How to Bake Tofu, Step by Step
Andrea Nguyen shares how to transform super-firm tofu into baked slices perfect for sandwiches, salads, and more.
One of the (many) beautiful things about tofu is that you can prepare it in a myriad of different ways. Extra-firm tofu can be transformed into an easy (and vegan!) make-it-your-own scramble, or pan-fried for shaking tofu; silken tofu adds a "luscious, creamy texture" to this Korean stew. As for baking tofu? According to cookbook author and tofu aficionado Andrea Nguyen, super-firm is your best bet, and she shared her tips and recommendations so you can easily make it at home.
While there are different ways to do baked tofu, Nguyen's method, which she says is "more like a Chinese style," starts with super-firm tofu that's cut into pieces and then weighted down for a few hours (making it even more firm), and ends with browned slices that can be used in sandwiches, salads, and more. Read on for her tips and recommendations, shared in a phone interview with Food & Wine.
Grab Your Tofu
While Nguyen recommends either firm or extra-firm tofu for deep-frying, for baking, her pick is super-firm, which she recommends shopping for in places like health-food stores and Trader Joe's. It's "typically sold in vacuum-sealed packages with very little water," she says, and is "typically labeled high-protein." And, as you'd expect with the name, it's very firm.
"I mean, you can throw the block of tofu between your hands because it's just been weighted down—the curds have been weighted down by a lot of pressure for a fair amount of time," she says. "So it's dense."
Going down to extra-firm or firm tofu, on the other hand, means more (and bigger) crevices in the tofu, and that it won't hold up as well to the simmering process that takes place before baking (more on that in a minute). You can buy tofu already baked if you'd like, but Nguyen notes that baked tofu is expensive, and you might not also find the exact flavor that you want.
Cut It Up and Weight It Down
First, you'll want to cut your tofu, and Nguyen slices them into pieces "roughly the size and shape of a deck of cards," about half an inch thick. Depending on the block of tofu you have, she estimates that you'll end up with six to 10 pieces. Then, it's time to weight the slices down, and you'll need a few supplies—dish towels or paper towels, two baking sheets, and then something roughly four pounds to weight everything down (Nguyen says she uses two large cans of tomatoes). Take your first baking sheet and line it with either a clean dish towel or two layers of paper towels, and then place the tofu slices on top. Then, cover them with a second layer of dish towel, followed by the second baking sheet. Finally, the weights go on—and then you let the tofu sit for three to four hours.
"You want to firm it up," she says. "So much so that after the three to four hours, you hold a piece of tofu on one side and you can kind of wiggle it without fear of the thing falling apart."
After the tofu has been firmed up, it's time to infuse it with flavor. Rather than coating it and baking it, Nguyen achieves that through simmering the pieces in a seasoned water mixture, and then letting the tofu sit in that mixture overnight. It could include things like soy sauce, spices, and ginger—if you want to take it in a smoky direction, she suggests smoked paprika, or even trying liquid smoke. Barbecue sauce is an option, too.
"That simmering liquid is really a fabulous way for people to play with the flavors of the tofu," she says.
Whatever seasonings you choose, you want to make sure there's enough liquid to cover the tofu. Nguyen likens tofu to a sponge—pressing it releases the water, and then, when you simmer it, the pores will absorb the seasoned liquid. She recommends simmering the pieces for 15 to 20 minutes, until they "kind of plump up a little bit."
Store It Overnight
After the tofu is done simmering and you've allowed it to cool, you want to refrigerate it and allow it to sit submerged in the liquid overnight (Nguyen places a lid over the pot and places the whole thing in the fridge). As it rests, the tofu will further absorb the liquid and seasonings.
Let It Drain and Bake It
The next day, it's time to bake. Nguyen recommends placing the tofu on a rack to dry while preheating the oven to "450 [degrees Fahrenheit] or so." Then, all that's left to do is coat the tofu pieces in some oil—such as sesame oil, or a neutral oil, she says—and get them in the oven on a rack set within a baking sheet. You'll want to bake the tofu for 10 to 12 minutes, depending on how firm you want the texture to be. After all, you don't have to worry about tofu being "done" like raw meat.
"The difference between 10 and 12 minutes is that [with] 12 minutes, you're going to get a slightly drier result," she says.
Nguyen explains that the edges of the tofu slices will darken slightly during this stage. Once you're satisfied, she recommends flipping the pieces and baking them for an additional five minutes for more browning.
After baking, let the tofu cool and dry—it will darken as it dries, she says—and then, it's ready to go.
Use It in These Dishes
Once the tofu is cool, you can store it in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to two weeks. And there's all kinds of ways you can cook with it. Nguyen likes to slice it for sandwiches and cut it into "thick matchsticks" for stir-frying, and says you can also put it in steamed buns like bao, use it in salads, or use it as a topping for noodle soups, too.
"You've got your instant flavored protein in your fridge now," she says. "And you can cut it up and it's a great convenience food."