If you look at a tofu recipe and get intimidated, thinking it will never turn out the way it does in restaurants, I understand. I have been there. Tofu was a food I never ate before I became vegan; in fact, I actively avoided it because the one time it snuck its way into my Chinese food, it was bland and spongy. When I went meat-free, I knew tofu would be a part of my life but I didn’t know how to buy it, what to do with it or how to cook it. It would have been great if there had been an owner’s manual with tips on how to troubleshoot recipes. I made it my mission to not only learn but to master the art of tofu. Believe me, I made many mistakes along the way. Now I try to help other people master the art of tofu and troubleshoot tofu recipes so they can love it as much as I do.
1. Are All Brands of Tofu the Same?
No. There are many brands of tofu and some are better than others. Some contain more water than others and there are some that might say “extra-firm” on the package but they are soft and fall apart easily. On the other hand, there are brands that are so firm, they barely need to be pressed. I always try to buy my favorite brands, Nasoya and Woodstock Foods, because they lead to positive results for my recipes. Try several brands and see which you like best and then stick with those. Try to always buy tofu made from organic/non-GMO soybeans.
2. Does It Matter Which Texture I Buy?
Yes! Make sure you buy the right texture of tofu for the recipe. Silken tofu is best used for sauces, creams, batters and in baking. It works well for tofu omelets, mousses like this Easiest Ever Silken Tofu Mousse and Cool Chocolate Mousse and dressings like this Low-Fat Tofu Ranch Dip and Blue Cheeze Dressing. There is firm silken tofu that can be used to stir-fries but it isn’t as firm as non-silken tofu. If you plan to slice your tofu for recipes where it’s important it doesn’t fall apart like these Buffalo Tofu Fries, you probably don’t want silken tofu. Soft tofu is good for tofu scrambles or other recipes where you will break the tofu apart. Personally, I buy extra-firm for most of my recipes and super-firm, if I can find it. It holds up to whatever I’m trying to do, whether I’m cutting it into cubes for Chinese dishes like Sesame Tofu, slices for cutlets like this Moroccan Tofu in Lemon-Olive Sauce, or dredging it and frying it for Crispy Tofu Nuggets.
3. It Came Out Soggy and Mushy!
Tofu is packed with water and we need to get that water out for several reasons. First, if you don’t press the tofu, it won’t be as firm as it could be and second, the water is taking up room that we would rather have occupied by water. Whether you do it with a cutting board weighed down by heavy books or cans or you buy an actual tofu press, you need to press and drain the tofu. If you want it even denser, firmer and chewier, you can freeze the tofu first. Remove if from the package, put it in a food storage bag and stick it in the freezer for a few hours. Then thaw it out in the fridge and…you know what’s next: press and drain it. This will make the tofu really firm and let you handle it without it falling apart which is important in dishes that need to hold a shape like these Vegan Tofu Scallops and Epic BBQ Tofu Wings.
4. It Looks Like I Cooked a Bar of Soap.
I once took a meat-eating friend to a vegan restaurant to show him how amazing vegan food is. He had never eaten tofu before. He ordered a tofu club sandwich and when it came, it looked like someone had put a giant block between the bread. If you want your tofu to have the best flavor, texture, and presentation, it is best cut into smaller pieces. You can make slabs, slices, triangles or cubes depending on the recipe. Use slices for making sandwiches or cutlets like this Vietnamese Tofu Banh Mi Sandwich and this Grilled Buffalo Tofu Po’ Boy. Cubes are great for stir-fries like this Spicy Tofu and Brussels Sprouts Stir-Fry with Korean-Style Sauce, salads and kebabs like these Spicy Balsamic Tofu Kebabs. Use cookie cutters to make fun-shaped tofu nuggets for kids (adults will probably like the hearts and animals too).
5. It Tasted Bland and Boring!
I see a lot of recipes that instruct the reader to drain the tofu, cut it and cook it. At the end, it gets seasoned with salt and pepper. Huh? No one would cook a piece of meat that way. Tofu takes on the flavors of whatever it is cooked with so it needs to be seasoned or else it will taste bland. Once the water is pressed out of the tofu, put flavor back in with a marinade, spice rub or both. Marinades can be as simple as soy sauce mixed with water and a few herbs and spices. I always cut my tofu into cubes or whatever shape I want before I marinate it. Even 15 minutes in the marinade makes a huge difference so don’t skip it because you don’t have hours. Check out The Ultimate Guide to Flavor-Packed Marinades for Plant-Based Dishes for lots of recipes and tips. A spice blend will add flavor and a crusty texture when the tofu is cooked. Just choose your favorite dried herbs and spices, mix them in a bowl and either rub them over the tofu or toss the tofu cubes in the spices before cooking. Always add some type of salt because tofu really needs it. For a ton of recipes and ideas, see How to Make Your Own Spice Blends and 10 Ways to Make Awesome BBQ Sauces, Spice Rubs and Marinades.
6. It Got Soggy the Minute the Sauce Hit It.
If you are planning to cover the tofu with a hot sauce after you cook it, it will get softer. So how do you get crispy tofu like the restaurants do? You make it extra-crispy before adding the sauce. That doesn’t mean cooking it longer because you don’t want the tofu to get dry and tough. If you are making Chinese food or some other saucy dish, toss the tofu in seasoned arrowroot powder or cornstarch before pan-frying it. Get The Secret to Making the Crispiest Tofu for All Your Dishes and then make this “Chicken-Fried” Tofu Steaks with White Gravy.
7. It Either Comes Out Too Greasy or Too Dry.
Tofu doesn’t take that long to cook and it needs attention while it does. If you are cooking the tofu in a skillet, make sure the pan and then the oil gets hot. When you put the tofu (that’s been patted dry) into the pan, you should hear a sizzle. If you don’t, the oil isn’t hot enough and it just absorbs the oil leading to a greasy, oily, soggy dish. You want it to be as crisp and delicious as possible when you make this Tofu Pakora.
Once you put the tofu in the oil, only let it sit for a minute or two until it starts to brown. Then it needs to move in the pan so toss it around until it’s browned on all sides. That’s it. You don’t have to worry about cooking it for a long time so the inside cooks. It cooks quickly. The ideal cube of tofu is brown and crispy on the outside and soft and moist on the inside. Use these tips to make Jamaican Curried Tofu with Chickpeas, Pan-Fried Tofu with Zucchini, Carrot and Black Bean Sesame Noodles, and Vegan Fish and Chips.
8. If I Bake Tofu, Won’t It Get Too Dry?
Not if you marinated the tofu first. If you want baked tofu that is firm to toss in a salad, perhaps, marinate it and then bake it on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Again, it doesn’t take that long to cook depending on the size of the tofu and how brown you want it. Tofu cubes take less than 30 minutes. If you don’t need the tofu to be dry and firm, you can bake it in the marinade, sauce or any flavorful liquid. The tofu will absorb some of the liquid which will keep it moist. See How to Make the Perfect Baked Tofu for more tips. Then make this Asian Baked Tofu and Lemony Baked Tofu.
9. It Fell Apart When I Tried to Flip It.
Even if you use the firmest tofu, it is still a fragile food. I never use tongs to try and flip tofu because it can break the pieces. When I cook cubes of tofu, I use a wide, flat spatula to toss them around. When I make slices of tofu which are even more fragile, I either use a very thin spatula (the kind meant for seafood) or I use two spoons on either side of the slice to gently flip it. Try this technique with this Seared Tamari Maple Tofu, Chile Rubbed Tofu with Onions and this Tandoori Tofu Tikka.
10. My Tofu Omelet Never Set
The biggest reason people have trouble making tofu omelets is lack of patience. The tofu batter doesn’t set as quickly as eggs do and many people try to flip it way before it’s time. Then it just breaks and falls apart. To make a tofu omelet, use firm or extra-firm silken tofu. Once you prepare the batter and put it in the pan, leave it alone. It takes a good five minutes or more to set. I find that putting a lid on the pan helps the omelet to set better. After the five minutes, remove the lid, spray a bit of cooking oil around the perimeter of the omelet and return the lid. Cook until you see the edges lifting up from the pan. Then you can either flip the omelet to cook the other side or just put your fillings on the uncooked side and fold the omelet over to finish cooking. For more tips and a great recipe, see this Low-Fat Vegan Silken Tofu Omelet and this Vegan Soufflé Omelet.
If you need more help with tofu, check out 6 Tips that Will Make You Love Tofu, 8 Reasons You Hate Tofu and How to Change That and 7 Tips to Make the Perfect Tofu Dishes. After all that, if you still need tofu troubleshooting, just ask your question in the comments and I’ll help all I can, short of coming over to cook it for you.
Lead Image Source: Chile-Rubbed Tofu and Onions over Spanish Rice