How to Cook, Freeze, Marinate, Press & Store Tofu by a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Chef. This guide teaches you the best ways to press, freeze, cut, and cook tofu, as well as how to marinate it for the best flavor. Plus, easy and delicious vegan tofu recipes.
This is a one-stop resource with step-by-step instructions to make sure your tofu is perfectly crispy and flavorful every single time!
Visit my 'How to Cook Tempeh Guide' for tempeh recipes that actually taste good!
🙋🏽♀️ What is Tofu?
Tofu, also known as bean curd, is a gluten-free food ingredient made from soybeans, water, and a coagulant or curdling agent. Due to its versatility and nutritional value, this staple of Asian cuisine has become popular in Western vegetarian and vegan cooking.
Tofu is an affordable way to include plant-based protein in your diet. Plus, fortified tofu is a good source of calcium. The exact amounts of these nutrients will depend on the specific brand and type of tofu.
🛒 The Different Types
Tofu comes in various types and textures, each suited for different culinary applications. The main types include:
- Silken tofu is soft, smooth, and custard-like and is most often used in desserts, smoothies, soups, creamy sauces, dressings, and dips. It can also be eaten with a drizzle of sauce and garnishes like this 10-minute Sesame Soy Silken Tofu recipe on my site.
- Soft or medium tofu is slightly firmer than silken and is used for dishes like mapo tofu and agedashi tofu. It can also be blended into creamy soups, Vegan Cream Cheese, or vegan pudding.
- Firm tofu is great for making Tofu Scramble, Tofu Stir-Fry, and Tofu Curry. It holds its shape well and is suitable for pressing, cutting, and slicing.
- Extra firm and super firm tofu are best suited for the cooking methods in this 'How to Cook Tofu' guide. They have a dense texture and the lowest moisture content, making them very sturdy. Use them for battering, deep-frying, grilling, baking, pan-frying, and stir-frying. Super firm tofu is pre-pressed so you do not need to press it. Plus, it has the highest amount of protein. Try this high-protein Easy Marinated Tofu Salad or Tofu Sandwich for an easy lunch or dinner.
⏲️ How to Prep
Step 1. Drain the tofu. Cut a slit in the corner of the packaging and pour the excess water out. (Skip this step if freezing in the packet.)
Step 2. Choose one: Press, freeze, or salt the tofu.
Step 3. Pat dry: After pressing, freezing, or salting, drain the tofu and pat the block dry with a clean kitchen towel or paper towel.
📚 How to Press Tofu
Pressing tofu helps improve its texture, flavor, and ability to absorb marinades and seasonings. It removes excess liquid so the cooked tofu develops a crispier exterior. The longer you press, the better the texture and flavor of the tofu. (Skip this step if using super firm tofu, freezing your tofu, or salting your tofu.)
Homemade tofu press: Use a whole block of tofu, or cut it into cubes or rectangles. Place paper towels or a clean dish towel on a cutting board. Lay the block of tofu, or tofu pieces in a single layer, on top. Place another 2 to 3 layers of paper towel or a second kitchen towel on top of the tofu.
Place a cutting board on top and weigh it down with a heavy pot or a heavy object. Press for at least 15 minutes for cut tofu, or 20 minutes for the block. Replace the paper towels as needed if they become soaked.
Store-bought Tofu Press: Place the block of tofu inside a tofu press. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight. After pressing, drain the excess liquid from the press. Remove the tofu and pat the block dry with a clean dish towel or paper towel.
🧂 Soaking Tofu in Salt Water
Soaking tofu in salted water is an alternative to pressing or freezing, and it takes just 15 minutes. It draws out excess water from the tofu for a crispier crust. Plus, it has the added benefit of seasoning the tofu by osmosis as the salty solution displaces the unseasoned water content inside. The tofu does not end up overly salty if you remove it after 15 minutes.
Both the heat and the salinity of the water draw moisture out of the tofu, helping it crisp and brown. The hot water also gradually tightens the proteins at the surface of the tofu, helping keep any remaining moisture inside.
Step 1. Bring 2 cups of water to a vigorous simmer. Add 2 tablespoons salt and stir to dissolve the salt.
Step 2. Place the block of tofu into a heat-proof bowl and pour the water over the top. If the water does not cover the block, flip it over after 7 minutes. Drain the block of tofu and then place it between the layers of a clean kitchen towel. Press to remove excess water. Pat dry and let cool before cutting.
🧊 How to Freeze
Freezing tofu changes its texture and extends its shelf life to up to 5 months. The water in the tofu freezes into crystals, which expand and create gaps in the tofu's matrix. This makes the tofu more porous and spongy.
Previously frozen tofu more readily absorbs the flavors of marinades, has a meatier texture similar to chicken, and is easier to press to remove excess water which gets it crispier upon cooking.
You do not need to press the tofu if you are freezing it. Freeze for a minimum of 24 hours.
3 Ways to Freeze Tofu:
- 1. Freeze the tofu in its original packaging.
- 2. Drain the tofu and freeze the block in a freezer-safe container or bag.
- 3. Cut the tofu and freeze the pieces in a freezer-safe container or bag.
My preference is to cut the block into 4 equal slabs and freeze. This way, the tofu thaws more quickly. Cutting the tofu into cubes prior to freezing is my least favorite option as the texture changes the least.
How to Thaw Tofu (5 Ways)
- Countertop - Thaw the tofu on the countertop for about 6 hours. This is not recommended as it is a food safety hazard.
- Refrigerator (recommended) - Place the tofu in the refrigerator for 6 to 8 hours for smaller pieces, or overnight.
- Cold water bath (quick thaw) - Place the frozen tofu in a sealed bag and submerge it in a bowl of cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes for even thawing. This method can take up to 3 hours depending on the size of the tofu.
- Boiling water (quick thaw) - Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Submerge the tofu in the boiling water for 14 minutes. Remove the tofu and let it cool. Squeeze and pat dry before slicing.
- Microwave (quick thaw) - Use the defrost function, or zap for 10 to 12 minutes. I find this method works well, but depending on your microwave, it can result in uneven thawing and may start cooking the tofu's outer edges.
After thawing, place the tofu between two clean tea towels or paper towels and press down on the tofu to remove excess liquid. Pat it dry.
🔪 How to Cut
Option 1: Cut the pressed, salted, or previously frozen block of tofu into cubes, rectangles, or triangles using a sharp chef's knife.
Option 2. Take the pressed, salted, or previously frozen block of tofu and use your hands to break it into about 1 to 2-inch chunks. The irregular texture allows for more surface area for the flavors to penetrate, resulting in a tastier product.
Option 3. Remove the tofu from the packet and squeeze the block over a bowl to expel the excess liquid. (You do not need to press it.) Grate the tofu using the largest holes of a box grater.
Option 4. After pressing, salting, or freezing tofu, thinly slice it widthwise using a wide Y-peeler. If your tofu is very firm, you can 'peel it' right out of the packet without pressing. This worked for Hodo's extra firm.
Try my 20-minute Simple Tofu Noodles recipe using Y-peeler sliced tofu.
🍶 How to Marinate
One of the biggest myths about tofu is that it soaks up the ingredients around it. This is only true with hyper-porous previously frozen tofu. Unless you have several hours to sous-vide the tofu and completely transfuse the internal moisture content, don't expect a lot of flavor from a marinade.
Instead, try the glazing method to infuse tofu with maximum flavor. To glaze, pan-fry the pressed or salt-soaked tofu—with or without oil—until golden. Then add a marinade, so that the fried exterior soaks up the flavors and the heat of the pan reduces the sauce to a clingy syrup. Or bake the tofu halfway before tossing it generously with the marinade.
You can also marinate the tofu before cooking, and then again during the cooking process once it has lightly browned.
Basic marinade: For one (14-ounce) block tofu, mix 3 tablespoons soy sauce or gluten-free tamari, 1 tablespoon water, 1 teaspoon garlic powder, 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast, and 1 ½ teaspoons sriracha. Add miso, sesame oil, olive oil, maple syrup, or rice vinegar as desired.
Optional: Marinate the tofu after pressing, salt-soaking, or freezing. Place the cut tofu pieces in a shallow dish, about 8 x 8 inches, or 9 x 13 inches for a larger batch. Add the marinade and toss the tofu until evenly coated. Marinate for at least 1 hour, covered in the refrigerator, or overnight.
Glazing method: Pan-fry or bake the tofu for about 7 minutes—with or without oil—or until golden. Then add the marinade to the pan or baking sheet. Toss the tofu to coat, and then continue to bake or pan-fry until golden brown.
👩🏽🍳 3 Ways to Cook Tofu
Oil (optional): Oil is not required, but a little goes a long way for getting your tofu extra crispy. Toss or brush with sesame oil, canola oil, olive oil, or a neutral-flavored cooking oil before adding additional seasonings or cornstarch (if using).
Cornstarch (optional): Toss the pieces with cornstarch, arrowroot, or tapioca starch before cooking. You can toss the pressed, salted, or frozen tofu before marinating and use the glaze marinating method, or use previously marinated tofu.
How to Bake Tofu:
Bake 1. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or an oven-safe silicone mat. Place the pressed, salt-soaked, or previously frozen tofu onto the parchment paper in an even layer. Make sure the pieces are not touching so that hot air can pass in between for even browning.
Bake at 425ºF for 15 minutes. To flavor the tofu with a sauce or marinade, add it to the baking sheet now. Pour the sauce over the tofu or brush to coat evenly. Cook for about 5 minutes more to heat the sauce through, and brown the tofu.
Bake 2. Place the tofu directly onto a nonstick-rimmed baking sheet in an even layer. Make sure the pieces are not touching so that hot air can pass in between for even browning.
Bake at 425ºF for 15 minutes. To flavor the tofu with a sauce or marinade, add it to the baking sheet now. Pour the sauce over the tofu. Stir to coat evenly. Cook for about 5 minutes more, or until the sauce is heated through, and the tofu browned around the edges.
How to Pan-Fry or Air-Fry Tofu:
Pan fry: Heat a nonstick or cast-iron skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Add enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Heat the oil until hot but not smoking. Carefully place the tofu pieces into the hot oil, leaving space between them. Use a splatter screen as desired.
Cook the tofu for about 3 minutes, or until the bottom is golden brown, before moving it. Use tongs or a spatula to flip the tofu. Cook the other side for about 3 more minutes, or until golden brown.
To flavor the tofu with a sauce or marinade, add it to the pan now. Reduce the heat to low and pour the sauce over the tofu. Stir to coat evenly. Cook for about 2 minutes more, or to heat the sauce through.
Air fry: Set your air fryer to 400ºF.
Optional: To marinate the tofu, toss the pressed, salt-soaked, or previously frozen, drained, and cut tofu in 2 teaspoons soy sauce to coat. Then add 1 teaspoon garlic powder, 1 teaspoon paprika, 2 teaspoons cornstarch, and ½ tablespoon sesame oil or any oil. Toss to coat evenly.
Place the tofu pieces into the air fryer basket in a single row with enough space between the pieces so the hot air can pass freely.
Cook for about 10 minutes, or until the tofu is crispy and golden brown, shaking the basket after 5 minutes.
Unopened: Refrigerate the tofu in its original unopened packaging. Use before the 'best by' date on the packaging for optimal quality.
Opened: Store the unused tofu in an airtight container with enough water to cover it. Keeping the tofu submerged will prevent it from drying out or absorbing odors from the refrigerator. Change the water daily to help maintain freshness. Consume within 3 to 5 days of opening.
🛒 Where to Buy
- Grocery stores: Most mainstream grocery stores carry tofu. You can usually find it in the refrigerator section, typically near the produce or dairy products.
- Health food stores: Speciality health food stores and natural food markets like Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, and Sprouts often have a wide selection.
- Asian markets: These typically have a more extensive variety of brands, textures, and flavors.
- Online retailers: Many online retailers such as Amazon offer a variety and may deliver it to your doorstep.
🙋🏽♀️ Tofu FAQs
Tofu contains a lot of nutrients in relatively few calories, making it a nutrient-dense food. It is high in protein and contains all the essential acids the body needs. It also provides heart-healthy fats, carbohydrates, and a wide variety of vitamins and minerals. Plus, it has many important vitamins and minerals, including calcium and manganese.
The more compact and firm the block of tofu, the lower the water content and the higher the protein. Super firm tofu is pre-pressed and has the most amount of protein per serving. Extra firm tofu is the next highest in protein.
On average, firm tofu contains approximately 10 to 12 grams of protein per 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving. Silken tofu, typically about 8 to 10 grams per 3.5 ounces. Extra firm or super firm tofu can have anywhere between 15 to 20 grams per 3.5-ounce serving.
Plain tofu is generally considered to be safe for those with gluten intolerances to eat, as the beancurd contains no glutenous grains. However, flavored tofu may not be suitable, as it may be marinated with soy sauce which is not gluten-free.
🍽 More Tofu Recipes
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How to Cook Tofu
- 1 (14 to 16-ounce) packet extra firm tofu or super firm tofu
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari (preferably low sodium)
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
- 1 ½ teaspoons sriracha optional
- 2 teaspoons olive oil or sesame oil (optional)
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch or arrowroot (optional)
- Prep the tofu: Either press, freeze, or soak the tofu in salted water. Pat dry and cut into the desired shape.
- Optional: Preheat the oven to 425ºF, if baking.
- Make the marinade: Mix the soy sauce, garlic powder, nutritional yeast, 1 tablespoon water, sriracha, oil, and cornstarch (if using). Adjust quantities to taste.
- Bake the tofu: Place the pieces onto a large rimmed nonstick baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes. Or pan fry: Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a nonstick or cast-iron skillet. Add the cut tofu and cook undisturbed for about 3 minutes, or until the bottom is golden brown.
- Marinate the tofu: Bake method: Remove the tofu from the oven and pour about two-thirds of the marinade on top. Toss the tofu to coat it evenly. Bake for about 10 minutes more, or until the marinade is heated through, and the tofu is crispy. Add the remaining sauce right at the end of cooking and toss. Pan-fry method: Add all the marinade to the skillet and toss the tofu to coat evenly. Cook for about 4 minutes more, or until the sauce is warmed through, and the tofu is browned around the edges.
- See the blog post for 'How to Prep' tofu - pressing, freezing, soaking methods
- Place the tofu in a single layer for cooking with enough space in between for the hot air to pass freely. This ensures even browning.
- Storage: Refrigerate any leftover cooked tofu for up to 5 days.
This information is provided as a courtesy and is an ESTIMATE only. Varying factors such as product types or brands purchased can change the nutritional information in any given recipe.