A Pretty "Cool" Shortcut for Firmer, More Flavorful Tofu

April 26, 2016

There exists a basic tofu principle that is: In order for your tofu to absorb flavorful liquid marinades, stir-fry sauces, and soup stocks, the no-flavor liquid—i.e. the water—must first come out.

Several methods will expel the water from your tofu:

  • You could press it out (either with some heavy books or cans or a nifty press).
  • You could boil it out, by shallow- or deep-frying.
  • Or, you could freeze it out—which is probably the easiest option of all.

That's right: Freeze your tofu. (Even if it's not nearing its expiration date—but especially if it is!)

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When the tofu freezes, its water turns to ice crystals, which create small, sponge-like holes that remain once the tofu is thawed and the ice turns into water. As a Slate article explains, frozen tofu is "far spongier, firmer, and chewier than it was before. No amount of draining, patting dry, or pressing tofu can minimize sogginess as much as freezing does."

(Side note: Freezing tofu also turns the bean protein yellow, according to Minh Tsai of Hodo Soy Beanery—and that's why your tofu doesn't look like itself when it comes out of the freezer.)

Frozen tofu (top) as compared to pressed tofu (bottom).

To freeze tofu:

  1. Drain it of the liquid it came in. At this point, you can pat it dry and press it to remove excess liquid, but it's not necessary. (It may help prevent ice from building up on the outside of your tofu pieces, however.)
  2. Slice the block into thin pieces or chunks, store it in an airtight container or plastic bag, and stash in the freezer (for up to three months). You can freeze the entire block, but it will take longer to thaw.
  3. Once frozen, thaw the tofu in the refrigerator. (If you froze a whole block and are anxious to use it, you can do as this Serious Eats recipe recommends, and simmer the frozen block in water for 15 minutes before cubing.
  4. Squeeze or pat any excess water out of the thawed tofu, then use as you please (braise it, bake it, stir-fry it, deep-fry it, marinate it...)

Timing wise, I find it easiest to freeze the tofu overnight, then transfer it from the freezer to the refrigerator to thaw during the day, while I'm at work. When I return in the evening, my tofu is a sponge, ready to absorb my love the sauces, dressings, and marinades I throw at it.

What's your favorite way to prepare tofu? Ready, set, go (in the comments below)!

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Written by: Sarah Jampel

A (former) student of English, a lover of raisins, a user of comma splices. My spirit animal is an eggplant. I'm probably the person who picked all of the cookie dough out of the cookie dough ice cream. For that, I'm sorry.


susan G. April 29, 2016
My experience with frozen tofu (going back 30+ years), as a cookbook dependent Westerner, is that it results in chewy, spongy cubes. I prefer having the creaminess left. I usually weight mine on a slanted cutting board, weighted with some stray cast iron, while I'm prepping other ingredients. If I want to be lazy, there's always extra-firm, which in some brands is seriously firm.
Jeanette D. April 28, 2016
I have a recipe for barbecued tofu from some '70s hippie cookbook, that is out of this world. And the first step is to freeze the tofu.
AntoniaJames April 26, 2016
Sarah, now that you're baking artisanal breads, you should start doing some "symbiotic baking". Let me explain. My favorite way to prep tofu is to cut it into small bricks straight from the box, then put it on a large baking sheet covered with parchment. I dab up whatever big spots of water can easily be reached, and then pop it into the oven during the "open" second half of my bread baking. The tofu gives off an enormous amount of steam at that high heat, which of course helps improves the crust of the bread; that same high temperature bakes the drying tofu nicely, to yield a slightly crisp-chewy exterior and luscious, creamy interior. (Another fine example of how to think like an engineer. ) It takes about 1 minute to cut a one-pound block and pop it into the oven. Depending on the temperature, those little bricks should be done right about when you take out the breaad. ;o)
AS April 26, 2016
Freezing is a good technique, but the best way i've learned to drain tofu is to soak it in salted water off a boil for 15 minutes, and then drain in a Collander for half an hour. Then you can pat dry with much fewer paper towels and it browns beautifully. .
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Sarah J. April 26, 2016
Should you boil the water first and then add the tofu? Or the water can be room temperature? Thanks for the tip!
AS April 26, 2016
i boil the water with the salt, then add the tofu, as per this post:

It obviates the need for a tofu press. Freezing is a different technique that also improves texture, but this gets you most of the way there.