Why Your Tofu Wants a Bubble Bath

February 14, 2018

A hot bubble bath can fix a lot: stressful days, sore muscles, store-bought tofu. No offense to tofu; it’s not you, it’s supermarkets. No one would want to spend weeks in a little container of cold water, only to be hurled in a bag, taken to who knows where, tossed in the fridge, then—Oh! I totally forgot we had tofu! Hence why so many of our favorite recipes offer some warmth:

Bake. Fry. Simmer in sauce. All lovely options, but my go-to technique is none of these—it’s blanching. I learned the trick cookbook author Fuchsia Dunlop, who specializes in Chinese cuisine. In her book Every Grain of Rice she writes:

“Blanch plain white tofu in hot salted water before use, to freshen up its flavor and warm it before you combine it with other ingredients.”

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Just as blanching vegetables not only cooks but seasons them, too, blanching tofu brings out its best texture and flavor. And it only takes a minute to accomplish these results. The quickest dunk in salty, simmering water relaxes the protein into its happiest mood—warm, supple, and creamy, like fresh mozzarella cheese. (That said: “Do not allow the water to boil or the tofu will become porous and less tender.”)

Dunlop puts the technique toward saucy dishes like mapo doufu. But I use it even more simply. My routine: Start a pot of brown rice. Start a pot of salty water. Meanwhile, roast whatever vegetables are about to go bad. Mix together peanut butter, miso paste, rice vinegar, and water, by sight and to taste. (Also try: the turmeric-tahini and roasted garlic dressings, above.) When the rice is done and the water is simmering, cube the tofu and add it for a minute to two. Drain well. Add a bed of rice to a bowl. Top with tofu and veggies. Drizzle with peanut-miso sauce. Dinner! Happy me. Happy tofu.

What’s your favorite way to cook tofu?

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Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.


Mona L. March 10, 2019
Yes! I don’t have access to “soft tofu” where I live so this blanching trick to “firm tofu” helps to get close to the soft texture. Not quite, but it helps. I use this trick now for all my tofu that I am simmering.
FrugalCat February 14, 2018
Does anyone else eat tofu plain- no seasoning, no cooking- or is it just me?
AntoniaJames February 14, 2018
I've posted numerous times about this on various tofu recipes on the site, so forgive me this if is repetitive.

I learned this tip from an Andrea Nguyen recipe. She recommends simply pouring boiling water over the tofu in a large bowl and letting it sit for 15 minutes. When the sauce I'll be using with the cooked tofu will be salty (as it nearly always is - all that tamari, soy, miso, doenjang, etc.) -- I don't salt the water. The tofu turns out just as well.

After 15 minutes (or more), I drain the water off and then fry the tofu with no oil in a non-stick skillet. Tofu has a high fat content, so you really don't need any oil, other than for flavor. Leave the slabs, bars or cubes alone for about 8 minutes on medium heat; you can see the steam rise from the tofu itself. Flip the pieces over and let them cook on one or more of the other sides. They'll be light to medium tan, fragrant and moist inside, with a good firm edge. One advantage of this method is that you can use regular tofu, not firm or extra firm. Regular tofu has a better flavor and a soft custardy texture inside.

I make up two batches over the weekend; we'll eat one for dinner and the rest I'll use for lunches. They hold for at least 4 - 5 days.

It's so nice not to have to press, blot, dry, etc. It saves energy, too: I almost never bake my tofu in the oven any more. There's no significant additional time involved because you can prep / start cooking everything else while the tofu is soaking and then frying. ;o)
Maria A. July 25, 2018
Thank you so much for this! Will be trying this method ASAP.