finely diced), 1 clove garlic (finely diced), 1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger, 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1 teaspoon agave or maple syrup. When warm, add in the tofu and toss to coat. Drizzle any remaining sauce over the tofu when serving.
43 CommentsLeave a Reply
Thank you for posting this! I am new to the whole plant based lifestyle, and have been eating rubber for tofu. I tried this tonight with the garlic and agave. Wow, amazing results!
That’s great! I’m so happy it worked well for you. Let’s rid the world of rubbery tofu one kitchen at a time 🙂
Tofu is protein, texture, soy, and calcium. I can think of no better way to save the world. Honestly 🙂
I just made it, and it turned fantastic!!!!!!! **insert superlative here** <—
I used Trader Joe`s sprouted, extra firm tofu, and also halved the olive oil and used olive oil spray instead to reduce the fat. The crispiness plus the clean flavor of tofu, reminded me of my grandma`s soy cakes- that were deep fried!. So this was a feat!!! I`m not longer a Tofu virgin. Yay!!!!
Yay! I’m so happy for you! I typically use Trader Joe’s sprouted extra firm tofu as well, I really like that one. I know… I hate cooking with oils any more than I have to, and if you can make this work with less, that’s great. Congrats on your tofu success! 🙂
Andrew, if I want to spice this up, what would be nice? Curry? Paprika? Merken?
Right after I squeeze the water out of the tofu, right? And the straight to the pan.
I’ve never seen a tofu so yumi!
I’m doing it right now!
Great! I’m glad it’s working well for you. 🙂 Hmm, I might use cayenne pepper or paprika. Or, what could really work well is using hot sauce like Tabasco or Sriracha. And yes, once the tofu is squeezed, straight to the hot pan it goes!
I really enjoy the recipes on your site and thoroughly support your message of a clean unprocessed lifestyle. However, i have been told from multiple sources that tofu is not the health food that it claims to be and soy protein is not a very optimum protein source. Is this true? What are your thoughts on this? Keep up the good work! I have found this to bee a truely a rewarding way of life 🙂
Thank you for such a thoughtful comment, Rachel and that’s a great topic. My views are that in virtually every area of medical research, you can find so much conflicting data that it’s hard to know what to believe. This video on soy, for example, shows research on how effective soy is at fighting cancer (nutritionfacts.org/video/breast-cancer-survival-and-soy/). So how do you make sense of all the info? You don’t. Understand that there may be no “right” answer and trust the research that makes the most sense to you. Dr. Greger’s site in that link above is a good place to start. Thanks again, I appreciate you bringing up this point!
You are amazing! I just made the perfect tofu with agave garlic sauce! My husband came in the kitchen drooling at the smell! Thanks for the great recipe!!!
Thanks, Jen! The agave garlic sauce is my favorite as well, I’m glad you guys liked it!
I love cooking with tofu as its such a wonderful option for vegetarians. Your tips are spot on, and I can’t wait to try your recipes. Thank you!!!!
I have never tried tofu but want to. What would be the best way for me to try it
I finally have achieved sauteed tofu that also has a custard-like center. The soaking is the trick that I did not know about until this post. Thank you.
I have been frying up and eating tofu for years and I had discovered the secret of the perfect thickness on my own but I hadn’t heard about soaking them in salt water. I bet that helps maximize the crispiness of the crust because the salt draws additional water out that squeezing cannot. Thanks for this wonderful tip! And your pictures and explanations were the best I have ever seen! Keep up the good work and thank you!
Hey, Becky! That’s my theory as well, that it draws out extra moisture in the outer layer, making a crispier crust. Thanks so much for the nice comments 🙂
Andrew THANK YOU for posting this!!!! I use tofu regularly and have been struggling to get that nice crispy crust I see in photos with minimal success but this works easily and quickly.
You’re so welcome, Carmen! Slowly but surely, we’re ridding the world of soggy tofu! 🙂
Hi! I’m going to try and make this today and was just wondering if agave nector and agave sweatener are the same thing?
Hey Nicole, I’ve never heard of it being called agave sweetener but I can’t imagine that they would be different!
Super excited to try this tonight! Just one question – do you know what the effect the soaking in salt water has on the sodium content? Does it increase it dramatically or just a bit?
Can’t wait to give this a try!!
Hey Caitlin! Hmm, that’s an interesting question. This is completely a guess but I would imagine the change is almost nothing. Let’s say you’re adding half a teaspoon of salt to the water (~1,200 mg) and most of that gets dumped out. So for the whole batch, I’d guess it’s adding like 200 mg, a very small amount.
Wow, I never heard of the soaking step and will definitely try it! My go-to method for chewier, drier tofu has been “freeze and squeeze” (freezing the whole block for a few days, then thaw and squeeze out the water). I’m curious if you’ve tried this alone or in conjunction with your method above and if so, how did it work out? May have to try a few versions myself…
Btw, I followed this link from your Ochazuke post, which I’ve also never heard of. Thank you so much for the new ideas!
Interesting! I’ve never tried freezing, but I imagine that could alter the texture. I’m interested in how that compares as well… If you do a comparison or combination of these techniques, be sure to share the results! 🙂
Thank you for this amazing tutorial. My husband, who is a good cook and a tofu hater, loved it and complemented my cooking which is very rare. He said he had tried everything to make tofu crispy like mine but hadn’t gotten anywhere. So he was very impressed with crispy tofu and wanted me to make him more. 🙂
Awesome! I’m so glad I could help you impress your husband! haha, yay for crispy tofu! 🙂
I just found this post and am about to go and soak the tofu for dinner. So excited, thank you for this most excellent post. *happydance*
Thanks, Lorenzo! Anytime my recipes make people do a happydance, I’ve done my job :p
Hi! It really is true. Many people who don’t like tofu don’t know how to cook it properly or season it correctly. My mum was definitely a culprit when I was a kid……Thanks for the tips and the sauce recipes. The peanut butter once especially sounds amazing!
Obviously, I have just found your website!! So, I am very excited to see these recipes for tofu. We are stationed in Japan so we have access to fresh,warm tofu! Cannot wait to make this.
I just made ths, and although I loved it right out of the pan, the orange ginger sauce just tosses it over the edge! Thanks so much. Tofu covert for life.
Hey, thanks so much for the simple recipe/way to cook tofu! I got some today, and want to try this now. Does anyone know the best firmness for sauteing tofu? I got one package of silken tofu, and one package of firm tofu earlier.
Update. I just made this with the firm tofu and it came out well! I suck at cooking so I was surprised it came out decently! It has the crunchy exterior and sort of gooey interior. I kinda failed at cutting it the right width.. but it still came out really good. Thanks so much! Currently munching on some now.
Awesome! I’m glad you liked it, Michelle! And yes, I would definitely go with the firm (or extra firm) tofu as opposed to silken (which is very soft and more for smoothies and sauces). If it stuck to the pan, the problem was almost certainly that the pan/oil wasn’t hot enough. If it’s not super hot, they’ll stick.
I slice mine like this when i’m making tofu burgers (sometimes i’ll slice it in half again), i’ll do the prep steps, and before cooking it i’ll season by smothering my tofu in smoked paprika and a touch of cayenne for a smokey bbq taste. the best!
Sounds delicious, Ashsara! Thanks for sharing… I’ll have to try that soon 🙂
I just made this literally a second ago. This is my first time ever eating tofu and I wanted to do it right. By the comments I decided to try the garlic agave sauce. I must say this is pretty delicious! So glad I found this! I have been so scared to try tofu, glad I got it right the first time.
Now time to trick the family into eating it.
I would love to know what sides you recommended eating with it.
High five, Eryka! Welcome to the world of Tofu 🙂 It can be really amazing when cooked right… best of luck tricking your family into eating it as well!
I have made tofu in the past, but have never been able to get it to look like this, I will be making this tonight!
Also, you have such an awesome approach to food (and your Instagram photos are NSFW, I’m soooo hungry now)! 🙂
Lovely!! Going to try this out! Great tips 🙂
3 Pings & Trackbacks
Pingback:A Post Early Shift Hangover Cure: Pad Thai With Kelp Noodles & Mystery Beetroot Juice … :Healthy Shift Workers
Pingback:Hobble | Not Without a Scratch
Pingback:Japanese Arugula Salad with Crispy Tofu | New Adventure - New Meals!