When you picture tofu, an unflavored white block of tofu probably comes to mind. This kind of tofu lives in a plastic container and is submerged in water. What is this tofu called? Let’s name the most common type of tofu and learn how to press it and cook it.
I confess that this tofu article might not be necessary. After all, I have a tofu guide for beginners. Yet, I feel compelled to name and explain the most common type of tofu you will encounter so you know how to cook it. Let’s keep this article short and action-packed.
What Do You Call The Most Common Type of Tofu?
Tofu is a broad category, and it’s the name for a specific type of tofu that everybody pictures when they hear the word “tofu”. Even in Mandarin, tofu represents both things. Unlike the French, who have beautiful words to name every ingredient and cooking technique, Chinese people are still catching up with such advanced marketing.
So, let’s take it upon ourselves to name the most common type of tofu. I refer to the most common type of unflavored, white blocks of tofu with the following names:
- Brick tofu
- Block tofu
- Chinese-style tofu
- Regular tofu
- Normal tofu
- Traditional tofu
Many of these names come from well-known food publications, such as Serious Eats and Bon Appetit. Other names I heard in common parlance or made up myself. If you read “brick tofu” or “regular tofu” on Garlic Delight, you will finally understand what I’m talking about.
What Is Special About Block Tofu?
It’s worth knowing block tofu because it’s the most common type of tofu you will encounter in the grocery store. It is often the only kind of tofu sold in some stores (like Costco). It comes with various preparation techniques, including draining and pressing tofu.
Firmness Scale of Block Tofu
Block tofu comes in the following levels of firmness:
- Soft tofu: Similar to silken tofu, soft tofu is great for dropping into soups and braising. It has the highest water content and the lowest protein content. You can blend it in smoothies and puree it for baking.
- Medium tofu: Slightly firmer than soft tofu, medium tofu holds its shape better but it is still tender compared to firmer varieties of block tofu. It’s about the firmness of mozzarella. Chop it into cubes for baking and braising. It goes well in soups and lasagna but is too soft for stir frying.
- Medium-firm tofu: Medium-firm tofu works well for curries, stews, and claypot rice dishes. You can freeze and defrost medium-firm tofu for a firmer texture to soak up sauces and marinades.
- Firm tofu: Firm tofu handles stir frying if you add it at the end after cooking the vegetables. It will break if you turn the tofu too much. Firm tofu does well baked and pan fried to make it crispy. You can freeze firm tofu and defrost it to make big pockets that absorb sauce and marinades.
- Extra-firm tofu: Ideal for stir-frying, extra-firm tofu works well as a meat substitute thanks to its dense texture, high protein content, and how well it stands up to grilling and frying. Marinate extra-firm tofu well and you can use it in place of steak and chicken breast in recipes. Extra-firm tofu is excellent for crumbling to make tofu scrambles in a frying pan.
- Super-firm tofu: This is the densest pressed block tofu that often comes vacuum-packed in a plastic bag rather than in a plastic container filled with water. This is the closest substitute to meat. You can fry it, grill it, stir fry it, skewer it on a kebab stick, and use it to top salad. It is hard to crumble compared to softer block tofu.
How to Prep Tofu
If you are boiling tofu in liquids, such as curry, soups, stews, or braising tofu, you can cut the tofu into cubes and use it without more preparation.
If you want to stir fry, bake, or fry tofu, you want to remove as much water as possible so it can get crispy or avoid splattering oil everywhere.
Here are the main steps for preparing tofu for cooking. You may skip some steps to save time or the dish doesn’t require it.
- Drain tofu
- Press tofu
- Cut tofu
- Freeze tofu (optional)
How to Drain Tofu
To open tofu, you cut a slit around the tofu. I don’t bother peeling the plastic cover off the plastic tub because it is glued shut so tightly that I usually hurt myself trying to pull the cover off.
Instead, I cut 2 edges and invert the tofu to drain the water. Then I cut a third edge to remove the tofu. I keep the final side uncut in case I want to reuse the flap to cover the container if I want to store leftover tofu.
How to Press Tofu
Pressing tofu is optional. I usually don’t press tofu if I’m in a hurry.
But pressing tofu to squeeze out water is important because draining excess water makes it easier to bake or fry tofu to make it crispy.
My How to Press Tofu article on the steps to press tofu is coming soon. You’ll also learn my secret tip for how you can avoid pressing tofu and still get great results. Sign up to the Garlic Press email newsletter to find out when I publish the Press Tofu article.
How to Cut Tofu
Cutting brick tofu typically consists of slicing it to make cubes of tofu. There’s no magic here. I like to start with the longest cuts first.
How to Freeze Tofu
Freezing tofu is a great way to change the texture of tofu. The water expands which creates bigger pockets in tofu. These pockets are fantastic at absorbing soups, marinades, and flavors. Defrosted tofu has a chewier texture that my friend Lindsay loves.
My article on How to Freeze and Defrost Tofu For Amazing Texture is coming soon. Sign up for the Garlic Press email newsletter to get notified when the article is published. You will learn how to make a firmer tofu that slurps up sauces.
How to Eat Block Tofu Raw
Firm and extra-firm brick tofu straight don’t have any flavor. It doesn’t have a tender texture like silken tofu. Honestly, I have never eaten the firmer tofu raw.
You can eat soft tofu as a dessert, like dou hua, where you drizzle honey or maple syrup and heat it in the microwave. It has a consistency that is similar to silken tofu, albeit coarser and less silky.
How to Cook Block Tofu
While block tofu doesn’t have any distinct flavor, this is one of tofu’s biggest advantages. You can fix the common critique of block tofu being bland by marinating tofu and braising it.
How to Braise Tofu
Following the classic braising technique, you can sear cubed tofu, add aromatics, and simmer the tofu a flavorful liquid, such as chicken stock, rice wine, or soy sauce.
- Soy sauce
- Shiitake mushrooms
- Tomato paste or tomato sauce
- Fish sauce
RELATED: Learn about what umami is and how to cook tasty food.
How to Stir Fry Tofu
Stir frying tofu is tricky because it breaks easily when it is too soft. Let’s separate stir frying tofu into 2 scenarios depending on the firmness of the tofu.
How to Stir Fry Medium to Firm Tofu
Don’t stir fry soft tofu unless you expect it to disintegrate into mush. I stir fry cubed medium, medium-firm, and firm tofu at the end after the vegetables are cooked and before adding the sauce. This gives the tofu a chance to heat up, mix with the vegetables, and get slathered in sauce.
How to Stir Fry Extra-Firm to Super-Firm Tofu
If you have extra-firm or super-firm tofu, you can add the sliced or cubed tofu into the hot oil and fry it so the surface becomes crispy. This will take 3 to 5 minutes on high heat. Your job is to make sure the tofu does not burn so keep turning it quickly.
Then add extra oil and aromatics. You can use aromatics like garlic, green onion, and ginger. Once the aromatics are golden and fragrant, you can add your vegetables and/or meat and follow the rest of the stir-frying technique.
How to Make Tofu Scramble
Tofu scramble is one exception to my tofu pressing rant where drained and pressed tofu makes a better tofu scramble.
If you want soft scrambled eggs, use firm tofu. It has enough water that it will resemble soft curds like in French-style scrambled eggs. If you want typical American-style scrambled eggs that you would get at a diner, use extra-firm tofu, which has less water and more protein.
You want to press tofu to remove excess water in preparation for making tofu scramble. Plus, tofu scramble requires breaking up the tofu so it’s not a big deal when you accidentally break the tofu into small pieces when pressing it too hard.
You can follow the DIY tofu press technique to remove excess water from tofu.
- Add 2 tablespoons of neutral oil into a frying pan.
- Crumble pressed tofu into the frying pan on medium-high heat. Crumble tofu by breaking it apart in your hands until it resembles the texture of ground beef.
- Cook the tofu until it is lightly browned and most of the water has evaporated.
- Push the tofu to the side and add the remaining vegetables you want to cook with the scramble. You can add sliced mushrooms, baby spinach, roasted bell pepper strips, and chopped green onions.
- If you’re not vegan, you can top the scramble with grated cheese and serve warm.
Regular Brick Tofu Works Well With
- Soy sauce
- Teriyaki sauce
- Chili sauce (e.g. Sriracha)
- Vegetables (broccoli, zucchini/courgette, tomatoes)
- Cheese (melted cheese)
- Gravy (use super-firm tofu as a substitute for fries in a low-carb version of poutine)
- Meat (braised beef, pork, lamb)
- Meat sauce
Recipes With Regular Brick Tofu
How to Substitute Tofu
If a recipe calls for soft tofu, you can substitute with silken tofu, especially in tofu soup and when used as an ingredient in desserts.
RELATED: Learn the difference between soft vs. silken tofu.
If a recipe calls for extra-firm tofu for tofu scrambles or for baking, and you’re not vegan, you can substitute with eggs for scrambled egg or feta for topping salads.
If you don’t have tofu and you’re vegan, you may have to get creative with your recipe. Try substituting tofu for other soy-based products like tempeh, meat-substitutes like fake meat patties and sausages, or wheat gluten.
How to Buy Tofu
Check out the tips on where to buy tofu from the Beginner’s Guide to Tofu article.
Most major grocery stores carry regular brick tofu that comes in plastic tubs with water. If I need a specific firmness of tofu, then I go to the local Asian grocery store. If I want super-firm tofu then I go to Trader Joe’s because they carry super-firm tofu, which I love ❤️.
RELATED: Where to Buy Regular Tofu
How to Store Tofu
Check out tips on how to store tofu from the Beginner’s Guide to Tofu article.
If you open a package of regular tofu and don’t finish it, you can store the remaining tofu in its original packaging. That’s what the flap is for. You will want to fill the container with tap water to avoid the tofu drying out.
You can also transfer the tofu to a plastic container with a lid and fill it with water.
Open tofu can last 3 to 4 days in the fridge. If the tofu has signs of mold, discoloration, or smells sour or smells like cheese, discard it.
RELATED: How to Store Tofu
FAQ About Chinese-Style Brick Tofu
What is the Difference Between Soft Tofu and Silken Tofu?
Check out the silken tofu article to learn the difference between soft regular tofu and silken tofu.