Soy Satisfying Tofu
Low calories and high protein, tofu continues to be the most popular and versatile alternative to meat yet devised - yet it is also so much more.
Commonly thought to have originated in the era of China’s Han dynasty some 2,000 years ago before being introduced to Japan and elsewhere in Asia from the 8th century onwards, tofu is one of the true wonders of the culinary world. Prepared by extracting soy milk from mature white soybeans that are boiled, curdled with a coagulant such as gypsum, and pressed into blocks of varying softness, it offers home chefs a wonderfully versatile ingredient to experiment and expand their repertoire with.
Why? Well, thanks to its subtle flavour and spongy texture, tofu has the ability to absorb and concentrate whatever flavours you might wish to combine, and can be seasoned or marinated for use in either savoury or sweet dishes.
There are many different types of tofu, from soft or silken to extra firm, pressed and unpressed fresh tofu, or processed tofu such as fermented and frozen tofu. What they all have in common is that they are high in iron, calcium, fibre, and essential amino acids.
Healthy, versatile, and simple to cook with, it’s no wonder tofu has tantalised the tastebuds of Asia for millennia, and the West since the late 18th century. Here are some tofu essentials every foodie should know.
SOFT AND FIRM TOFU – TAKE YOUR PICK!
Soft tofu, or silken tofu, has a fine, smooth texture as a result of it being made with rich, creamy soy milk. It’s ideal for steamed dishes, salads, soups, puréed as an additive to dips, or deep-fried, and can also be a great substitute for eggs in baked desserts or smoothies.
Firm tofu, on the other hand – sometimes known as ‘cotton tofu’ – has the firmness of red meat, springing back when pressed. Firm tofu is perfect for use in soups, stir-fries and for grilling, and is especially well suited as a substitute for meat like beef and chicken.
TIPS FOR STORING TOFU
Both soft and firm tofu are typically found in the cold section of the supermarket, and like all fresh tofu is usually packaged and sold bathed in water to preserve its moisture content and to inhibit bacterial growth.
If bought from your grocer in an aseptic container tofu can be stored unopened on the shelf in a cool spot away from sunlight. If purchased from a refrigerated aisle in the supermarket, however, make sure to store in your fridge.
Unopened tofu can last up to 2–3 months past its sell-by date, but once opened is best cooked within 3–5 days. For leftovers, drain and replace the water, putting it back in the fridge and ensuring to change the water daily.
Tofu can also be frozen. To do so, simply drain the water, press out the excess moisture, wrap in plastic then seal in an airtight container. Stored in this fashion, firm tofu will keep fresh for between 3–5 months. Silken tofu however is not recommended for freezing.
If your tofu has turned slightly yellowish, is mushy when poked or has a sour smell, throw it away – this means it has spoiled and should be discarded.
TIPS FOR COOKING TOFU
As tofu typically comes in water and contains a lot of moisture, make sure to drain it properly before cooking – otherwise, it will struggle to absorb cooking oil, and could turn your dish ‘wet’ leaving your tofu with a soggy taste.
For silken tofu, dab and press gently with a paper towel then cut before cooking. For firm tofu, drain, place some paper towel on a flat plate, transfer the tofu and place another paper towel over, with a saucer or similar left on top for at least 30 minutes to an hour.
Doing so will result in your tofu tasting firm, tender and chewy, and best able to absorb all the delicious flavours of your intended dish. Tofu can be prepared in many ways, including:
Cut your tofu into slices, lather them in marinade, and let sit for 15-30 minutes for maximum flavour. Avoid marinades with oil-based ingredients.
For pan-fry, stir-fry or deep-fry dishes, add a thin coat of corn starch or potato starch for that crispy outer skin – it will also prevent your tofu sticking to the pan.
Tofu cooks quicker on a grill than meat as you don’t have to worry about cooking the interior. Marinated tofu takes about 7-10 minutes. See the grill marks? Time to eat!
A quick oven bake also turns your tofu crispy outside and creamy inside. This technique makes for great salads and veggie bowls.
There you have it – everything you need to know to be triumphant with tofu in the kitchen. Healthy, tasty, truly satisfying… if you’re after a meat-free alternative, the time to start your own tofu journey is today.