Tofu is a versatile little meat alternative, although some care is required in its preparation for maximum taste. Tofu comes in a few different consistencies, but the two mainstays are (quite straightforwardly) labelled soft (silken) and hard (or stir-fry). Hard tofu is the the same stuff as the soft, but the water is squeezed out of it, so it’s denser, more rubbery and has more protein. Soft doesn’t hold its shape when cooked, falling apart as the water is evaporated.
When you open a packet of tofu be careful as it might contain some water (packed to keep it moist). Drain that out first.
So, on to some tips for cooking tofu.
Soft tofu tends to have even less of a flavour than hard (which itself only has a faint soy flavour). Because of all the extra non-flavour added to a dish when you dump in soft tofu, you need to compensate and add a lot more flavour too (whatever that may be). Pre-frying soft tofu for a while is useful to cook out the water content. Soft tofu adds body to a sauce, yet keeps it saucy. A good spagbol can be made with a soft tofu stirred into a rich tomato sauce.
Slice up the tofu into little strips or cubes and fry away. If you dislike hard tofu’s rubberyness (and especially when cooking for those unfamiliar with tofu), it’s a good idea to use smaller slices so they crisp up well and there’s a minimum amount of rubbery tofu in the middle. You can also fashion “tofu steaks” out of broad longwise slices of an entire tofu block and cook those, but generally I prefer to make bite-sized pieces. Saves using a knife when eating.
Be careful not to over-cook as you lose all the moisture and the tofu becomes hard and dry.
One of the great things about tofu is that it doesn’t really have a flavour of its own. Think of it as a blank canvas. Tofu works great in stir-fries, pastas and curries. Since it doesn’t have its own flavour, tofu deserves most to be put in a dish that does. Serving tofu in a mild creamy pasta sauce is not recommended, for example.
You can also marinate tofu, and it doesn’t need to be done for very long for good effect. Just remember to slice according to how ‘deep’ you want to flavour to go into the tofu. Thin slices completely take on the flavour of the marinade, while thicker slices maintain a bit of tofuness about them.
Pre-flavoured tofu can also be bought, as well as pre-stir-fried, but I don’t really see the point.
Some suggestions of flavours to cook tofu with:
Asian stirfry: soy sauce, black bean sauce, honey, garlic, ginger, sesame seeds and oil
Curry: red or green curry paste with or without coconut cream
Tomato pasta sauce: garlic, wine, pesto
Badly cooked tofu will taste bland and rubbery. Well-cooked tofu is something that is sought out within a dish, with a unique flavour and bite.
Tofu image from Wikimeda Commons (cc-by-sa-2.0)